MET with Russians last year, Hill says.
Adoptions on minds of lawyer, lobbyist
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.”