Political News

Putin echoes previous talking points on Trump Tower meeting

Posted July 16, 2018 4:43 p.m. EDT

— Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday closely echoed comments made by last year Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya regarding the purpose and content of her June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with representatives of the Trump campaign.

Veselnitskaya has said in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee and in a memo containing her talking points for the meeting that was obtained by CNN that the Trump Tower meeting was intended to convince the Americans to support repealing the Magnitsky Act, the legislation that imposed US sanctions on Russia.

The Trump Tower meeting was attended by Donald Trump Jr., Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, among others. Trump Jr. agreed to the meeting after he was promised information that would "incriminate" Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, according to email traffic that has been made public between Trump Jr. and Rob Goldstone, a publicist who helped broker the meeting.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the Trump Tower meetings as part of his inquiry into whether Trump associates colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

In November 2017 at the Senate Judiciary Committee, Veselnitskaya repeatedly targeted Bill Browder, a critic of Putin who pursued the sanctions law following the death of his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky while in Russian custody in 2009.

At a news conference with Trump in Helsinki, Putin raised the subject of Browder after offering to let special counsel Robert Mueller travel to Russia to be present for the questioning of the 12 Russian military officers indicted last week. Putin said that offer would be contingent on the US consenting to allow Russians to interrogate certain Americans.

Putin suggested Browder would be of primary interest in such an interrogation, and accused Browder's associates of funneling millions of dollars earned in Russia into the US to aid the Clinton campaign.

"Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over $1.5 billion in Russia. They never paid any taxes, neither in Russia nor in the United States, and yet the money escaped the country. They were transferred to the United States," Putin said. "They sent huge amount of money, $400 million as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Well, that's the personal case. It might have been legal, the contribution itself, but the way the money was earned was illegal."

Putin continued: "So we have a solid reason to believe that some intelligence officers accompanied and guided these transactions. So we have a -- an interest of questioning them. We can all -- that -- that could be a first step, and we can also extend it. Options abound, and they all can be found in an appropriate legal framework."

In her Senate testimony, Veselnitskaya also pointed the finger at Browder.

"Browder and everyone behind him who had theretofore been silent about him acquired at least an opportunity to use Magnitsky's death to turn him into a martyr and to create a picture of all-consuming corruption in Russia in case someone in the USA decides to start investigating the real facts of their illegal actions and crimes they may have committed against the American people," she said.

Asked if she discussed Clinton during the Trump Tower meeting, Veselnitskaya she didn't recall, adding that she had suggested that money entering the US illegally could have been used to advance the interests of the Democratic Party.

The memo containing Veselnitskaya's talking points, CNN has previously reported, accused US. lawmakers of falsifying information about Magnitsky.

Veselnitskaya has said repeatedly that she isn't an agent of the Russian government. "I operate independently of any governmental bodies," she said in her Senate testimony.