The longtime aide to “Putin’s Congressman” Dana Rohrabacher died suddenly from a head injury over the weekend.
Paul Behrends was found by emergency responders close to his home on Friday night with severe head trauma. He was taken to a local hospital where surgeons fought to save him, but he passed away on Saturday, according to a spokesman for Rohrabacher.
Behrends was a controversial figure on Capitol Hill who lost his job as staff director for the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee after The Daily Beast reported on his links to Trump Tower lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya’s operation in the U.S.
Rohrabacher’s former congressional spokesman Ken Grubbs told The Daily Beast that Behrends died at the hospital. “I did actually call Dana and he confirmed it,” he said. “What I’ve heard is that he slipped… hit his head, and died in surgery.”
Grubbs said there was no reason to think anything suspicious had happened to Behrends or that there was any link to his associations with Russia. “No, no, not at all,” he said.
Behrends’ son Josef Behrends told The Daily Beast that no one had seen his father fall at around 10 p.m. on Friday night but that his older brother, also called Paul, had rushed to the scene just four blocks from the family home when police came to the house.
“He was walking through the neighborhood and then he went to the hospital from there,” he said. “And then he passed away on Saturday. Early morning.”
Behrends made headlines for the first time in July 2017, after Veselnitskaya’s explosive June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and then Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was exposed. The meeting subsequently shone a light on Behrends’ own Russian entanglements.
Behrends had traveled to Moscow with Rohrabacher in April 2016, a few months before that meeting. In Russia, they were given a document from the Prosecutor General’s Office marked “confidential,” which included details of the Kremlin’s battle against U.S. sanctions and a pro-Kremlin propaganda movie.
When they returned to D.C., Rohrabacher cited those Kremlin’s talking points as he delayed the passage of the Global Magnitsky Act.
Behrends then worked alongside Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin—a Soviet army veteran who accompanied Veselnitskaya to the notorious Trump Tower meeting—to help deliver some of the suggestions made in Moscow. Veselnitskaya was later indicted by the U.S. for allegedly colluding with Russian officials to obstruct justice in an American court case.
They worked together to organize a subcommittee hearing that would call the director of the propaganda movie as well as other witnesses who were sympathetic to President Putin. The hearing, which was set to re-examine U.S. sanctions against Russia, was eventually quashed and replaced by a full committee hearing on Russia. Rohrabacher still succeeded in approvingly comparing President Trump to Putin and submitting testimony that claimed Russia was not behind the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB agent who was poisoned with a radioactive isotope in London.
After the hearing, Behrends, Rohrabacher, Akhmetshin, and Veselnitskaya had dinner at the Capitol Hill Club, a private members’ club frequented by Republicans.
It was the next day that Kevin McCarthy, who was House majority leader at the time, was recorded at a GOP meeting saying: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” When colleagues laughed, he was heard on tape saying: “Swear to God.”
After being ousted from the subcommittee role, Behrends continued to work closely with Rohrabacher, who was later defeated in the 2018 midterms. Behrends, whose political career began as an intern for Rohrabacher in the 1990s, was most recently a partner at Rohrabacher’s lobbying firm R&B Strategies.