As twists go, it’s not exactly on par with finding out who Keyser Söze really is, but it’s intriguing. The Hill’s John Solomon reported late last night that the Russian attorney who met with Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort a year ago didn’t have a normal visa. Natalia Veselnitskaya received a waiver to enter the US from the Department of Justice — during the Barack Obama administration;
The Russian lawyer who penetrated Donald Trump’s inner circle was initially cleared into the United States by the Justice Department under “extraordinary circumstances” before she embarked on a lobbying campaign last year that ensnared the president’s eldest son, members of Congress, journalists and State Department officials, according to court and Justice Department documents and interviews.
This revelation means it was the Obama Justice Department that enabled the newest and most intriguing figure in the Russia-Trump investigation to enter the country without a visa.
Veselnitskaya first started entering the US under an extraordinary waiver in late 2015, Solomon writes, because of her work on a case involving a Russian firm. She helped prepare the defense for the firm in an asset-forfeiture case, and later re-entered without a visa again in January as the trial date neared. The second entry came as a result of a request from a federal judge to the DoJ rather than a DoJ action on its own.
However, that leaves a big question unanswered: what was Veselnitskaya still doing in the US in June? Neither the DoJ nor the State Department provided an answer to Solomon on that point. By June, Veselnitskaya was no longer spending her time exclusively on the defense of the Russian firm, but had branched out into lobbying Congress and the State Department:
She also engaged in a pro-Russia lobbying campaign and attended an event at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. where Russian supporters showed a movie that challenged the underpinnings of the U.S. human rights law known as the Magnitysky Act, which Russian leader Vladimir Putin has reviled and tried to reverse. …
At least five congressional staffers and State Department officials attended that movie showing, according to a Foreign Agent Registration Act complaint filed with the Justice Department about Veselnitskaya’s efforts.
And Veselnitskaya also attended a dinner with the chairman of the House subcommittee overseeing Russia policy, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and roughly 20 other guests at a dinner club frequented by Republicans.
This raises a few questions. Was Veselnitskaya required to register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), and if so, was she so registered? A quick search of the FARA database does not turn up any registrations listing Veselnitskaya as a foreign agent. She clearly was representing the Russian government position on the Magnitsky Act, even if she did not formally work for them, which is another question that has yet to be fully answered about Veselnitskaya.
Apart from those two questions about the attorney, questions remain about the DoJ and State Department too. Did they issue Veselnitskaya a visa at any time? If so, why don’t they have that data? If not, then how did they allow her to remain in the country? It’s not as though Veselnitskaya kept a low profile — she showed up in the front row of a House Foreign Affairs hearing less than a week after her meeting with the Trump campaign triumvirate, Solomon claims, apparently behind Ambassador Michael McFaul (at ~4:09 in this clip):
If she’s hiding, she’s hiding in plain sight.
Still, unlike Keyser Söze’s reveal, this twist doesn’t change the overall story much. While it raises some significant questions about the competence of the DoJ and State Department during the Obama administration at the same time they claim to have become seriously concerned about Russian propaganda and disinformation efforts, it doesn’t change the dynamics of the Veselnitskaya meeting with Don Jr, Kushner, and Manafort. The question there isn’t how Veselnitskaya got into the country — it’s how she got access to the highest levels of the Trump campaign while being explicitly identified as part of the Russian government’s attempts to boost Donald Trump Sr. It just means that there are still lots of questions to answer from all sorts of people about why Veselnitskaya kept popping up in the US in 2016, what she was really doing, and for whom she was working.