Tan­gled ties to Rus­sia probe

Repub­li­can Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s name keeps com­ing up in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - SARAH D. WIRE SPRING 2017

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher has long be­lieved that the United States needs to build a friend­lier re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia, and he’s never tried to hide it.

He’s been a fre­quent de­fender of Moscow on ca­ble news for years, and his col­leagues have spec­u­lated pri­vately about the rea­sons he’s will­ing to work with much-ma­ligned Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

But links be­tween the Costa Mesa Repub­li­can and the coun­try he’s bucked his party to ex­tend a hand to­ward have raised new eye­brows be­cause of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Rus­sia’s at­tempts to un­der­mine the 2016 elec­tion that Don­ald Trump won.

De­spite win­ning re­elec­tion last year by nearly 17 per­cent­age points, Rohrabacher’s district is con­sid­ered a bat­tle­ground for 2018. He has drawn a Repub­li­can chal­lenger, and a hand­ful of Demo­cratic chal­lengers — sev­eral of whom are high­light­ing his friend­li­ness to­ward Rus­sia in their cam­paigns.

There is no in­di­ca­tion Rohrabacher is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the FBI or the House and Se­nate com­mit­tees look­ing into what hap­pened, but his name keeps pop­ping up in con­nec­tion to key fig­ures and events in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

It’s a story that in­volves al­leged Rus­sian tax fraud, for­eign adop­tions, din­ner with a for­eign agent and a meet­ing in Trump Tower with the soon-to-be pres­i­dent’s son. And much of it has just re­cently come to light.

2012

A warn­ing from the FBI about a Rus­sian spy

FBI agents sat Rohrabacher down in the Capi­tol and warned him that a Rus­sian spy was try­ing to re­cruit him as an “agent of in­flu­ence” — some­one the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment might be able to use to steer pol­i­cy­mak­ing.

When the New York Times first re­ported the meet­ing in May amid swirling ac­cu­sa­tions about Rus­sia’s elec­tion med­dling, Rohrabacher said he ap­pre­ci­ated the warn­ing but didn’t need it.

“Any time you meet a Rus­sian mem­ber of their For­eign Min­istry or the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment, you as­sume those peo­ple have some­thing to do with Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence,” he told the news­pa­per.

The news­pa­per’s sources said there was no ev­i­dence the re­cruiters suc­ceeded or that Rohrabacher had been paid by a for­eign gov­ern­ment.

MARCH 19, 2013

A ‘nice lit­tle din­ner’ with Paul Manafort

When for­mer Trump cam­paign man­ager Paul Manafort was work­ing on be­half of a pro-Rus­sian Ukrainian po­lit­i­cal party in 2013, he met with just one U.S. politi­cian — Rohrabacher.

Rohrabacher said in an in­ter­view the meet­ing hap­pened over din­ner at the Capi­tol Hill Club, a pop­u­lar Wash­ing­ton Repub­li­can so­cial club. He said Manafort billed it as a chance to get reac­quainted decades af­ter they worked to­gether in the 1970s on Pres­i­dent Rea­gan’s cam­paign. Still, he as­sumed Manafort had an agenda.

“I as­sume when old friends call me up and are want­ing to get reac­quainted and stuff I al­ways as­sume they are in some way un­der con­tract with some­body,” Rohrabacher said. “We dis­cussed a myr­iad of things, a lot of per­sonal stuff, a lot of dif­fer­ent analysis of the pol­i­tics of the day. It was a nice lit­tle din­ner.”

Manafort didn’t file as a for­eign agent with the Jus­tice Depart­ment, or dis­close the din­ner, un­til he came un­der scru­tiny dur­ing the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

APRIL 2016

A Moscow meet­ing and a ‘conf iden­tial’ memo

Dur­ing a con­gres­sional trip to Rus­sia in 2016, Rohrabacher and his long­time friend and em­ployee Paul Behrends met pri­vately with high-rank­ing Rus­sian jus­tice of­fi­cials.

At the time, Congress was con­sid­er­ing ex­pand­ing the 2012 Mag­nit­sky Act, which pre­vented Rus­sians be­lieved to be in­volved in cer­tain hu­man rights abuses from trav­el­ing to the United States or spend­ing money in the coun­try.

The law was named for whistle­blow­ing lawyer Sergei Mag­nit­sky, who died un­der sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances in a Rus­sian prison af­ter he ac­cused sev­eral top Rus­sian of­fi­cials of mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing $230 mil­lion in taxes.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin was in­censed by the re­stric­tions. In re­tal­i­a­tion, he halted U.S. adop­tions of Rus­sian chil­dren.

