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By Jack Crowe
The Russian lawyer at the center of the controversy surrounding the Trump administration was granted entry into the U.S. by the Obama Department of Justice under ‘extraordinary circumstances,’ inadvertently enabling a pro-Russian lobbying campaign that reached lawmakers, journalists and Department of State officials.
Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya originally entered the country in October 2015 on a grant of immigration parole, a rare exemption which allowed her to enter the country without a visa and remain legally until early January 2016, according to court records obtained by The Hill.
Court records from a hearing that took place during the first week of January show Veselnitskaya was granted a week extension on her stay while her case was deliberated, but there are no further records related to her case. It remains unclear how she was able to remain in the country until June 2016 when she met with Donald Trump Jr.
Veselnitskaya gained an audience with Trump Jr. on June 9, 2016, after an intermediary told him she had damaging information related to Russian support for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Five days later, the Russian lawyer was seated in the front row of a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on Russia policy.
During her June stay in Washington, D.C., Veselnitskaya also attended a screening of a pro-Russian film at the Newseum, which five congressional staffers and State Department officials also attended. The film focused on criticizing the Magnitsky Act, which imposes financial and travel sanctions on Russian officials connected to the 2009 murder of Sergei Magnitsky, who was killed in prison after uncovering an alleged $230 million tax fraud perpetrated by corrupt Russian government officials.
Veselnitskaya’s lobbying campaign continued at a dinner she attended with the chairman of the House subcommittee overseeing Russia policy, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, and roughly 20 other guests.
“There was a dinner at the Capitol Hill Club here with about 20 people. I think I was the only congressman there. They were talking about the Magnitsky case. But that wasn’t just the topic. There was a lot of other things going on,” Rohrabacher told The Hill. “So I think she was there but I don’t remember any type of conversation with her between us. But I understand she was at the table.”
Rohrabacher said he understood Veselnitskaya and former Democratic Rep. Ron Dellums of California attended the dinner to lobby against the Magnitsky Act. (RELATED: Russian Lawyer Has Ties To Firm That Compiled Trump Dossier)
Veselnitskaya’s Washington lobbying campaign deviated significantly from the reason she was originally allowed into the country. After initially being denied a visa, she obtained an immigration parol from former Attorney General Loretta Lynch to allow her to defend her client, Prevezon, a Russian holding company on trial in New York for money laundering. (RELATED: Senate Panel To Hear Testimony From Businessman Targeted By Trump Dossier Firm)
During the January hearing, in which Veselnitskaya requested an extension of her immigration parole, federal prosecutors described how rare the exemption she had been granted in October really was.
“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 the January 6 hearing.
“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, referring to Prevezon’s owner.