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Was Russian Lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in the U.S. Illegally?

The Daily Beast logo The Daily Beast 7/13/2017 Katie Zavadski

© Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast Natalia Veselnitskaya, 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 client in a Manhattan. Prosecutors granted Veselnitskaya temporary “immigration parole” in late 2015 but it expired in early 2016, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York told The Daily Beast.

Veselnitskaya’s parole was not renewed, the U.S. Attorney’s Office added.

That raises the question of how Veselnitskaya was able to enter the U.S. in June 2016 when she visited Trump Tower.

The State Department would not 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 the State Department could not comment due to privacy considerations. Veselnitskaya also did not respond to requests for comment.

Yet Veselnitskaya visited the U.S. at least once more after she met with Trump Jr.

In February 2017, Veselnitskaya appeared in a Manhattan federal courtroom with interpreters, according to a court transcript reviewed by The Daily Beast.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley demanded to know how Veselnitskaya was able to stay in the U.S. after her parole expired on Tuesday. “This raises serious questions about whether the Obama administration authorized her to remain in the country, and if so, why?” Grassley wrote.

Veselnitskaya said in a court filing she was denied a visa to enter the U.S. in 2015. Veselnitskaya said 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 Veselnitskaya’s visa request was denied.

In fall 2015, Veselnitskaya persuaded federal prosecutors to grant her immigration parole. Despite this, 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 a Russian firm called 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 in a Russian prison in 2009. The U.S. passed the Magnitsky Act in 2012, which sanctioned several dozen Russian officials over Magnitsky’s death and other alleged corruption.

Veselnitskaya had clashed with prosecutors before. She billed the U.S. more than $50,000 in expenses incurred during her client’s deposition in New York, prosecutors told Judge Thomas Griesa in a letter, including two nights at the expensive 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 and 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 non-profit group to lobby against the Magnitsky Act called the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation. The group 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.

Russian adoptions and the Magnitsky Act were supposedly the main topic of discussion between Veselnitskaya and Trump.

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 sitting behind former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing about “U.S. Policy Towards Putin’s Russia.”

Attending the same hearing was a lobbyist for Veselnitskaya’s group, Rinat Akhmetshin, photos given to The Daily Beast by Hermitage Capital show. (Hermitage is an investment company owned by Magnitsky's former employer.)

© Provided by The Daily Beast

Akhmetshin was paid $10,000 by Veselnitskaya’s group, according to his registered-lobbyist disclosure form. Akhmetshin was described by Radio Free Europe as a hired gun for various characters from the former USSR. 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.”

© Provided by The Daily Beast In April 2017, Akhmetshin met Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in Berlin and reportedly approached him about the Prevezon case. Rohrabacher, a pro-Putin Republican, told CNN he is “skeptical” about the case and echoed Moscow talking points that it may be intended to "create hostility and belligerence toward Russia."

Rohrabacher is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee whose hearing Akhmetshin and Veselnitskaya attended.

— Lachlan Markay contributed to this report.

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