Dur­ing the April meet­ing, ac­cord­ing to mul­ti­ple news re­ports, Rohrabacher was given a memo stamped “con­fi­den­tial.” Deputy Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral Vik­tor Grin, one of the Rus­sians whose for­eign ac­counts were frozen un­der the Mag­nit­sky Act, was in the room, ac­cord­ing to news ac­counts.

“Chang­ing at­ti­tudes to the Mag­nit­sky story in the Congress … could have a very fa­vor­able re­sponse from the Rus­sian side,” the memo said, ac­cord­ing to the Daily Beast.

It con­tested the de­tails of the Mag­nit­sky case, in­clud­ing how the lawyer died, and lev­eled ac­cu­sa­tions against Mag­nit­sky’s Amer­i­can-born boss, fi­nancier Bill Brow­der. They wanted Rohrabacher to cast doubt on what had hap­pened to Mag­nit­sky, and try to at least get Mag­nit­sky’s name re­moved from the law.

Politico also re­ported that Rohrabacher hud­dled with Rus­sian Amer­i­can lob­by­ist Ri­nat Akhmetshin and Rus­sian lawyer Natalia Ve­sel­nit­skaya while he was in Moscow, a meet­ing Rohrabacher hasn’t con­firmed. The pair later went on to lead lob­by­ing ef­forts against the ex­panded Mag­nit­sky Act when Rohrabacher re­turned to Wash­ing­ton.

Rohrabacher called sto­ries about the trip and the doc­u­ment a “noth­ing burger” this month, say­ing that as chair­man of the House For­eign Af­fairs Sub­com­mit­tee on Europe, Eura­sia and Emerg­ing Threats he has an obli­ga­tion to get in­for­ma­tion from many sources. He said for­eign gov­ern­ments of­ten pass on in­for­ma­tion to try to prove their point.

“The crim­i­nal jus­tice depart­ment in Moscow had done a study of the Mag­nit­sky case and had in­ves­ti­gated it, and I was asked if I would look at it, and I said sure,” Rohrabacher said. “I’m the chair­man of the sub­com­mit­tee that’s sup­posed to fo­cus on Rus­sia. It’s ab­so­lutely ap­pro­pri­ate, and I think any­body that doesn’t spend that time fo­cus­ing on their re­spon­si­bil­ity is derelict in their duty.”

MAY AND JUNE 2016

Lob­by­ing his fel­low House mem­bers

Soon af­ter Rohrabacher and Behrends re­turned to Wash­ing­ton, Rohrabacher de­layed fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion of the ex­panded Mag­nit­sky Act.

“The con­gress­man came across some in­for­ma­tion that puts the Mag­nit­sky nar­ra­tive as we know it into some ques­tion, and he wants to pur­sue it,” Rohrabacher spokesman Ken Grubbs told Na­tional Re­view at the time.

Rohrabacher and Behrends be­gan set­ting up a sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing on the Mag­nit­sky Act with plans to in­vite Brow­der and show a doc­u­men­tary dis­put­ing the facts of the Mag­nit­sky case.

Also try­ing to sway mem­bers of Congress at this time were the lob­by­ist and lawyer Rohrabacher had re­port­edly met with in Moscow months be­fore: Akhmetshin, a reg­is­tered lob­by­ist for Hu­man Rights Ac­count­abil­ity Global Ini­tia­tive, a group started by Ve­sel­nit­skaya to lift the adop­tion ban, but widely thought to be fo­cused on get­ting rid of the Mag­nit­sky Act sanc­tions.

But Rohrabacher’s plan for a sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing was way­laid by For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ed Royce (R-Fuller­ton), who in­stead ar­ranged for the full com­mit­tee to dis­cuss U.S. pol­icy to­ward Rus­sia in June, a move that meant Royce con­trolled who would be called as a wit­ness.

Ve­sel­nit­skaya can be seen in video of the hear­ing sit­ting be­hind then-U.S. Am­bas­sador to Rus­sia Michael McFaul.

Nei­ther Akhmetshin nor Ve­sel­nit­skaya reg­is­tered as for­eign agents with the Jus­tice Depart­ment, but Akhmetshin did reg­is­ter as a lob­by­ist. His 2016 reg­is­tra­tion lists three for­eign clients, all Moscow res­i­dents.

One of them, De­nis Kat­syv, owns Preve­zon, the com­pany sued by then-U.S. At­tor­ney for the South­ern District of New York Preet Bharara for us­ing the stolen money Mag­nit­sky was in­ves­ti­gat­ing to buy Man­hat­tan real es­tate.

