Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating a Russia-funded non-profit group whose founders have been linked to last year’s infamous Trump Tower meeting.
Mueller’s interest in the group, the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (HRAGIF), appears to have little to do with the Trump campaign. Instead, according to a report by Bloomberg News, he is looking into the funding sources for the non-profit.
According to Bloomberg, Mueller’s investigators have interviewed one of the founders of HRAGIF, which was registered in Delaware last year but has received nearly all of its $500,000 in funding from three Russian businessmen and an offshore shell company.
But there is some overlap between HRAGIF’s activities and the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
Three Russians who attended that meeting have links to HRAGIF, which bills itself as a charity aimed at helping “restart American adoption of Russian children.”
Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya and her interpreter, Anatoli Samochornov, have worked for HRAGIF. Veselnitskaya is the lawyer who led the Russian delegation in the Trump Tower session, which was attended on the Trump campaign side by Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.
Rinat Akhmetshin, a Washington, D.C.-based political operative who lobbied for HRAGIF, was also at the Trump Tower meeting.
Trump Jr. accepted the meeting after an acquaintance, music publicist Rob Goldstone, said that a “Russian government attorney” could offer him negative information about Hillary Clinton.
Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya, the attorney mentioned in the email, have said that the meeting was a failure and that no Clinton dirt was exchanged.
But the meeting has come under heavy scrutiny from the media and Russia investigators who wonder whether it constituted collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government. Veselnitskaya has worked in the past with Yuri Chaika, Russia’s prosecutor general. (RELATED: Oppo Research Firm Behind The Trump Dossier Linked To Pro-Kremlin Lobbying Effort)
Trump supporters have raised questions of their own about the meeting. That’s because Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin were working at the time with Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that commissioned the anti-Trump dossier funded by the Clinton campaign and DNC.
Simpson and Veselnitskaya were together on the morning of the Trump Tower meeting as well as shortly after. Both deny that Veselnitskaya mentioned the meeting to Simpson. Fusion GPS attorneys have denied that the firm’s work on the pro-Kremlin lobbying campaign had anything to do with its work on the dossier.
Simpson’s work with Veselnitskaya was part of a multi-pronged effort aimed at undercutting the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that blacklists Russian human rights abusers.
Simpson’s job was to investigate Bill Browder, a London-based banker who lobbied heavily in the U.S. to pass the sanctions law.
Browder’s lawyer, Sergey Magnitsky, is the namesake for the bill. Magnitsky was killed in a Russian prison in 2009. Browder believes he was murdered because he uncovered a massive $230 million money laundering scheme involving a Russian criminal group. Some of the money from that scheme was traced back to Denis Katsyv, a Russian businessman and client of Veselnitskaya’s.
Katsyv hired the U.S. law firm BakerHostetler to handle a civil case centered on the looted funds. Fusion GPS was paid by BakerHostetler.
Katsyv is also the largest funder of HRAGIF.
In addition to the investigation of Browder, the anti-Magnitsky campaign developed the strategy of lobbying on the issue of American adoptions of Russian children.
The Russian government banned adoptions in 2013 in retaliation for passage of the Magnitsky Act.
According to Bloomberg, the guise of using adoptions to neuter the Magnitsky Act was hatched by Ed Lieberman, a lawyer close to Akhmetshin, a former Soviet military intelligence officer. Katsyv’s lawyers at BakerHostetler introduced him to Lieberman and Akhmetshin.
Akhmetshin has already reportedly appeared before a grand jury being used by Mueller. And according to Bloomberg, Mueller’s team recently met with Robert Arakelian, one of HRAGIF’s founders and lobbyists.
Bloomberg reported that Arakelian provided details about HRAGIF’s structure and its funding. Katsyv contributed $150,000 to the group. Three Russian associates, Mikhail Ponomarev, Albert Nasibulin and Vladimir Lelyukh contributed another $250,000. A shell company called Berryle Trading donated another $100,000 to HRAGIF. Mueller asked Arakelian about Berryle Trading’s sources of funding, according to Bloomberg.
The Magnitsky Act was discussed in the Trump Tower meeting, both Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya have said in interviews. Trump Jr. has acknowledged that he sought dirt on Clinton, while Veselnitskaya says that the meeting was put together under false pretenses. She claims that Goldstone, the Trump Jr. acquaintance, embellished the information that she had on Clinton.
Veseltnitskaya took a four-page memo into the meeting. Most of it centered on Browder’s business activities. One sentence refers to campaign contributions given to the Clinton campaign. The research for the memo was put together by Simpson.