The Obama Justice Department cleared Moscow attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya last year under “extraordinary circumstances,” allowing her to enter the United States without a visa before she penetrated then-candidate Donald Trump’s inner circle, The Hill reported Wednesday evening.
Veselnitskaya spent June of 2016 lobbying government officials and lawmakers to reverse the Magnitsky Act and restore the ability of Americans to adopt Russian orphans. She managed to finagle a meeting with the Trump team by promising that she had dirt on Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president.
That work was a far cry from the narrow reason the U.S. government initially gave for allowing Veselnitskaya into the U.S. in late 2015, according to federal court records.
The Moscow lawyer had been turned down for a visa to enter the U.S. lawfully but then was granted special immigration parole by then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch for the limited purpose of helping a company owned by Russian businessman Denis Katsyv, her client, defend itself against a Justice Department asset forfeiture case in federal court in New York City.
During a court hearing in early January 2016 as Veselnitskaya’s permission to stay in the country was about to expire, federal prosecutors described how rare the grant of parole immigration was as Veselnitskaya pleaded for more time to remain in the United States.
“In October the government bypassed the normal visa process and gave a type of extraordinary permission to enter the country called immigration parole,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni explained to the judge during a hearing Jan. 6, 2016.
“That’s a discretionary act that the statute allows the Attorney General to do in extraordinary circumstances. In this case, we did that so that Mr. Katsyv could testify. And we made the further accommodation of allowing his Russian lawyer into the country to assist,” he added.
The prosecutor said Justice was willing to allow the Russian lawyer to enter the United States again as the trial in the case approached so she could help prepare and attend the proceedings.
The court record indicates the presiding judge asked the Justice Department to extend Veselnitskaya’s immigration parole another week until he decided motions in the case. There are no other records in the court file indicating what happened with that request or how Veselnitskaya appeared in the country later that spring.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in New York confirmed Wednesday to The Hill that it let Veselnitskaya into the country on a grant of immigration parole from October 2015 to early January 2016.
Justice Department and State Department officials could not immediately explain how the Russian lawyer was still in the country in June for the meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and the events in Washington D.C.
The lobbying effort to repeal the Magnitsky Act fizzled out fairly quickly in the summer of 2016, sources told The Hill.
They described Veselnitskaya, who does not speak English, as a mysterious and shadowy figure. They said they were confused as to whether she had an official role in the lobbying campaign, although she was present for several meetings.
The sources also described their interactions with Veselnitskaya in the same way that Trump Jr. did. They claimed not to know who she worked for or what her motives were.
“Natalia didn’t speak a word of English,” said one source. “Don’t let anyone tell you this was a sophisticated lobbying effort. It was the least professional campaign I’ve ever seen. If she’s the cream of the Moscow intelligence community then we have nothing to worry about.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter Tuesday to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly requesting all records on how Veselnitskaya was able to enter and remain in the U.S.
Grassley wants to know why Veselnitskaya, who has a long history of lobbying against U.S. sanctions on Russia, was able to remain in the U.S. after her parole status expired in January.