Dana Watch: Browder Beating

Illustration by Bob Aul

Let us return to that private meeting of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Republican leadership in June 2016, when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) told his colleagues, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.”

There were denials initially about that having been said about Russian President Vladimir Putin, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-Putin’s Cloak Room) and then-GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, but after a tape recording emerged, McCarthy tried to laugh it off as “a bad joke.”

Let us now go to the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on July 19 when Bill Browder said, “There’s one member of the U.S. Congress who I believe is on the payroll of Russia—it’s a Republican congressman from Orange County named Dana Rohrabacher.”

Browder, the chief executive officer of the Hermitage Capital hedge fund that operated for more than a decade in Russia, was not joking. Hermitage’s Russian lawyer and auditor, Sergei Magnitsky, who conducted an investigation into massive tax fraud related to the company, alleged corruption by top Russian government officials, many of whom are close to Putin. The Russian government still alleges Browder and Magnitsky were the corrupt ones, and after arresting the lawyer/auditor, he died while in Russian custody in November 2009.

Blaming the Putin regime for his colleague’s death, Browder lobbied Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, which allows U.S. visas to be withheld and financial assets to be frozen of Russian officials thought to be corrupt or human-rights abusers. The bill received bipartisan support, and President Barack Obama signed it into law in December 2012.

Putin has made reversing the Magnitsky Act his top foreign-policy initiative. Rohrabacher, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats, “is running around, trying to overturn the Magnitsky Act,” Browder said during the Aspen gathering of journalists, industry experts and top-level government officials focused on key security issues.

Asked by the moderator to back up his claims that Rohrabacher is essentially an agent of the Kremlin, Browder denied he had evidence of that. And Browder conceded he does not possess “the bank transfers to prove” Russian government payoffs to Rohrabacher. However . . .

“I believe he is under some type of influence by the Russian government,” said Browder, pointing to Rohrabacher’s behavior.

That same behavior led to Orange County’s coastal 48th District representative turning up in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election as well as the July 16 FBI affidavit accusing Maria Butina of being a Russian spy. As reported here last week, Rohrabacher calls the case against Butina “bogus.”

Got Dana Watch fodder? Email mcoker@ocweekly.com.

Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.

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