The Russian oligarch and Russian lawyer who were key players in the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting reached out to Trump’s team after Donald Trump was elected President to try to lobby on the Russian sanctions they sought to overturn, according to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Friday that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya reached out to the Trump family after the election with a request to follow up on efforts to repeal the Magnitsky Act, the 2012 Russian sanctions the US enacted over human rights abuses.
Veselnitskaya was the Russian lawyer at the center of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, where Donald Trump Jr. expected to receive damaging information on Hillary Clinton but instead Veselnitskaya focused on the repeal of the sanctions.
“Clearly, there’s an expectation there on the Russian side that they may now have success with the Magnitsky Act, given that the prior meeting and communications dealt with the offer of help,” Schiff said. “It certainly seems like the Russians were ready for payback.”
In addition, another effort to reach out to Trump’s team after the election came from Aras Agalarov, the Azerbaijani-Russian oligarch who also has ties to the Trump Tower meeting. Agalarov, along with his pop-star son, Emin Agalarov, also worked with Trump to bring the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow.
The outreach from the Russians after the 2016 election was one of the new details that stemmed from the release of the Republican report on the Russia investigation, as well as a lengthy Democratic dissent that disputed the Republican conclusion there was no evidence of collusion between Trump’s team and Russia.
In the dissent, Democrats cite a November 28, 2016, email from publicist Rob Goldstone to Trump’s assistant, Rhona Graff, which said that “Aras Agalarov has asked me to pass on this document in the hope it can be passed on to the appropriate team.”
“Later that day, Graff forwarded to Steve Bannon the email with Agalarov’s document regarding the Magnitsky Act as an attachment, explaining, ‘The PE [President Elect] knows Aras well. Rob is his rep in the US and sent this on. Not sure how to proceed, if at all.’”
Trump’s team has denied there was any follow up after the Trump Tower meeting.
It’s not clear that there was any response from the Trump team to the request from Veselnitskaya, or Agalarov. The Trump administration has not moved to roll back the Russian sanctions, and, in fact, new sanctions against Russia have been enacted.
CNN has previously reported additional outreach that came after the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, in which Goldstone sent emails to Trump’s team in the weeks following that meeting. But the overtures from Veselnitskaya and Agalarov are the first indication that the same Russians were still pushing to change the sanctions law after Trump was elected.
While the Democratic report released Friday does not mention Veselnitskaya’s post-election outreach, a committee source said that she approached the Trump team following the election before the appeal from Aras Agalarov.
In the lead-up to the Trump Tower meeting, Goldstone told Trump Jr. that Veselnitskaya had damaging information about Clinton that he claimed came from the Russian government. At the meeting, however, Trump Jr. said she did not provide damaging information, and instead focused on the repeal of the sanctions law.