Breaking News Emails
Natalia Veselnitskaya says she feels like a character in a movie.
American investigators are trying to determine whether it's a spy thriller or a farce.
Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who was at the center of that now-infamous June 2016 meeting with key Trump aides in Trump Tower, says she has been inundated with messages on social media since her role was publicized — even marriage proposals.
But one person who has not reached out to her is the man investigating any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Special Counsel Robert Mueller — or anybody working for him, she told NBC News in an exclusive interview. In fact, no U.S. officials have asked to speak with her, she said.
Breaking News Emails
"I haven't received [any such requests]," she said in a telephone interview from Moscow. "The more I analyze the situation I find myself in, the more I am beginning to feel as if I were in some show, a movie. I play the lead, but no one has discussed with me or shown me the script."
The Trump Tower meeting, at which Veselnitskaya says she presented information to Donald Trump Jr. and other key Trump aides, has emerged as a major focus of the investigation into whether the Trump team colluded with the Russian effort to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.
Rinat Akhmetshin, the Russian-American lobbyist who accompanied Veselnitskaya to the meeting, testified recently before Mueller's grand jury in Washington, a source familiar with the matter told NBC News.
Trump Jr. hosted the Russians alongside Paul Manafort, then Trump's campaign chairman, and Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and adviser.
The meeting is of interest in part because it was set up after an explicit promise to turn over incriminating information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government from an intermediary working for a Russian oligarch close to Putin.
It was arranged by Rob Goldstone, a music promoter who said he was representing the oligarch, Aras Agalarov, and his son Emin, a pop star. In an email that has become public, Goldstone wrote to Trump that "the Crown prosecutor of Russia … offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father."
(There is no office of crown prosecutor, but Goldstone appeared to be referring to the Russian prosecutor general.)
He added that "this is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin."
Goldstone's lawyer said Goldstone declined to comment.
Irakly "Ike" Kaveladze, who works for the Agalarov family in the U.S., also attended, along with a translator, Anatoli Samochornov, who had done work for the State Department and had translated previously for Veselnitskaya.
In 2000, a congressional money-laundering investigation examined Kaveladze's actions as the head of a Delaware company that opened large numbers of shell corporations. He was not charged with a crime.
Veselnitskaya said Agalarov told her to get in touch with Kaveladze about the meeting because he had connections with the Trump team. She said she did not learn until the last minute that Kaveladze would be coming to the meeting as a representative of the Agalarov family. She said she had previously provided legal representation to the Agalarovs, but had never met Kaveladze before.
Investigators are trying to determine whether the promised assistance from the Russian government was provided, and whether it was part of what a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer called "a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation" between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Intelligence experts have theorized that Veselnitskaya may have been a pawn in a scheme by Russian spy agencies to test the waters, seeking to determine how the Trump team would respond to an explicit offer of Russian help. But that is just a theory — no evidence has surfaced to buttress it.
Mueller's team is also trying to understand why, when the meeting became public in July, President Donald Trump played a role in crafting a misleading statement about it on his son's behalf, saying it was about "a program of Russian adoptions."
In fact, the discussion did not focus on a "program" of adoptions, but there was an issue linked to adoptions that Veselnitskaya very much wanted to discuss. Putin had ended adoptions of Russian children by Americans in response to a set of sanctions on Moscow. Veselnitskaya has been lobbying against those sanctions for years.
Veselnitskaya insisted that she passed no significant information about Clinton, incriminating or otherwise, and that she was not representing the Russian government.
As she told it, confirmation of the meeting came together at the last minute, after she received an email from Goldstone while she was having breakfast with Akhmetshin.
She provided NBC News with a copy of a document she said she brought to the meeting. It was a summary of a case she has been making for years against Bill Browder, a London-based hedge-fund investor who gave up his U.S. citizenship and whose allegations about the death in prison of his representative in Russia, Sergei Magnitsky, led Congress to impose sanctions against Russians accused of human rights violations.
The Magnitsky Act has been a thorn in Vladimir Putin's side, because it hurts people close to him. Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin believe it is based on what she calls "a monstrous lie" perpetrated by Browder, and they have worked with an American investigator, Glenn Simpson, who has dug up information in support of that theory. (Browder denies any wrongdoing and calls the charges part of a Russian intelligence scheme to discredit him.)
On May 19, 2016, the Russian prosecutor general issued a statement accusing Browder's hedge fund and some investors, including the American hedge fund magnates the Ziff brothers, of evading Russian taxes.
Veselnitskaya says the Russian prosecutor's interest in the case stemmed from her pressing him about it and providing information.
She and Akhmetshin had been working on behalf of a wealthy Russian who was being sued by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office in connection with the Magnitsky affair. Veselnitskaya said she made a point of asking Goldstone -- who she mistakenly thought was a lawyer -- whether it was OK to include Akhmetshin, given that he was a registered lobbyist. Goldstone told her it was fine, she said.
As it happened, the Trump Tower meeting occurred the same day as a hearing was unfolding in a Manhattan courtroom in a civil lawsuit involving the Magnitsky Act and Browder. Simpson was in the courtroom.
The only reference to Clinton in Veselnitskaya's document is part of a reference to the Ziff brothers. She accused them of evading Russian taxes, and suggested that some of the money they reaped from doing that ended up supporting Democratic political campaigns.
"According to available information, the Ziff Brothers were involved in funding both of Obama's election campaigns and have been dubbed by the U.S. media as `the Democrats' main sponsors," Veselnitskaya wrote, in a Russian language document translated by NBC News. "They are possibly involved in funding Hillary Clinton's campaign. "
That information is hardly incriminating — and it is only partially accurate.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political money, employees of Ziff Brothers Investments contributed nearly $1.7 million to various political committees and candidates in the 2016 election cycle — a mixture of Republicans and Democrats. Donations included $17,700 to Clinton's presidential campaign, but also $2,700 each to two Republicans, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Rep. Peter King of New York. The Ziffs are not "the Democrats' main sponsors." Through a spokesman, the Ziff brothers declined to comment.
Sources briefed on the evidence had previously told NBC News that Manafort's notes about the meeting included references to the RNC and political contributions. Veselnitskaya said it was "complete nonsense" to infer there was any discussion of Russian contributions to the Trump campaign. She said she thought Manafort might have meant to make a note about her references to the DNC.
Veselnitskaya said she did not leave any documents with the Trump team.
"I never handed any document to Mr. Trump Jr.," she said. "Not during the meeting, not afterwards. I had with me this text in Russian, for myself. ... I headed into the meeting fully expecting to discuss what is contained here."
Donald Trump Jr. is expected to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.