MET with Rus­sians last year, Hill says.

Adop­tions on minds of lawyer, lob­by­ist

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - FRANK E. LOCKWOOD

WASHINGTON — Two months be­fore they met with mem­bers of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, two Rus­sians also vis­ited briefly with U.S. Rep. French Hill, he said.

The Lit­tle Rock Repub­li­can was a mem­ber of a con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion that trav­eled to Rus­sia in April 2016, and he par­tic­i­pated in a public roundtable dis­cus­sion, he said in an in­ter­view late last week.

Af­ter­ward, Rus­sianAmer­i­can lob­by­ist Ri­nat Akhmetshin “sug­gested he had a way that we could bet­ter Rus­sian-Amer­i­can re­la­tions and re­open the op­por­tu­nity for Amer­i­cans to adopt Rus­sians, which had been stopped by Pres­i­dent [Vladimir] Putin,” Hill re­called.

Politico, a Washington po­lit­i­cal pub­li­ca­tion, first re­ported about the en­counter.

Hill said Akhmetshin was joined by at­tor­ney Natalia Ve­sel­nit­skaya and that they lob­bied for chang­ing the name of the Mag­nit­sky Act, which is named af­ter a Rus­sian whistle­blower who the U.S. govern­ment says was im­pris­oned and killed.

Putin says Mag­nit­sky was a crim­i­nal and de­nies he was mur­dered.

Af­ter the U.S. passed the Mag­nit­sky Act, Rus­sia re­tal­i­ated by swiftly bring­ing an end to the adop­tion of Rus­sian chil­dren by Amer­i­cans.

Akhmetshin and Ve­sel­nit­skaya “said that if peo­ple were will­ing to change the name of that act that per­haps Rus­sian adop­tions could go for­ward again,” Hill said, adding, “It was just an in­ter­est­ing meet­ing.”

Af­ter­ward, “I took that in­for­ma­tion and turned it over to the House For­eign Af­fairs [Com­mit­tee] staff and the em­bassy staff in Moscow and let them as­sess whether it was of any value,” he said.

Days later, Hill posted a let­ter on­line that was highly crit­i­cal of Rus­sia.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the Rus­sians have done lit­tle to re­as­sure Amer­i­can lead­er­ship that they can be wor­thy part­ners of Amer­ica and our great al­lies through­out Europe,” he wrote, adding later: “I am not op­ti­mistic Mr. Putin is will­ing to be a good part­ner of Amer­ica.”

Hill, who said he sup­ports the Mag­nit­sky Act, has pushed since then to in­crease pres­sure on Rus­sia.

He said he plans to vote to­day for leg­is­la­tion that would in­crease sanc­tions against Rus­sia, Iran and North Korea. The oth­ers in Arkansas’ House del­e­ga­tion — U.S. Reps. Rick Craw­ford of Jones­boro, Bruce Wester­man of Hot Springs and Steve Wo­mack of Rogers, all Repub­li­cans — also have said they back the sanc­tions bill.

Last month, Hill also be­came an orig­i­nal co-spon­sor of leg­is­la­tion that would cre­ate an “Of­fice of Anti-Cor­rup­tion re­lat­ing to Il­licit Rus­sian Fi­nan­cial Ac­tiv­i­ties in Europe.” The of­fice would help for­eign gov­ern­ments un­cover and prose­cute Rus­sian fi­nan­cial crimes.

The pro­posed Fight Rus­sian Cor­rup­tion Act says steps must be taken to “pre­vent Rus­sia’s virus-like cor­rup­tion from erod­ing democ­racy in the United States.”

In an in­ter­view, Hill said the Rus­sians are work­ing “to dis­credit open so­ci­ety and in­crease their sphere of in­flu­ence.”

“Clearly our in­tel­li­gence sources … be­lieve that the Rus­sians have attempted to en­gage in pro­pa­ganda re­lated to elec­tions, not only in 2016 in the United States, but also re­cently in the Euro­pean Union,” he said.

But Rus­sia is also us­ing busi­ness trans­ac­tions to un­der­mine West­ern so­ci­ety, he said.

The law­maker isn’t call­ing for a new cold war.

“Where we can work to­gether on things that we have in com­mon for the bet­ter­ment of the world, we should do that. Things like coun­ter­ing ISIS for ex­am­ple, which is in the in­ter­est, I think, of Rus­sia, the [Euro­pean Union], our al­lies in the Mid­dle East and the U.S.,” he said. “But where they are provoca­tive, ei­ther eco­nom­i­cally, diplo­mat­i­cally or mil­i­tar­ily, the United States and our al­lies have to counter that provo­ca­tion.”

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