Was Yury Chaika, a Putin Loyalist Accused of Corruption, Behind the Don Jr. Meeting?
Emails published by Trump’s son suggest he was meeting a Russian go-between for information that came from Yury Chaika.
Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting to get kompromat on Hillary Clinton may have been arranged by an allegedly corrupt Putin loyalist with an affinity for nepotism and shutting down opponents. The meeting was orchestrated at the behest of Russia’s “crown prosecutor”—a non-existent position that seems to refer to the country’s Prosecutor General, according to e-mails obtained by the New York Times.
That reference would appear to point to a man named Yury Chaika, a longtime ally of the Putin regime who is tight with Trump’s failed business partner, Aras Agalarov. Trump and Agalarov once planned to build a Trump Tower Moscow together, and Agalarov organized the Moscow staging of the Miss Universe competition. (That same year, Agalarov was honored by Putin.)
“The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with [Emin’s] father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father," Rob Goldstone wrote to Trump Jr, referring to the young Russian musician who he managed. “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump - helped along by Aras and Emin.”
Goldstone later told the Wall Street Journal that the title of “crown prosecutor” referred to Veselnitskaya, not Chaika.
“It’s a language thing,” he said.
But Veselnitskaya is not a prosecutor—she is a defense attorney with a sparse record. Nor is she a “high level” official with the Russian government.
But what both lawyers have in common is a shared hatred for Putin enemy Bill Browder, the former employer of deceased Russian whistleblower—and namesake of the Magnitsky Act—Sergei Magnitsky. Just as Veselnitskaya spent much of her time in the U.S. attacking Magnistky’s memory and disputing his allegations of fraud in Russia, so too does Chaika focus on discrediting Bill Browder.
In June, Chaika relaunched a vicious attack against Browder, saying that his goals are to destroy Russia's credibility. Browder has campaigned to bring to justice those responsible for Magnitsky’s death in a Russian prison, culminating in an act barring numerous officials from entering the U.S. for their involvement in the Magnitsky case or other alleged corrupt practices.
In fact, when anti-corruption campaigner Alexander Navalny shed a light on Chaika’s alleged misdeeds in a 2015 documentary, Russia’s top prosecutor tried to shift the blame to Browder. The documentary accused Chaika’s sons of using the prosecutor’s political connections to get rich, and of being involved in illicit businesses like gambling. The sons have amassed fortunes, with properties in Greece and Switzerland; Navalny's anti-corruption organization also says Chaika’s underlings have ties to organized crime.
"My sons rely on themselves, they are smart guys, they got some brains,” Chaika insisted. “I did not pull the strings for them or anything, both made their own businesses. From scratch! Both the younger one and the elder one.”
And his attack tried to paint Navalny’s film as a cynical ploy by Browder.
“Of course, there are a lot of people who are unhappy with the results of our work. But I think that this particular film has been ordered by a particular person with powerful people backing him. Since 2004, law enforcers have been investigating the criminal embezzlement that drained Russia of tremendous sums of money between 1996 and 2006. These schemes were masterminded by US special services and organized by the US citizen who is now a subject of the United Kingdom, William Browder,” Chaika wrote in Kommersant. “This person knows about our probes and he fears them.”
Even in this effort, Chaika had a friend stand by his side. Aras Agalarov, the very Trump associate whose meeting with the “crown prosecutor” set Trump Jr. on the chase for anti-Hillary kompromat, went to bat for Chaika in the pages of Kommersant. He purchased an article attacking Navalny and downplaying the corruption alleged in the documentary.
“As the Nazi criminal and propaganda minister in Hitler's Germany, [Joseph] Goebbels, said, a lie repeated a thousand times becomes true," Agalarov wrote. "I don't want to draw any parallels. Let's just think about it."
(Navalny responded by pointing out Agalarov’s strong government ties.)
“[The] chain of transmission of information from Putin to Chaika to Agalarov to Trump looks entirely possible, it’s not far-fetched,” Navalny wrote after news of the e-mail broke Tuesday.
Chaika, for his part, renewed the attacks against Browder last month.
"The motivation is very simple," Chaika told state-owned news channel NTV. "To show that the business community in Russia and Russian leadership, especially law enforcement agencies, are corrupt; to discredit the Russian Federation through this. Moreover, it's to stop us from further investigating the criminal case against Browder."
Indeed, allegations of impropriety have plagued, but not stymied, Chaika’s career. Allegations stretching back decades say that, as an early-career prosecutor, he traded convicts drugs for confessions. In the 1980s, he bounced between prosecutors’ offices and working for the Communist Party, according to Russian outlet Meduza.
As a prosecutor in the 1990s, Chaika began to tackle organized crime while befriending some of its key players, according to Meduza. The outlet reports that Chaika’s predecessor and former boss got a kompromat file about Chaika soon after he was appointed to a deputy prosecutor general position, and that he was a person of interest in several criminal investigations.
Chaika didn’t publicly respond to these allegations. But a newspaper editor who noted that $1 million went missing from a project headed by Chaika suddenly found himself under criminal investigation, Meduza reports. Later, he turned on his one-time boss, even heading up a criminal investigation into the ex-prosecutor general’s alleged frolicking with prostitutes.
Yet despite his checkered history, Chaika was re-appointed to his post in June 2016. His duties as Russia’s top lawyer have also included drafting a law that would’ve blocked protest-planning websites in Russia.
It’s not surprising, then, that Chaika was lampooned in a music video by Pussy Riot, attacking his foreign business contacts and corruption.
“I run the war on corruption here, or to be precise, I run the corruption here,” one of the women raps in the video.