How did Baker Hostetler become a supporting character in the geopolitical drama over Russian meddling in the U.S. election, with possible implications for the fate of the Trump administration?
The simple version? It was partly a matter of luck.
The firm was tapped beginning in at least 2013 to defend a Cypriot company, Prevezon Holdings Ltd., against U.S. money laundering accusations. Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016—reportedly with the intent to provide information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign—was also working for Prevezon. And Fusion GPS, the company that produced the infamous Steele dossier on President Donald Trump and Russia, was also retained by Baker Hostetler amid the Prevezon litigation.
But the story of the firm’s involvement with Veselnitskaya and Fusion GPS is anything but simple.
Many of the connections above were apparent long before the current Fusion GPS controversy, partly because the law firm’s work for Prevezon became the focus of a high-profile (and ultimately successful) disqualification bid by a previous Baker Hostetler client, Hermitage Capital. The firm’s Prevezon work and its ties to Fusion GPS were also highlighted in a complaint brought by Hermitage CEO Bill Browder last year over allegedly improper pro-Russia lobbying efforts.
Hermitage’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, exposed the alleged fraud behind the Prevezon case before his death while in Russian custody. In 2012 Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, giving the president authority to freeze assets and deny visas to Russians suspected to be complicit in Magnitsky’s death. Browder has claimed Veselnitskaya directed Baker Hostetler to lobby members of Congress to strip Magnitsky’s name from legislation and claimed that Veselnitskaya used Baker Hostetler to hire Fusion GPS for a smear campaign against Browder.
Now that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D.-California, has released the transcript of Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson’s August 2017 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, we can fill in a few more details from Fusion GPS’ perspective.
• Simpson said Baker Hostetler retained Fusion GPS in the spring of 2014 to provide litigation support for the firm’s work in the Justice Department’s action against Prevezon. Simpson testified that Fusion GPS reported directly to Baker Hostetler partner Mark Cymrot during its work on the Prevezon case.
“[U]nder the heading of litigation support was things related to discovery, locating witnesses, answer questions from the press, gathering documents, pretty much, you know, a conventional understanding of litigation support,” Simpson said. “Mr. Cymrot regularly instructed us in how we were to go about doing discovery and various other tasks.”
• Simpson told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Fusion GPS did not receive any direct payment from Veselnitskaya, whom he described as “a very smart and ambitious lawyer” who “didn’t seem to be a heavy hitter in the Kremlin world.” Simpson indicated that all payments to Fusion related to the Prevezon matter flowed through Baker Hostetler.
“[A]s the lawyer for Prevezon, Veselnitskaya would have arranged for Prevezon to pay Baker Hostetler which paid us,” Simpson said. “But, I mean, I don’t think the money came from her. It came from Prevezon.”
• Simpson has a long relationship with Baker Hostetler, as the two worked together as long ago as 2009.
“[T]hey’re very good lawyers and very conservative,” Simpson told the Senate Judiciary Committee in testimony made public on Tuesday. “I was confident in the quality of their work.”
Reached by telephone on Wednesday, Baker Hostetler partner John Moscow, who defended Prevezon before being disqualified from the case by a federal appeals court, said he was perplexed by the ongoing interest in the Prevezon case.
“You have a committee that’s looking into Russian attacks on the American election system and they go off into Prevezon, and if you’ll pardon my French, well what the f**k do those two things have to do with each other?” Moscow said. “That comes out of nowhere.”
Moscow also referred questions involving Fusion GPS to Baker Hostetler partner Marc Antonetti, who declined to comment. Cymrot did not respond to requests for comment.
The Washington Post has reported that no evidence has been found connecting Fusion GPS’ work for Baker Hostetler and Fusion GPS’ work on the Trump dossier. The Post reported that Fusion GPS was hired by Perkins Coie partner and longtime Democratic Party lawyer Marc Elias, who was working on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Whether the Prevezon case and the Russia investigation are connected or not, some Baker Hostetler attorneys argue the government’s investigation into Russian interference in American affairs can’t end soon enough.
After the government settled the Prevezon case out of court last year, two lawyers at the firm penned an opinion for The Wall Street Journal in October 2017 urging Trump to pardon anyone suspected of involvement with alleged Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential race.
Baker Hostetler attorneys David Rivkin Jr. and Lee Casey argued that Trump should put special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian probe into the hands of a Republican-controlled Congress.
“Mr. Trump can end this madness by immediately issuing a blanket presidential pardon to anyone involved in supposed collusion with Russia or Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign, to anyone involved with Russian acquisition of an American uranium company during the Obama administration, and to anyone for any offense that has been investigated by Mr. Mueller’s office,” Rivkin and Casey wrote. “Political weaponization of criminal law should give way to a politically accountable democratic process. Nefarious Russian activities, including possible interference in U.S. elections, can and should be investigated by Congress.”