Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is asking whether a suspected former Russian intelligence officer-turned U.S. lobbyist and the firm behind the unsubstantiated anti-Trump dossier should have registered as foreign agents for their efforts to bring down a U.S. law on behalf of the Kremlin. According to a complaint filed with the Justice Department, Fusion GPS, which was also involved in the creation of the unsubstantiated dossier alleging collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, was involved in the pro-Russia campaign to kill the Global Magnitsky Act around the same time.
In 2012, President Obama signed into law the Magnitsky Act, named for a lawyer who suspiciously died in Russian custody after accusing Russian government officials and members of organized crime of using corporate identity theft against Hermitage Capital Management to fraudulently obtain and launder $230 million, some of which allegedly ended up in U.S. real estate projects. The Magnitsky Act imposed sanctions against those involved as well as other Russians designated as human rights abusers.
In 2013, the Justice Department opened a case to seize the U.S. assets of Russian-owned Prevezon Holdings, which received millions of dollars from the theft and used it to purchase real estate in New York, according to the department’s complaint. In response, Prevezon Holdings and the Kremlin launched a campaign to undermine the Magnitsky Act and discredit Magnitsky’s claims of corruption, according to a 2016 complaint by Hermitage CEO William Browder. Fusion GPS and Rinat Akhmetshin, among others, were involved in the pro-Russia campaign in 2016, which involved lobbying congressional staffers to attempt to undermine the Justice Department’s account of Magnitsky’s death and the crime he uncovered, repeal the Magnitsky Act itself, and delay efforts to expand it to countries beyond Russia, according to Browder’s complaint. Akhmetshin, a Russian immigrant, has reportedly admitted to being a “soviet counterintelligence officer,” and has a long history of lobbying the U.S. government for pro-Russia matters. Fusion GPS was reportedly tasked with generating negative press coverage of Browder and Hermitage.
Despite the reported evidence of their work on behalf of Russian interests, neither Fusion GPS nor Akhmetshin are registered as foreign agents under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).
FARA was passed to improve transparency of individuals and organizations that lobby the U.S. government or act as publicity agents on behalf of a foreign principal. Grassley has previously raised concerns about the department’s inconsistent enforcement of FARA. This case is particularly important given that Fusion GPS was apparently simultaneously working on the unsubstantiated dossier alleging collusion between Trump presidential campaign associates and Russia, which the FBI reportedly agreed to continue funding. Because Fusion GPS had not registered under FARA, it is unclear whether the FBI was aware of the company’s pro-Russia activities and its connection with Ahkmetshin when evaluating the credibility of the dossier the company helped create.
In a letter to the Justice Department, Grassley is asking for an update on Browder’s 2016 FARA complaint, including what steps the department has taken to enforce FARA.