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Lawyer who promised Trump campaign dirt on Clinton ‘linked to Russian officials’

Natalia Veselnitskaya has been under scrutiny after it emerged she met Donald Trump Jr in June 2016.

The Moscow lawyer said to have promised Donald Trump’s presidential campaign dirt on his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton worked more closely with senior Russian government officials than she previously admitted to, documents have revealed.

Scores of emails, transcripts and legal documents reviewed by the Associated Press paint a portrait of Natalia Veselnitskaya as a well-connected lawyer who served as a ghostwriter for top Russian government lawyers and received assistance from senior interior ministry personnel in a case involving a key client.

The data was obtained through Russian opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s London-based investigative unit, the Dossier Centre, which is compiling profiles of Russians it accuses of benefiting from corruption.

Bill Browder has become a leading critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin (AP)

Ms Veselnitskaya has been under scrutiny since it emerged last year that Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr, met with her in June 2016 after being told by an intermediary that she represented the Russian government and was offering Moscow’s help in defeating rival presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Ms Veselnitskaya denied acting on behalf of Russian officialdom when she met the Trump team, telling US congress that she operates “independently of any government bodies”.

However, the Dossier Centre’s documents suggest her ties to Russian authorities are close – and they pull the curtain back on her campaign to overturn the sanctions imposed by the US on Russian officials.

The emails show that Ms Veselnitskaya was mixed up in the Russian government’s attempt to extract financial information from the former law firm of Bill Browder, the American-born British businessman who was a long-time critic of the Kremlin.

Ms Veselnitskaya is said to have promised Donald Trump’s presidential campaign dirt on his Democratic opponent (AP)

An email dated October 31 2017 shows Ms Veselnitskaya’s office preparing a draft version of Russian deputy general prosecutor Mikhail Alexandrov’s affidavit to Cypriot authorities. “This is needed by tomorrow,” she wrote to a subordinate.

Two weeks later, a finalised version of the same document was sent by a Russian diplomatic staff member to a Cypriot counterpart, the Dossier Centre’s files show.

Mr Browder, who has often clashed with Ms Veselnitskaya in and out of court, said this reinforced the idea that she was enmeshed with Russian officialdom.

He said: “If her office is drafting replies for Russian-Cyprus law enforcement co-operation, in my opinion that effectively shows that she’s an agent of the Russian government, and not an independent lawyer as she claims.”

In a written statement, the Russian Embassy in Cyprus called the AP’s question a “provocation” and said it had “no idea who is Nataliya Veselnitskaya and what she sends or doesn’t send to the Cypriot officials”.

Mr Alexandrov refused to answer questions on the matter.

Ms Veselnitskaya also appears to have received government support, the files show.

When Swiss officials arrived in Moscow on September 2015 to interrogate Denis Katsyv, one of her key clients, they were met not just by Ms Veselnitskaya but by Lt Col AV Ranchenkov, a senior interior ministry official previously known for his role in investigating the Russian punk band Pussy Riot.

Lt Col Ranchenkov devoted a chunk of the interview to questions about the legality of Mr Browder’s actions, according to a transcript of the interrogation reviewed by AP.

The emails also show how Ms Veselnitskaya tried to extend her influence to the United States, where she was working to overturn the Magnitsky Act, a sanctions law championed by Mr Browder after his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died under suspicious circumstances in a Russian prison.

Moscow responded to the sanctions with a ban on US adoptions of Russian orphans. That prompted lobbyists to court groups such as Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption Including Neighbouring Countries (FRUA), a charity that supports families who adopt children from former Soviet bloc nations. The idea was to use the issue of adoptions to help them reverse the sanctions.

Donald Trump has repeatedly denied there was any collusion between Russia and his presidential campaign (AP)

Jan Wondra, FRUA’s chairman, said she attended a meeting in Washington on June 8 2016 with a group of people that included Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist who was working with Ms Veselnitskaya to overturn the sanctions.

The group told her there was evidence that the Magnitsky Act was propelled by bogus claims spread by Mr Browder, Ms Wondra said. It promised that the revelation could lead to the overturning of the Russian adoption ban.

Ms Wondra said she was suspicious and feared that the lobbyists wanted FRUA’s endorsement for their own purposes.

Emphasising that she spoke only for herself, not her organisation, she said: “My antennae were out. I looked at this as an attempt to put public pressure on Congress to rescind all or a part of the Magnitsky Act.

“The conclusion I drew was that FRUA should not participate. And we didn’t.”

The emails leave some unanswered questions. In particular, the Dossier Centre’s investigation turned up almost no messages about the Trump Tower meeting itself. The group said it received only a few messages dealing with the media queries when the meeting became public in mid-2017.

There is also no mention either of the Russian hack-and-leak operation which hit the Democrats immediately following Ms Veselnitskaya’s visit.

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