MANHATTAN (CN) – The Russian attorney with whom Donald Trump Jr. met to seek opposition research on Hillary Clinton also represented a bank that averted a money-laundering trial with an eleventh-hour $5.9 million settlement.
The deal came months after President Donald Trump summarily fired former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who originally brought the eyebrow-raising case involving Russian mobster loot hidden in New York real estate.
Demanding answers from the Department of Justice, all 17 Democrats sitting on the House Committee Judiciary Committee signed a letter calling the connections “too substantial to ignore” on Wednesday.
Long before last year’s presidential election, Bharara unsealed a $230 million civil forfeiture action seizing money from Prevezon Holdings, a Cyprus-based bank owned by Russian businessman Denis Katsyv.
The 2013 case evaporated on the cusp of its scheduled trial this year when prosecutors announced a $5.9 million settlement in May.
For many reporters, the announcement was a proverbial Friday-night news dump, resolving the long-anticipated case after 9 p.m. at the end of a work week.
Under the deal, Prevezon did not have to admit wrongdoing, and Katsyv’s attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya later told a Russian news outlet that the outcome represented “almost an apology from the government.”
It would later come to light that Veselnitskaya had met with Trump’s inner circle – his son Donald, son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign aide Paul Manafort – on June 9, 2016, in the final months of the campaign season.
The revelations came to light via a New York Times investigation recently corroborated by Trump Jr., who published his correspondence on Twitter.
“That the president’s inner circle was willing to accept this kind of assistance from a foreign adversary is, at best, deeply troubling,” the House Democrats wrote in their 5-page letter.
Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the longest-serving congressman who is also the House Judiciary’s ranking member, had several questions for Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the arrangement.
“Why was a Russian money-laundering case involving more than $230 million dismissed without explanation?” Conyers asked in a statement. “Why was a central figure in that case chosen to approach the Trump campaign about assistance from the Russian government? Was the firing of Preet Bharara in any way related to his office’s prosecution of these crimes? Wittingly or unwittingly, was the Department of Justice involved?”
For the past four years, the Prevezon case has been a perpetual irritant between U.S.-Russian relations.
Prosecutors here brought the underlying case in connection to the 2007 raid of the Moscow offices of Hermitage Capital Management, a U.S.-based hedge fund.
Before he died in a Moscow prison, Hermitage auditor Sergei Magnitsky made the allegations that form the heart of the U.S. case.
The attorney who represented Magnitsky’s estate subsequently fell four stories out of his Moscow apartment, under mysterious circumstances.
On Dec. 12, 2012, Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, attempting to punish Russian officials tied to the 37-year-old auditor’s demise.
The Kremlin responded a week later by banning the U.S. adoption of Russian children.
Conyers urged the Department of Justice to respond to his questions no later than July 26.
“Even if these facts are mere coincidence – and there is reason to be doubtful that they are mere coincidence – they merit immediate explanation by the attorney general and immediate investigation by the House Judiciary Committee,” he wrote.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York referred inquiries to the Department of Justice, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prevezon also did not immediately return a request for comment.