Russian lawyer at Trump Tower meeting charged with obstruction of justice

Natalia Veselnitskaya was at the 2016 Trump Tower meeting convened after Trump campaign officials were promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

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By Tom Winter and Richard Engel

A Russian lawyer at the center of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Russians and Trump campaign officials has been charged with criminal obstruction of justice in a federal civil case in Manhattan.

Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was representing Russian-based Prevezon Holdings in a fight against forfeiture of assets and money laundering penalties, is accused of submitting an intentionally misleading statement to the court.

According to prosecutors, Veselnitskaya presented what she said were investigative findings by the Russian government that exonerated her client when she had actually helped draft the findings in secret cooperation with a Russian prosecutor.

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The indictment is not directly related to the Trump Tower meeting.

In the Prevezon case, the government accused Prevezon of laundering part of the proceeds of an alleged tax fraud scheme uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky, a Russia accountant who had helped report the fraud to Russian authorities and was later arrested.

Magnitsky died in prison, and in 2012 President Barack Obama signed the Magnitsky Act, which sanctioned Russian officials believed responsible for his death. At the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which was convened after a Trump associate told Donald Trump Jr. that a group of Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton, Veselnitskaya pressed Trump campaign officials on lifting the Magnitsky sanctions.

Prosecutors filed the Prevezon case in 2013 seeking to recover several million dollars worth of property, including New York real estate, alleging money laundering from the proceeds of the tax fraud scheme.

In 2014, the Russian government sent a report from the Russian Prosecutor General's Office containing investigative findings that purported to exonerate Russian government personnel. In 2014, Veselnitskaya gave the court a declaration with the report attached saying that she obtained a copy after going to great lengths, including filing a court order.

According to prosecutors, emails show that Veselnitskaya helped draft the report. NBC News first reported the existence of the email exchange in which she was seen editing prosecutors' responses in April 2018. The emails were obtained through the Dossier Center, a Russian opposition organization backed by Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, one of Putin's most fervent critics.

In statement, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said, "Fabricating evidence — submitting false and deceptive declarations to a federal judge — in an attempt to affect the outcome of pending litigation not only undermines the integrity of the judicial process, but it threatens the ability of our courts and our Government to ensure that justice is done. We take seriously our responsibility to protect the integrity of the judicial proceedings in this District, and we will not stand idly by while outside influences seek to corrupt and pervert that process."