This is a guest post by Terry J. Clark, a frequent reader of this site who follows the Trump-Russia story.
As we now know, on June 9th, 2016, Donald Trump Jr., the future president’s son, met with several Russian operatives at Trump Tower in New York City.
The meeting is the best evidence yet of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Don Jr. had been lured to the meeting by a promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russia.
One of the operatives at the June 9th meeting was a a former Soviet intelligence named Rinat Akhmetshin, who was working as a lobbyist in the United States. Akhmetshin, like everyone else who attended the meeting, has been the focus of intense scrutiny. A profile in The New York Times described him as a “master of the dark arts.”
A figure who has mostly escaped attention is a GOP operative working quietly behind the scenes with Akhmetshin. The operative is Lanny F. Wiles, a genial Southerner whose family is closely tied to Trump.
A week after the Trump Tower this meeting took place, Akhmetshin asked Wiles to hold a seat for someone at a June 14, 2016 hearing before the Foreign Affairs Committee on “U.S Policy Toward Putin’s Russia.”
The person whose seat Wiles was saving at the June 14 hearing turned out to be Natalia Veselnitskaya — the Russian attorney who lured Don Jr. to the Trump Tower by claiming that she had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton which she had obtained from the Russian government.
Wiles told ABC News he has “absolute, zero connection” to any relations the Russian lawyer may have had to the Trump campaign. But Wilkes clearly had a connection to Russia: He was working for it.
Wiles was working with Akhmetshin to undo the Magnitsky Act, a law despised by the Kremlin that sanctioned Russian officials connected to Sergei Magnitsky’s 2009 death. Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer who had worked for American-born investor Bill Browder to uncover a $230 million Russian government corruption scheme
The night of the June 14 House hearing, Wiles organized a dinner at the Capitol Hill Club, a private social club for Republicans. The dinner guests included Akhmetshin and Veselnitskaya as well as Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who is seen as Vladimir Putin’s staunchest ally in Congress, and Paul Behrends, the congressman’s staff director (who was recently fired over his Russia connections).
According to this excellent Politico story, Rohrabacher and Behrends had, with Akhmetshin’s help, planned the day’s hearing to be a show trial of investor Bill Browder, the man behind the Magnitsky Act. That plan was nixed by senior committee Republicans and replaced with a panel that included two former US ambassadors to Russia.
Akhmetshin had been hired by Denis Katsyv, the owner of the Cyprus-registered company Prevezon Holdings, Ltd., which was linked to the Magnitsky case. Some of the money stolen in the scam uncovered by Magnitsky turned up in US bank accounts controlled by Prevezon.
Together, Katsyv and Akhmetshin recruited Wiles to undermine the Magnitsky Act.
While Wiles was working on behalf of Russian interests, he did not register as a foreign agent as required by the US law. Wiles told Politico that Akhmetshin told Wiles he wouldn’t have to register because he would be working for the law firm BakerHostetler.
[Side note: Fusion GPS, the DC firm that commissioned former British MI6 officer Christopher Steele to produce what became known as the Trump dossier, was also hired by BakerHostetler to dig up dirt on Bill Browder. (See Browder’s letter.) The firm is the subject of a July 19 hearing before the US Senate Judiciary Committee, at which Don Jr. is also expected to affair.]
Why Wiles was brought in for this anti-Magnitsky work is unclear. He was a longtime DC lobbyist for the PGA Tour and a Florida utility. Clients have included a companies that produce anthrax vaccines. His areas of expertise, while wide-ranging, don’t involve foreign affairs.
What may have brought Wiles into the world of Russian lobbying is his friendship Rep. Rohrabacher. The two men have been friends since their days in the Reagan administration, according to Politico.
Wiles got his start working on Ronald Reagan’s failed 1976 run for the White House. When Reagan won four years later, Wiles became a Reagan advance man. In 1983, Wiles was taken hostage inside the pro shop at famed Augusta National while Reagan golfed. Wiles managed to talk his way out.
Wiles went on to work on many campaigns, including Sen. John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 failed presidential runs. (McCain is a strong supporter of the Magnitsky Act). Both Wiles and his wife worked on the campaign of Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who was asked about his former aide’s connections to Russia.
Wiles’ wife, Susie, is the former co-chair of the Trump presidential campaign in Florida. Trump credited Ms. Wiles with the crucial Florida victory.
Wiles’ daughter, Caroline, was named director of scheduling at the White House until February of this year when she was “escorted” out of the White House after failing an FBI background check.
Wiles heads Wiles Consulting LLC in Florida. He’s also listed as president and chief executive of TransEuro America, which he formed in 2015 after “seeing a need to assist US aerospace and defense companies to achieve greater market share in the dynamic Middle East and international business environment in the most efficient manner.”