Tuesday, July 18, 2017

When you hear hoofbeats, don't think of zebras... By William Rivers Pitt

Some years back, Sergei Magnitsky, an auditor for a Russian law firm, uncovered a tax fraud scheme in his country so vast as to beggar historical precedent. The perpetrators were stealing whole corporations, looting them, and then using the stolen corporations to launder vast sums of dirty money. In some cases, Russian security forces were involved in these crimes. Other instances of money laundering involved "Manhattan real estate" entities, according to the criminal complaint filed by former US Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by Trump not long after the inauguration. That Bharara complaint, by the way, was filed against a man named Denis Katsyv, who was the alleged mastermind of the scheme uncovered by Magnitsky.

The story did not end well for Sergei Magnitsky. He was arrested for tax evasion and jailed at the behest of the very oligarchs he was investigating, and later died in prison under very suspicious circumstances. In retaliation for his death, Congress in 2012 passed a law freezing the assets of 18 Russians involved in the annihilation of Magnitsky. His investigation went nowhere, and when Preet Bharara lost his job as US Attorney, the whole thing quietly blew away.

Or did it? Vladimir Putin was not happy when those 18 Russians had their assets frozen, and retaliated by ending all adoptions of Russian children by US families. To promote this edict, Putin tapped an attorney named Natalia Veselnitskaya to help with the public relations push. Natalia Veselnitskaya was also the attorney for Denis Katysyv, author of the scheme uncovered by Magnitsky, in the matter being pursued by Bharara. Natalia Veselnitskaya was the Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort at Trump Tower in June of 2016 as part of the Russian government’s effort to help Donald Trump win the election.

On Friday morning, the story took a remarkable twist when NBC News revealed the existence of a fifth person present at the meeting with Trump Jr., Kushner, Manafort and Veselnitskaya. Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist and former counter-intelligence officer with the Soviet military, accompanied Veselnitskaya to the meeting. Red flags began waving immediately upon this revelation: Not only were Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin associates in the lobbying effort to undo the sanctions against those 18 Russians involved in the Magnitsky affair, but Akhmetshin has been accused of orchestrating a massive international hacking conspiracy at the behest of a billionaire Russian industrialist. It is worth noting that Akhmetshin is a US citizen, and Robert Mueller's subpoena power absolutely includes US citizens.

… and then, just before 9:00am on Friday morning, Trump Jr.'s own lawyer revealed the existence of a sixth person who was present at the Trump Tower meeting. At the time of this writing, the name of that sixth person remains unknown. Before 5:00pm on the same day, CNN was reporting that eight people or more actually attended the meeting. Magnitsky to Katsyv to Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin to Trump Tower, with Vladimir Putin hovering over it all and an indeterminate number of others along for the ride. Junior's first explanation for the meeting was that Veselnitskaya wanted to talk about "adoptions," which may well have been code for a push to have the sanctions lifted against those 18 Russians involved in the Magnitsky matter, should Trump emerge victorious in November. Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin have been working for years, the former at the behest of Putin, to undo those sanctions. 

It is all of a piece, and as the old saying goes, when you hear hoofbeats, don't think of zebras. We are dealing with some very grim possibilities here. In the worst case scenario, the president of the United States, his son and top campaign/administration staffers got themselves involved with an agent for the Russian government who is neck-deep in a massive money laundering scandal that may very well have gotten a guy killed in prison. These issues could explain why Robert Mueller has tapped the best money laundering prosecutors and investigators in all of US jurisprudence to join his team.

It would seem that whatever slivers of credibility the Trump administration ever possessed have been consumed by this bonfire of hubris, lying and shady dealing (though much of his base remains loyal). Congressional Republicans are trying to pretend the White House doesn't actually exist as their legislative agenda founders like a rot-riddled rowboat. The only statement coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is "Talk to the lawyers," lather rinse repeat. Junior is about to have a series of incredibly unpleasant conversations with some very serious people, whereupon he may come to learn -- perhaps for the first time in his life -- the meaning of the word "consequences." Messrs. Kushner and Manafort, who were actual campaign employees when that fateful meeting took place, and are therefore subject to a whole raft of other laws, can expect the sameread more