Bharara was fired by Trump along with other U.S. at­tor­neys, and his re­place­ment set­tled the case against Kat­syv and Preve­zon in May for $6 mil­lion. Democrats on the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee have ques­tioned Atty. Gen. Jeff Ses­sions about the tim­ing of the set­tle­ment, which came just days be­fore the trial was set to be­gin and for about half of what the Jus­tice Depart­ment ini­tially sought.

JUNE 9, 2016

A gath­er­ing in Trump Tower

Around the same time as Rohrabacher was or­ga­niz­ing the sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing that never hap­pened, the pres­i­dent’s el­dest son, Don­ald Trump Jr., agreed to meet with some peo­ple with Rus­sian ties af­ter he was told he would be given deroga­tory in­for­ma­tion about Hil­lary Clin­ton, the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, as “part of Rus­sia and its gov­ern­ment’s sup­port for Mr. Trump,” ac­cord­ing to emails.

He brought along his broth­erin-law, Jared Kush­ner, and Manafort to the Trump Tower gath­er­ing.

Ve­sel­nit­skaya pro­vided Trump Jr. with ma­te­rial she said showed im­proper do­na­tions to the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee. Then Ve­sel­nit­skaya and Akhmetshin be­gan to talk about the Mag­nit­sky Act and Rus­sian adop­tions, ac­cord­ing to mul­ti­ple news ac­counts.

Hunt­ing­ton Beach busi­ness­man Ike Kave­ladze also at­tended the meet­ing. Rohrabacher said in an in­ter­view he’d never heard of Kave­ladze, a con­stituent who lives near Rohrabacher’s Costa Mesa home, un­til af­ter the Los An­ge­les Times iden­ti­fied him as a meet­ing at­tendee.

Re­ports on who at­tended the meet­ing thrust Rohrabacher’s ef­forts to re­move Mag­nit­sky’s name from the sanc­tions law back into the spotlight.

JUNE 15, 2016

‘There’s two peo­ple I think Putin pays’

House Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy, a GOP Cal­i­for­nia col­league of Rohrabacher’s, spec­u­lated in a pri­vate meet­ing that Trump and Rohrabacher were be­ing paid by Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

“There’s two peo­ple I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said in a record­ing of the ex­change, first re­ported by the Wash­ing­ton Post in May. At that point, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan cut off the con­ver­sa­tion and swore those who were there to se­crecy.

A tran­script of the tape noted that McCarthy was laugh­ing dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion with other Repub­li­can lead­ers. Af­ter the tran­script leaked, both McCarthy and Ryan said the com­ment had been a joke.

A can­celed trip to Rus­sia amid ‘pub­lic brouhaha’

Af­ter pro­mot­ing a trip to meet with the Rus­sian par­lia­ment in Jan­uary, Rohrabacher can­celed it with no no­tice weeks later.

Rohrabacher said in an in­ter­view that he de­cided not to go be­cause he was wor­ried the na­tional fo­cus on Rus­sia would make it dif­fi­cult to have se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tions with Rus­sian of­fi­cials.

“In the mid­dle of a chaotic, pub­lic brouhaha, you’re not go­ing to be able to get the se­ri­ous job done that you need to get done,” he said.

But a se­nior House GOP aide who asked not to be iden­ti­fied be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to speak to re­porters said Royce de­clined Rohrabacher’s re­quest to travel to Moscow shortly af­ter the in­au­gu­ra­tion.

JULY 21, 2017

Ac­cused of vi­o­lat­ing Rus­sian sanc­tions

Rohrabacher has now been ac­cused of vi­o­lat­ing the Rus­sian sanc­tions he fought against by the man who con­vinced Congress to ap­prove them.

In a com­plaint filed with the Trea­sury Depart­ment’s Of­fice of For­eign As­sets Con­trol, Brow­der al­leged that by get­ting in­for­ma­tion from Grin — one of the Rus­sians sanc­tioned un­der the Mag­nit­sky Act — and us­ing it to try to change U.S. law, “Rohrabacher’s and Behrends’ re­ported ac­tions thus pro­vided ser­vices to one of the cen­tral fig­ures tar­geted by the Mag­nit­sky Act.”

Such com­plaints are most com­monly made about the ac­tions of big banks or pri­vate cit­i­zens, not a sit­ting mem­ber of Congress.

In a state­ment re­spond­ing to the com­plaint, Rohrabacher said, “any­one who knows me un­der­stands that I am the mem­ber of Congress least likely to take di­rec­tions from gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, es­pe­cially for­eign gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.”

sarah.wire@la­times.com

Bill Clark CQ-Roll Call

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER, above in 2015, has been a fre­quent de­fender of Rus­sia on ca­ble news for years. The Costa Mesa Repub­li­can won re­elec­tion last year by nearly 17 per­cent­age points.

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