Federal prosecutors in New York unsealed an indictment on Tuesday against a Russian lawyer who was a central player in a 2016 meeting with top officials of President Donald Trump's campaign, charging lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya with obstruction of justice as part of her work in a money laundering case involving Prevezon Holdings and Russian government officials.
"This investigation brought to light how Veselnitskaya secretly schemed with a senior Russian prosecutor to provide false information to U.S. law enforcement in an attempt to influence the legal proceedings in the Southern District of New York," prosecutors in the Southern District of New York said in a release on Tuesday.
Court records show the indictment was submitted to a federal judge and sealed on December 20, 2018; it involves a fraud investigation that sought to recover property in the United States - mainly New York real estate - as the feds allege that was part of the Russian tax fraud scheme that Veselnitskaya tried to protect.
The case had nothing directly to do with the Special Counsel investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 elections, and any ties to the Trump campaign - but the mere involvement of Veselnitskaya in the case brought extra interest in the matter.
"On the other hand, this indictment sends some signals with larger significance: Russian money laundering," tweeted Fordham University law professor Jed Shugerman.
"It connects Veselnitskaya more directly to Russian frauds and money laundering," as Shugerman labeled it more "money laundering dots" that the Special Counsel might be able to tie together, citing charges already brought against both Manafort and his top aide, Rick Gates, who is cooperating with prosecutors.
Veselnitskaya was part of the group which met with top campaign officials in June of 2016 - what's become known as the 'Trump Tower meeting' - which involved the President's son, Donald Trump Jr., the President's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Mr. Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort.
While today's case has nothing to do with that meeting, the details again demonstrated that Veselnitskaya has ties inside the Russian government, raising questions about her explanation for the Trump Tower meeting, which Trump officials said was about Russian adoption policies, but emails to Trump Jr. showed was about providing "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.
Veselnitskaya is in Russia, and there was no expectation that she would suddenly be cooperating with prosecutors on either the Prevezon case, or the Mueller investigation.
As for the Special Counsel probe, lawyers for Paul Manafort had until midnight on Monday to file a response to charges by Mueller's team that Manafort had lied to the feds - during a time when he was supposedly cooperating with prosecutors in the Russia investigation.
While lawyers for Manafort told news organizations that their response had filed - but was being kept secret under seal - just after 12 noon, an order was finally posted showing that a sealed document had been filed, but the judge in the case ordered Manafort's lawyers to also submit a redacted version for public release.