At the joint U.S.-Russia summit on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied allegations that his government attacked financier Bill Browder, the man responsible for huge financial sanctions against him. Browder shot back, claiming that the Russian president was playing President Donald Trump “like a fiddle.”
“He is playing Trump and the United States like a fiddle right now,” Browder said on CNBC’s “Power Lunch.” Putin arrived late to the meeting, and Trump declared his confidence in “both parties,” refusing to condemn Russian meddling in the U.S. 2016 election.
“I think Putin got 90 percent of what he wanted just by the whole thing happening,” Browder said. “I mean, just understand that Putin is a guy who is running a country with an economy the size of the State of New York with a military budget 90 percent less than the United States’ military budget, and he has been put on an equal footing to the most powerful man in the free world, and he came an hour late to the meeting.”
“For Putin, just the fact — just the optics that he had this important meeting — is all that he really needed,” the financier argued.
Browder explained that the Russian president “is a very clever man. He has been at this game for a long time. He was a KGB officer and the head of the KGB. You know, he has been thinking about this summit for months and months and months and looking at every different nuance and potential weakness of Trump.”
Browder, founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, knows Putin well. In 2000, the new Russian president had to rein in the oligarchs, so he worked at exposing corruption, just as Browder did. By 2005, however, Putin was targeting Browder. The financier hired Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered identity theft and government corruption. For this, Putin’s government arrested and tortured him, and Magnitsky died in prison.
Browder struck back, helping to create and pass the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which froze assets and banned visas for those who killed Magnitsky, as well as other Russians involved in human rights abuses. President Obama signed the bill into law in December 2012.
In his remarks Monday, Putin signaled his willingness to allow U.S. intelligence to question Russian nationals accused by special counsel Robert Mueller, so long as the U.S. allowed Russia to question Browder.
“Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over $1.5 million in Russia — they never paid any taxes, neither in Russia or the United States, and yet the money escaped the country, it was transferred to the United States,” Putin charged. “They sent a huge amount of money, $400 million, as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.”
“It might have been legal, the contribution itself, but the way the money was earned was illegal,” Putin charged. “So we have solid reason to believe that some intelligence officers accompanied them and guided these transactions, so we have an interest in questioning them.”
Browder attributed this attack to Putin’s insecurity. “Putin feels personally exposed and potentially at risk of having his assets seized in the West, and so every chance he gets he tries to get foreign countries to come after me,” the financier charged.
Browder flatly denied sending any money to the Hillary Clinton campaign. “I did not. I’m not a U.S. citizen, I don’t live in the United States, I’ve been living in Britain for 29 years,” he said. “I make no campaign contributions, so that is not true.”
“I should also point out that Vladimir Putin and his regime have accused me of serial killing, of being a CIA, MI-6 agent, and about 1,000 other things, and so he is kind of unhinged in these accusations,” the financier charged.
That said, Browder insisted that Putin won from this meeting with Trump. He described Trump’s statements as confusing. “I have been watching Trump and his public statements [not distancing himself from Putin’s denials of 2016 election meddling], and this type of stuff which I find awful and unpleasant, and at the same time Trump completely surrounds himself with people like [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo, Jim Mattis, Nikki Haley, and others who are completely clear-eyed about what a criminal and monster Vladimir Putin is,” he said.
“I would almost describe it as schizophrenic because U.S. policy towards Russia is actually quite tough: the sanctions are tough; the U.S. is supplying military equipment to Ukraine, which is tough; and various other things,” Browder said. “It’s not clear what Trump could actually do because the apparatus doesn’t agree with him.”
There may be more going on than meets the eye, but if Browder says this meeting was great for Putin and bad for Trump and America, there is reason to believe him.