Dana Watch: Russian to Judgment

Two Russians at the center of the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort also attended a black-tie inaugural party thrown by the campaign committee for Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-Putin’s Ultimate Plus One).

Lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton to the Trump presidential campaign brain trust that was to be delivered by the other attendee at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, Russian American lobbyist and Soviet army veteran Rinat Akhmetshin. Donald Trump Jr. has said no Clinton bombshell was produced and that the pair instead sought the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Russia.

Two months before the Trump Tower meeting, Paul Behrends, a top aide to Rohrabacher, arranged for Representative French Hill (R-Arkansas) to get together with Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin during the congressman’s trip to Moscow. Hill described it as a brief encounter in which the Russian sanctions were also discussed.

Later, Behrends escorted Akhmetshin around Capitol Hill, introducing him to other lawmakers who were told of the lobbyist’s campaign against the Magnitsky Act, which was part of bipartisan legislation signed by President Barack Obama in December 2012 to impose sanctions on Russia. It is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and auditor who exposed fraud and corruption by government officials in Moscow before being beaten to death while in police custody. Russian President Vladimir Putin strongly opposes the Magnitsky Act.

During the same month that the Trump Tower meeting was held, Behrends and Rohrabacher tried to arrange for a Capitol Hill showing of an anti-Magnitsky Act documentary on behalf of Akhmetshin and Veselnitskaya. The House Foreign Affairs Committee would go on to rein in Rohrabacher as chairman of its Europe subcommittee and fire Behrends as its staff director due to their coziness with Russian lobbyists.

Now comes a Washington Post report on Akhmetshin and Veselnitskaya’s attendance at the Jan. 20, 2017, inauguration party thrown by Rohrabacher’s committee, complete with a photo of the pair. Veselnitskaya told the Post that she just happened to be in D.C. unrelated to Trump’s inauguration when Akhmetshin invited her to the private event. Akhmetshin’s lawyer claims an event organizer gave him tickets, but Rohrabacher spokesman Ken Grubbs says there is no record of Akhmetshin’s invitation or that the Russians bought tickets.

Democrats seeking Rohrabacher’s 48th congressional district seat are pounding him about his pro-Russia ties. Among them is Harley Rouda, who recently released a video advertisement critical of the Putin-Trump-Rohrabacher triangle. Rouda also just announced his campaign has so far raised $1.2 million.

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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