Russian lawyer at Trump Tower meeting says she won't come to U.S. to fight charges

Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. (Photo: Yury Martyanov/Kommersant Photo/Reuters)

The Russian lawyer who played a key role in the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Trump campaign officials, including Donald Trump Jr., tells Yahoo News she won’t return to the United States to face charges that she lied in an unrelated court case.

She also said she would be willing to speak with special counsel Robert Mueller for his investigation, but she hasn’t been asked.

In a phone interview conducted with Yahoo News, Natalia Veselnitskaya calmly but insistently denied the charges, and said she would use “all methods” to defend herself, but would do so from Russia, where she lives with her four children, and would not come to the United States.

On Tuesday, a Manhattan judge unsealed a December indictment of Veselnitskaya in the U.S. Southern District of New York, charging her with obstruction of justice.

The charges against Veselnitskaya are not directly connected to the Trump Tower meeting, which also included campaign manager Paul Manafort and Ivanka Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner. They relate to a 2013 civil court case in which she represented Prevezon Holdings, a Cyprus-based firm accused of laundering money through real estate purchases in New York. The Prevezon case was settled in 2017 with the company paying almost $6 million, and both sides declaring victory.

The laundered money allegedly constituted proceeds of a tax fraud discovered by Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian accountant who worked for British businessman William Browder, a former U.S. citizen. Magnitsky died in Russian custody in 2009.

In the recently unsealed case, prosecutors now accuse Veselnitskaya of misrepresenting supposedly independent investigative findings of the Russian government while working  “in secret cooperation with a senior Russian prosecutor.” American prosecutors claim to have obtained correspondence between Veselnitskaya and the Russian prosecutor’s office showing that she actively worked to draft the government’s findings.

Veselnitskaya does not appear to deny that she worked with the prosecutor’s office, but says that such cooperation wasn’t illegal.

“I actively cooperated with the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation which has supported the public prosecution of Browder since 2013,” Veselnitskaya said in an interview published Friday in Interfax, the Russian news agency. “And the fact that we have identical positions concerning Browder’s false story can neither provide evidence of any conspiracy, nor constitute any wrongdoing.” 

Veselnitskaya told Yahoo News that whatever documents the U.S. government has were “illegally obtained” through Browder, though she provided no details to back up the allegation. Browder did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Browder is a long-time nemesis of Veselnitskaya and the Russian government. Following Magnitsky’s death, Browder lobbied to pass the Magnitsky Act, a broad set of sanctions against Russian officials who are suspected of involvement in his death.

Regarding the Trump Tower meeting and the ongoing investigation into the Trump presidential campaign’s ties to Russia, Veselnitskaya also said she was willing to speak to special counsel Robert Mueller, but his office has made no attempt to contact her. She told Yahoo News she believes Mueller or his team hasn’t attempted to interview her because the meeting had “no political significance.”

Veselnitskaya has long insisted that overturning the Magnitsky Act was the focus of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting. An English-language memo she took to the meeting focused on the Magnitsky Act and Browder, but also mentions the Russian ban on American adoptions, which was done in retaliation for the sanctions, and mentions possible ties to the financing of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Donald Trump Jr., who accepted an invitation to the meeting after being promised “dirt” on Clinton, has since claimed that the meeting was about adoptions.

“We’ll decline to comment,” wrote Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office, about attempts to speak to Veselnitskaya as part of Mueller’s investigation.

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