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Sessions Pressed on Settlement with Company Linked to Trump Jr. Russian Lawyer

Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya speaks to journalists in Moscow, Russia, on July 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

WASHINGTON — Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions why the Justice Department settled a $230 million money laundering case two days before the trial was set to begin with a firm represented by the Russian lawyer who met last year with Donald Trump Jr.

Lawmakers are demanding to know if Natalia Veselnitskaya was involved in settlement negotiations in United States v Prevezon Holdings Ltd., et al. in the Southern District of New York and if there were any connections between the case and the Trump family.

At the root of the case is Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer who uncovered massive fraud and government corruption that led to his death in custody in 2012, prompting Congress to enact human-rights sanctions on Russia that Veselnitskaya has lobbied against. In 2007, money from the Russian treasury was funneled through various shell corporations; Cypriot company Prevezon Holdings was charged with laundering their share into luxury Manhattan real estate.

On May 12, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim, filling in after U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was fired by President Trump on March 11, announced a settlement of $5,896,333.65 with Prevezon. The Justice Department declared the deal to be a victory as they could directly trace just $1,965,444.55 of the laundered Russian funds to the company.

The text of the settlement said it was not “in any way” an admission of guilt by Prevezon.

In a letter to Sessions on Wednesday, the 17 Judiciary Dems called the settlement an “abrupt decision” and said they have “some concern” that the deal and Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting “may be connected.”

On Tuesday, Trump Jr. tweeted an email chain detailing conversations leading up to his Trump Tower meeting with Veselnitskaya, which was attended by Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. The meeting was set up by music publicist Rob Goldstone at the request of pop star Emin Agalarov, whose Kremlin-connected family sponsored Trump’s Miss Universe pageant in Russia in 2013.

On June 3, 2016, Goldstone wrote to Trump Jr., “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”

“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin,” the email continued.

Trump Jr. responded to Goldstone that he was traveling but wanted to do a call “first thing” after he returned — “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

On June 7, 2016, Goldstone wrote, “Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and The Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday.”

The meeting was delayed at least once because Veselnitskaya, who was counsel for Prevezon owner Denis Katsyv, had to be in court. After the settlement announced this spring, Veselnitskaya told Russian media that the light penalty constituted “almost an apology from the government.”

The lawmakers asked Sessions for documents related to the settlement as well as any communications that may exist between the Justice Department and Trump, the Trump campaign, Trump family members or the White House about the case.

“Did you discuss the Prevezon case with anyone associated with the transition team at any point during the time you were under consideration for Attorney General?” the letter asks. “…Did you discuss the Prevezon case with Ambassador Kislyak, or any other Russian official, at any time?” They asked for responses by July 26.

In a statement, Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) said that “the connections here are too substantial to ignore.”

“Why was a Russian money-laundering case involving more than $230 million dismissed without explanation? Why was a central figure in that case chosen to approach the Trump campaign about assistance from the Russian government? Was the firing of Preet Bharara in any way related to his office’s prosecution of these crimes? Wittingly or unwittingly, was the Department of Justice involved?” Conyers asked, adding that the settlement merits “immediate investigation by the House Judiciary Committee.”

Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) was cc’d on the Sessions letter but has not commented on the request.