Child welfare issues were never front and center during the 2016 presidential campaign, nor have they been during the early months of the Trump presidency. But this week, adoption got a quick and bizarre cameo in the ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference with the 2016 election.
As has been reported by multiple outlets now, the subject of intercountry adoptions from Russia to the United States came up at a meeting between Donald Trump Jr., the son of the president, and Natalia Veselniskaya, a Russian lawyer with reported ties to the Kremlin.
Trump Jr. attended a meeting in June with Veselniskaya that also included former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and current adviser. Trump Jr. said in statements this week that the meeting was supposedly about negative information about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, but turned out to be about something else.
From Trump Jr.:
After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous, and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act.
That is a piece of 2012 legislation, signed into law by Barack Obama, that froze the assets and denied visas to Russian officials connected to Sergei Magnitsky’s death. Magnitsky was a lawyer and auditor who was imprisoned, and then beaten to death, after investigating fraud on the part of Russian tax officials.
Shortly after the Magnitsky Act was passed, Russia passed the Dima Yakovlev Law of 2013, which halted intercountry adoptions of Russian children by United States citizens. The Russian government said the law was in response to the deaths of more than 19 Russian children adopted to the United States, but many believe the adoption ban was put into place in retaliation for the 2012 Magnitsky Act.
The number of Russian children adopted by Americans reached its peak in 2004, when 5,862 intercountry adoptions were finalized between the two nations. The number had dwindled to 962 by 2011; in 2013, 250 pending adoptions were finalized before the Russian law took effect.
Though few details about the specifics of the conversation are available, it is doubtful that Veselniskaya’s aim was really to influence the Trump campaign’s views on adoption. The lawyer has represented several clients whose finances were negatively impacted by passage of the Magnitsky Act.
Trump Jr., in his public statements this week, said “it became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting. I interrupted and advised her that my father was not an elected official, but rather a private citizen, and that her comments and concerns were better addressed if and when he held public office.”