Senate Report: Ex-GOP Rep. Received “Sensitive Documents” From Russian Officials

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According to a recent Senate report, former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher's ties to Russia were more extensive than realized.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report released on Tuesday reveals that former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) “had more extensive contacts with Russian officials attempting to influence US politics than previously known,” Mother Jones reported.

  • The report shows that “efforts to influence Rohrabacher, who formerly chaired a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that oversaw relations with Russia, are among examples of the Kremlin’s success in exerting influence in Washington.”
  • Described in the report is a meeting that Rohrabacher and an aide, Paul Behrends, had in April 2016 “in Moscow with Vladimir Yakunin, the former president of Russian Railways and a close confidant of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.” At the time, Yakunin was under U.S. sanctions, Mother Jones noted.
  • The report characterized Yakunin as “significantly involved in Russian influence activities, including those targeting elections,” though much of the information pertaining to him is redacted.

Rohrabacher told the committee that Yakunin asked him to look at material Russian prosecutors had assembled related to the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law imposing sanctions on Russian officials. Rohrabacher and Behrends then met with another man, Konstantin Kosachev, the chair of the Council of the Federation Committee on Foreign Affairs. Kosachev was later sanctioned by the United States, and the committee says that he is “significantly involved in Russian influence activities, including those targeting the United States.”

During this meeting, Kosachev handed Rohrabacher a note asking if Rohrabacher would accept “sensitive documents.” Rohrabacher agreed. The lawmaker was then “approached by several individuals who handed him a folder of documents,” the report says. Rohrabacher didn’t know who the men were, but he later told the committee he believed they were from the Russian prosecutor’s office.

  • Mother Jones noted that The Atlantic had reported in 2017 “that State Department officials in Moscow were concerned that Rohrabacher had met with Russian intelligence agents.”
  • Mother Jones also noted that the “material Rohrabacher received included unsubstantiated allegations that three Americans—Dirk, Robert, and Daniel Ziff—who had donated money to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, had engaged in financial fraud in Russia.”
  • The allegations were intended to undermine the Magnitsky Act and noted that “the Ziff brothers had invested with Bill Browder, a former investor in Russia and a major critic of Putin.”

Browder is a lead proponent of the Magnitsky Act, which is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in prison in 2009. After returning from Russia, Rohrabacher unsuccessfully attempted to change the name of the law, a step advocated by Russian lobbyists. (Browder has denied the Russian allegations, while the Ziffs have avoided commenting.)

  • Mother Jones noted that these allegations were the same peddled by Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya “during a meeting in Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, who at the time was a top Trump campaign official.”
  • The committee’s report indicates that Veselnitskaya’s documents and those received by Rohrabacher were “similar, and parts of the two documents are nearly, or completely, identical.”

Rohrabacher has denied any clandestine ties to Russia and has publicly promoted his views. In 2018, Rohrabacher defended the Trump campaign officials’ decision to meet with Veselnitskaya. He told Mother Jones‘ David Corn: “There’s not a person in this town who would not take a meeting to get material like that.”

  • Mother Jones wrote that “Such views contributed to Rohrabacher’s defeat later that year by Democrat Harley Rouda.”
  • The publication also noted that Rohrabacher’s ties to Russia are well-known: “A former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan who was first elected to represent southern California in 1988, he began his career as zealous cold warrior. After the fall of the Iron Curtain and an early-90s drunken arm-wrestling contest with Putin, Rohrabacher became a leading congressional advocate for closer ties to Russia, gaining the moniker, ‘Putin’s favorite congressman.’ The FBI reportedly warned Rohrabacher in 2012 that Russian spies were trying to recruit him.”

In June 2016, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told colleagues: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” McCarthy, who reportedly said “Swear to God” when lawmakers laughed at that assertion, has claimed he was joking.

Mother Jones reported that the Senate committee’s report “recommends steps for members of Congress to avoid being manipulated by foreign intelligence, urging congressional leaders to work with the US intelligence community to assess risks of foreign travel. These recommendations appear to be based on Russia’s success in cultivating Rohrabacher.”

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