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By Russ Read
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs has fired a top aide to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher from his position on the committee after revelations of his connections to pro-Russian lobbyists.
Paul Behrends served as staff director for Rohrabacher’s Foreign Affairs subcommittee. He was reportedly fired at the recommendation of Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce.
“Paul Behrends no longer works at the committee,” a Foreign Affairs committee spokesperson told the Atlantic on Wednesday evening.
Behrends and Rohrabacher went on a trip to Moscow in 2016 where the congressman received materials critical of the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law which sanctioned Russian officials believed to be involved in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was investigating tax fraud within the Russian government. The meeting sparked concern from embassy officials who warned Rohrabacher and Behrends about the presence of Russian intelligence at the meeting.
Behrends had allegedly been a point of contact on Capitol Hill for Russia lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Soviet intelligence officer-turned lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, according to a Politico report. Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin’s meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in June 2016 is now a point of controversy in the ongoing investigation into the campaign’s possible connections to Russia.
Many have criticized Rohrabacher for views that some see as friendly towards Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
Rohrabacher praised Behrends in a statement to Politico in response to the news.
“Paul Behrends has done a terrific job for me and the committee,” said Rohrabacher. “I have not been told anything to the contrary. I am looking forward to discussing this with the committee leadership. I am sure we will work this out.”