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The itinerary for that three-day trip, reviewed by The Daily Beast, shows that Rohrabacher and Behrends attended a side meeting—without the other members of the delegation—with one of Putin’s closest confidants, Vladimir Yakunin.
A former head of the Russian Railways who has been sanctioned by the U.S., Yakunin has routinely accompanied Putin on domestic and international trips over the years. He owns a dacha near the president in an exclusive enclave on the shore of Lake Komsomolskoye.
Rohrabacher said at the time that he had agreed to the meeting at the request of Sergey Kislyak. “The Russian ambassador asked me if I would meet with him in Moscow,” he told BuzzFeed.
Once the other members of the delegation had left the room, Viktor Grin, a top Chaika deputy in the Prosecutor General’s office and one of the 44 Russians enduring a travel ban and asset freezes under U.S. sanctions, appeared with the document outlining Russia’s position on the Magnitsky sanctions. Rohrabacher and Behrends were also given access to the anti-Magnitsky movie.
The Daily Beast reviewed a copy of a document that was passed to Rohrabacher in Moscow in April 2016. The document, marked “confidential,” was given to Rohrabacher and Behrends. It lays out an alternate reality in which the U.S.—and the rest of the world—has been duped by a fake $230 million scandal that resulted in sanctions being imposed on 44 Russians linked to murder, corruption, or cover-ups.
The document, which was handed over by an official from the Prosecutor General’s office to Rohrabacher along with means of viewing the Russian propaganda movie, suggested that U.S. “political situation may change the current climate” and claimed that it was the ideal moment to foment a challenge to the Western narrative on Putin’s kleptocracy. A subcommittee hearing that would re-examine the sanctions placed on Russia, the paper claimed, would be appreciated in Moscow.
A month after returning from Moscow with the Russian document, which is just over a page long, the congressman had already delayed the Global Magnitsky Act. His spokesman told National Review at the time: “The congressman came across some information that puts the Magnitsky narrative as we know it into some question, and he wants to pursue it.”
He refused to say where this new information had suddenly come from.
Two weeks later, Rohrabacher explained to colleagues on the House Foreign Affairs Committee why he had tabled an amendment to take Magnitsky’s name off the bill.
He did not say he was using the Russian document as the basis for his argument, but he did repeat five claims from the Moscow paper
“They said they were lobbying on behalf of a Russian company called Prevezon and asked us to delay the Global Magnitsky Act or at least remove Magnitsky from the name,” the staffer said. “Mr. Dellums said it was a shame that this bill has made it so Russian orphans cannot be adopted by Americans.”
Prevezon’s lawyer at the time was Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was working to defend the Cyprus-based company against U.S. money laundering allegations related to the massive fraud uncovered by Magnitsky.
Invitations to attend the movie screening were sent from the subcommittee office by Catharine O’Neill, a Republican intern on Rohrabacher’s committee. Her email promised that the movie would convince viewers that Magnitsky, who was murdered in a Russian prison cell, was no hero.
The invite, reviewed by The Daily Beast, claimed that the film “explodes the common view that Mr. Magnitsky was a whistleblower” and lavishes praise on the “rebel director” Andrei Nekrasov.
Rohrabacher told BuzzFeed News he met with Yakunin at a restaurant in central Moscow called Café Pushkin while in the Russian capital with a congressional delegation.
"Yeah, I had a breakfast with him at the Pushkin Café," Rohrabacher told BuzzFeed News. He said Yakunin invited him to "an international meeting, dialogue for peace, he was putting together on Rhodes. I really have no desire to go to Rhodes. I think I probably turned him down." Yakunin is the president of an organization called the World Public Forum, which holds an annual forum on the Greek island of Rhodes.
Early on Thursday, The Daily Beast published an article by London editor Nico Hines in which he "reported" on his use of Grindr at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Hines is a straight man, and the article is an unethical mess.
Hines, who is married with children, included the heights, weights and countries of origin of several athletes whom he arranged dates with in the piece. That he saw this as no big deal is a huge problem and shows that he is blind to his own privilege by writing it.
Putting an Olympian's stats next to their country of origin endangers the well-being of that person, especially when one athlete was from Central Asia, a region in which LGBT people are "marginalized, criminalized, and are exposed to high levels of violence, harassment and discrimination," according to one U.S. congressman's testimony.
Grubbs said Rohrabacher had accepted the document but said the conversation with officials from the Prosecutor General’s office during the congressman’s April 2016 Moscow visit was “brief and formal.”
Ken Grubbs insisted that Behrends often escorted people around Congress.
“That invitation was not from our office. O’Neill was an unpaid intern on the committee staff. Paul denies asking her to send the invitations,” said Ken Grubbs, Rohrabacher’s press secretary, referring to the congressman’s staff director, Paul Behrends.
It was Rohrabacher who put in the call to his old friend Matlock. “He and I share a view on the importance of getting along with the other nuclear power,” Matlock told The Daily Beast. “He asked me if I was willing to come to Washington and he was going to set up hearings at his subcommittee.”
“Rohrabacher did have a number of Russians who had done a film about the case in Moscow that had inspired the Magnitsky Act in Congress, and they had found that the story that was being pervaded here by Browder and his people was not the accurate one,” Matlock added. “I don’t know who’s right about that, but I do believe it’s wrong to suppress evidence.”
Rohrabacher said at the time that he had agreed to the meeting at the request of Sergey Kislyak.
Rohrabacher and his chief of staff, Paul Behrends, of course did as they were instructed.