How was Natalia Veselnitskaya able to enter the U.S. in June 2016, when she visited Trump Tower, months after her legal permission had already expired?
According to documents filed in a Manhattan federal court, the Russian lawyer who met Donald Trump Jr. in New York last summer said she was denied a U.S. visa in 2015. She then asked federal prosecutors for permission to enter the U.S. to work on behalf of a law client in a Manhattan. Prosecutors granted Veselnitskaya temporary “immigration parole” in late 2015, but that expired in early 2016, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York told The Daily Beast.
Veselnitskaya’s extension was not renewed, the U.S. Attorney’s Office added.
The U.S. State Department wouldn’t confirm or deny whether Veselnitskaya applied again for a visa in 2016, let alone if a visa was granted. A spokesperson told The Daily Beast they could not comment due to privacy considerations. Veselnitskaya also did not respond to requests for comment.
Yet Veselnitskaya somehow managed to visit the U.S. at least one additional time after she met with Trump Jr.
In February 2017, she appeared in a Manhattan federal courtroom with interpreters, according to a court transcript reviewed by The Daily Beast.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley on Tuesday demanded to know how Veselnitskaya was able to stay in the U.S. after her parole expired. “This raises serious questions about whether the Obama administration authorized her to remain in the country, and if so, why?” Grassley wrote.
In a federal court filing in Manhattan, Veselnitskaya said she was denied a visa to enter the U.S. in 2015. She also requested visas for her children “so that they could be together with me over the Christmas holiday while I was working in New York on this lawsuit, but this was also denied.”
It is unclear why the request was denied.
In fall 2015, she persuaded federal prosecutors to grant her immigration parole. Despite that permission, Veselnitskaya told the court she was strip-searched at the airport, alleging U.S. immigration authorities “specifically targeted me on the basis of the parole number that the United States government had assigned to me.”
In January 2016, Veselnitskaya filed a declaration to extend her parole past that month. The U.S. Attorney’s Office objected.
“What we’ve told defense counsel, when they have asked for it to be extended, is we will reauthorize the immigration parole to allow them to attend for trial and for reasonable pretrial preparation once there is a trial date,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni said, according to a court transcript.
Veselnitskaya’s client was the owner of the Russian firm Prevezon Holdings. Prevezon was accused by U.S. prosecutors of purchasing New York real estate in order to launder money stolen from Russia. Prosecutors settled with Prevezon in May, days before the case was set to go to trial.
Prevezon was accused as part of a $230 million fraud scheme uncovered by lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died under mysterious circumstances in a Russian prison in 2009. The U.S. enacted the Magnitsky Act in 2012, which imposed economic sanctions on several dozen Russian officials for the tax attorney’s death and other alleged corruption.
Veselnitskaya had clashed with U.S. prosecutors before. She and three others billed the U.S. more than $50,000 in expenses incurred during her client’s deposition, prosecutors told Judge Thomas Griesa in a letter, including two nights at New York’s five-star Plaza Hotel.
“The expenses that the defendants have already claimed, and that the government has reimbursed pursuant to the court’s order, include a two nights’ stay at the Plaza Hotel in a $995/night room for Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was not deposed and did not even attend the depositions in person, for the weekend after the depositions had concluded,” they wrote.
Veselnitskaya had been staying at a cheaper hotel, but checked into the Plaza after the judge ordered prosecutors to foot the bill, they added.
Ms. Veselnitskaya Goes to Washington
As part of her work in the U.S., Veselnitskaya formed a nonprofit group to lobby against the Magnitsky Act. The Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation claims it is working to help “restart American adoption of Russian children,” which was suspended by President Vladimir Putin in retaliation for the Magnitsky Act.
Donald Trump Jr. has claimed Russian adoptions were the main topic of discussion of his meeting with Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower.
Four days after she visited Trump Tower in New York, Veselnitskaya traveled to Washington, D.C. for a screening of an anti-Magnitsky Act film at the Newseum.
The next day, June 14, Veselnitskaya was photographed on Capitol Hill, sitting behind the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing about “U.S. Policy Towards Putin’s Russia.”
Also attending the hearing was Rinat Akhmetshin, a lobbyist for Veselnitskaya’s group, photos given to The Daily Beast by Hermitage Capital show. (Hermitage is an investment company owned by Magnitsky’s former employer.)
Akhmetshin was paid $10,000 by Veselnitskaya’s group, according to his registered-lobbyist disclosure form. He has been described by Radio Free Europe as a hired gun for various characters from the former Soviet Union. Sen. Grassley claims Akhmetshin is a former Russian military intelligence officer who acts as an “unregistered agent for Russian interests and apparently has ties to Russian intelligence.”
In April 2017, Akhmetshin met Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in Berlin and reportedly approached him about the Prevezon case. Rohrabacher, a pro-Putin California Republican, told CNN he was “skeptical” about the case and echoed Moscow’s talking points that it was intended to “create hostility and belligerence toward Russia.”
Rohrabacher is also a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, whose hearing Akhmetshin and Veselnitskaya attended.
— Lachlan Markay contributed to this report.