Putin critic: Russian lawyer wouldn't have been in U.S. without Kremlin's OK

WASHINGTON -- Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russia lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner in June 2016, says she didn't have any dirt on Hillary Clinton. The Russian government says they don't even know who she is.

But, like most things Kremlin, there's more to that story.

Veselnitskaya, who speaks no English, represents a wealthy, Kremlin-connected family in Moscow: the Katsyvs.

a8-goldman-lawyer-transfer-frame-128.jpg

Natalia Veselnitskaya

CBS News

They've lobbied hard to overturn U.S. sanctions against Russian officials accused of money laundering in what's known as the Magnitsky Act. The 2012 law enraged Russian President Vladimir Putin so much that he banned Americans from adopting Russian children.

"She is like the consigliere of a very prominent Russian family," said Bill Browder, a hedge fund manager who pushed for the sanctions. 

"She has a wide range of tasks, not just a lawyer as she's been described. She is an operator," he said. 

He called Veselnitskaya a "formidable adversary," and said she wouldn't have been in the U.S. lobbying to overturn the Magnitsky Act without the Kremlin's blessing.

a8-goldman-lawyer-transfer-frame-1360.jpg

Bill Browder

CBS News

"They don't give out business cards from Kremlin, they don't say, 'you're a Kremlin lawyer, go to Washington and do this,'" Browder said.

After Veselnitskaya's meeting with Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016, she went to Washington, organized a screening of an anti-Magnitsky film at the Newseum, and was in the first row at a congressional hearing on U.S. policy toward Russia.

Last year, she also took on former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara who had accused Denis Katsyv, of that Kremlin-connected family, of money laundering. The case was settled after Bharara was fired by President Trump.

In court documents, Veselnitskaya says she's "argued and won more than 300 cases" and that her clients include "large state-owned and private corporations."

"She's a non-partisan advocate for a bunch of crooks back in the Russian government," Browder said.

The Justice Department settled that money laundering case against Veselnitskaya's client four months after Mr. Trump came into office. On Wednesday, House Democrats sent a letter asking the attorney general if that Kremlin-connected client got any special treatment.

  • Julianna Goldman On Twitter»

    Julianna Goldman is a CBS News correspondent based in the Washington bureau.