The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. and two other top campaign officials had been shopping around a new angle on an old scandal related to the Clinton Foundation.
Kremlin-linked attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya believed Russian prosecutors had evidence that hedge fund manager William Browder and the wealthy Ziff brothers -- who had contributed to the charitable foundation operated by Hillary Clinton and her family -- broke tax laws in both the U.S. and Russia, reported Bloomberg.
A person familiar with Veselnitskaya and her work told the website that the attorney was promoting a new documentary that was critical of Browder -- once the biggest portfolio investor in Russia but now one of the leading critics of Vladimir Putin.
Browder and his attorney – Sergei Magnitsky – uncovered a scam by corrupt Russian officials to steal one of his companies and then illegally claimed back $230 million taxes he'd paid.
Magnitsky was arrested for tax evasion and later died in prison, after he was beaten and denied medical treatment.
Browder was convicted of tax evasion in absentia, and Magnitsky was convicted after his death -- and the U.S. imposed sanctions against 18 Russians for human rights abuses under a 2012 law named for the late attorney.
Russia's general prosecutor returned to the Browder case weeks ahead of the Trump Tower meeting between Veselnitskaya and the candidate's son, son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to Bloomberg.
The office issued a May 19, 2016, statement claiming evidence showed Browder’s Hermitage Fund and his investors, including Ziff Brothers Investments LLC, had evaded more than $16 million in Russian taxes related to purchases of shares in the state-run Gazprom oil company.
Russian prosecutors suspected the transactions might also have violated U.S. law -- and Veselnitskaya believed the renewed investigation would hurt Clinton and the Democratic Party.
Browder and at least one member of the Ziff family had contributed to the Clinton Global Initiative, according to the Bloomberg source, and Trump and the GOP had turned the charitable foundation into a campaign issue suggesting corruption by the former Secretary of State.
The Ziffs have not been charged in Russia, and the family declined to comment on the Bloomberg report.
Daniel Ziff gave $50,000 to $100,000 to CGI, according to records, and Browder’s firm Hermitage Capital gave $10,000 to $25,000 to attend a CGI conference a decade ago.
By comparison, Jared Kushner's father, Charles, gave $250,000 to $500,000 the Clinton Foundation.
Browder described the new investigation as “stale FSB allegations,” referring to the Russian security agency, and pointed out that Veselnitskaya was a strong critic of the Magnitsky Act and represented Russians sanctioned under the law named for his late attorney.
The hedge fund manager and Putin critic isn't surprised Veselnitskaya was enlisted in Kremlin efforts to compromise the Trump campaign.
"Her Russian backers probably had a number of carrots they were trying to dangle in front of the Trumps," Browder said.
It's not clear whether Veselnitskaya presented any information about Browder or Ziff during the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower, but the president's son admits the lawyer brought up her opposition to the Magnitsky Act. In retaliation to the act, Russia banned nearly all adoptions from Russia into the U.S.
Veselnitskaya has told Sputnik News that Browder tricked the U.S. Congress into passing the law.