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Donald Trump says Obama officials let Natalia Veselnitskaya enter U.S.

President Trump said Thursday that the Obama administration was responsible for letting a Russian lawyer enter the U.S., months before she would hold a controversial meeting with Trump campaign officials.

Natalia Veselnitskaya’s short meeting in June 2016 with Mr. Trump’s son, son-in-law and campaign manager has reignited questions about the campaign’s relations with Russian operatives — though why she was in the U.S. at that time remains murky.

She was granted “immigration parole” allowing her in the country in 2015 in order to assist in a client’s legal defense, in what the Justice Department said was “extraordinary permission.” That permission expired, however, in early 2016 — well before her June meeting with Donald Trump Jr.

Homeland Security, which is responsible for issuing paroles into the U.S., was unable to provide comment by deadline on Ms. Veselnitskaya’s status after her initial parole expired.

But for Mr. Trump, the fact that she was allowed into the U.S. by the Obama administration helped exonerate his son.

“Somebody said that her visa or her passport to come into the country was approved by Attorney General [Loretta E.] Lynch,” Mr. Trump said Thursday. “Maybe that’s wrong, I just heard that a little while ago. That’s why she was here, because of Lynch.”

The question had already caught the attention of Senate Judiciary Committee Charles E. Grassley, who wrote this week to Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asking them to explain how she was allowed to enter the U.S.

The Iowa Republican noted that her name later surfaced in a complaint made about foreign agents who neglect to register activities with the Justice Department.

Mr. Trump, who spoke during a press conference in France, was defending his son for agreeing to the meeting, in which he was promised dirt from within the Russian government on Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate in last year’s election.

All sides say no such information was actually exchanged, but the fact that the meeting took place has piqued the interest of congressional investigators, as well as enraged activists who said it’s evidence of illegal campaign activity.

But some analysts say Ms. Veselnitskaya’s actions bear the hallmarks of an agent of influence — someone who is not a Russian government official but who works to identify key players who might be open to Russian influence.

According to transcripts and court documents filed in court in January 2016, the Justice Department did play a role in helping secure permission for parole. But Justice Department lawyers also noted they required sign-off from outside authorities including Homeland Security Investigations.

The parole designation appeared to have caused Ms. Veselnitskaya some problems when she traveled to the U.S. in 2015. In a declaration filed in the court, she claimed she was harassed by the government and detained and strip-searched at Heathrow Airport in London while traveling to the U.S. on the basis of her parole documentation.

Questions about contacts between foreign officials and individuals who worked on the Trump campaign have created problems for members of the Trump administration.

Democrats have pounced on what they say are glaring omissions of foreign contacts on disclosure forms completed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who served as a Trump campaign surrogate, and the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

The New York Times reported that Mr. Kushner revised a federal disclosure form required for security clearance, adding more than 100 names of foreign contacts.

On Thursday, the Justice Department released a portion of Mr. Sessions’ background check security form that shows he did not report meetings he had last year with the Russian ambassador or any other foreign nationals.

Mr. Sessions later admitted to meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and other foreigners amid the presidential campaign, but said the meetings were conducted in his official capacity as a senator on the Armed Services Committee.

The Justice Department said the attorney general, when filling out his security form, was instructed not to list meetings with foreign dignitaries or their staff when the meetings were conducted in his capacity as a senator.

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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