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Taibbi writes: "Natalia Veselnitskaya being at the center of this week's explosive revelations is the latest indication that Russiagate didn't begin last year - but almost a decade ago."

Donald Trump Jr.,
Donald Trump Jr., "Kremlin-linked lawyer" Natalia Veselnitskaya, and Jared Kushner. (photo: Getty)

Russiagate and the Magnitsky Affair, Linked Again

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

15 July 17

Natalia Veselnitskaya being at the center of this week's explosive revelations is the latest indication that Russiagate didn't begin last year – but almost a decade ago

hen I first read the explosive New York Times story about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with "Kremlin-linked lawyer" Natalia Veselnitskaya, I had multiple reactions.

The first was amazement at Junior's sheer stupidity (responding affirmatively to "If you would like to participate in our country's state-sponsored effort to help your father's campaign, please respond 'yes' in writing here" will go down as an unsurpassable moment in unsafe political sex). The second was confusion, and the third was déjà vu.

I never met Veselnitskaya, but just months ago I did cross paths with one of her colleagues. Like Veselnitskaya, this person had been lobbying on behalf of a Russian-directed company called Prevezon to overturn the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law which sanctions Russia for human rights abuses.

The interview was off the record, so I can't say much about it, except to say that my experience was weirdly similar to the account Trump Jr. offered about his meeting with Veselnitskaya.

I went into the meeting expecting a scoop on another topic, and instead found myself essentially being lobbied about the Magnitsky Act. I came away scratching my head about the Prevezon crew, unsure of whether they represented high-ranking Russian interests, or were instead just a bunch of provincial amateurs trying to get a sanctions regime lifted in order to unfreeze their assets.

According to The Hill, others who ran into Veselnitskaya recently came away wondering the same thing:

"The sources also described their interactions with Veselnitskaya in the same way that Trump Jr. did. They claimed not to know who she worked for or what her motives were.

'Natalia didn't speak a word of English,' said one source. "Don't let anyone tell you this was a sophisticated lobbying effort. It was the least professional campaign I've ever seen. If she's the cream of the Moscow intelligence community then we have nothing to worry about.'"

Though Veselnitskaya seems like a small-timer – and Leonid Bershidsky's excellent background report on her for Bloomberg makes her seem like the equivalent of a third-rate lawyer for the Staten Island Borough president – one never knows with this story. After all, the Trumps themselves aren't exactly sophisticates, and they live in the White House.

Moreover, the Trump Justice Department, after dismissing former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, subsequently settled a case for Veselnitskaya's client very much in their favor. That settlement earlier this spring is now highly suspicious, given this week's revelations. In my personal opinion, it's the most suspicious act to date in the whole panoply of much-denounced Trump behaviors with regard to Russia, perhaps even moreso than the firing of James Comey.

On the other hand, Trump himself came out strongly in favor of the Magnitsky law earlier this year, a piece of news that was then and remains now a weird fit with the collusion narrative. Overturning the Magnitsky Act is probably at or near the top of the list of Russian foreign policy objectives vis a vis the United States.

In the fall of 2012, Barack Obama breezily declared "the Eighties are calling, they want their foreign policy back" in response to Mitt Romney's charge that Russia is our top global threat. The Magnitsky rule was passed not long after that, precipitating a steep collapse in Russian-American relations that has continued through this TrumpRussia scandal.

There's no way to understand the now-inevitable sequel to the cold war without understanding the Magnitsky affair. The fact that anti-Magnitsky lobbyist Veselnitskaya is at the center of the most explosive Russiagate story yet, and moreover that the "oppo" she planned to deliver to the Trumps reportedly concerned the Magnitsky case, underlines this idea even more.

Somehow, this all goes back to Magnitsky.

At about 4 p.m. on August 24th, 2009, a 37-year-old Russian named Sergei Magnitsky curled up in a ball in his bed at the infamous Butyrka jail, an imposing building that, since the days of Stalin's purges, has stood as a symbol of repression and political murder.

Magnitsky had been arrested nearly a year earlier, in November of 2008. He worked for Hermitage Capital, the investment firm of an American billionaire, William Browder. In most Western accounts, Magnitsky helped Browder uncover a complex corruption scheme involving an array of Russian officials that had resulted in the theft of about $230 million from Hermitage.

When Browder complained about the theft, the story goes, the Russian government not only didn't act to remedy it, but instead forced Browder out of the country. They also ultimately threw Browder's employee Magnitsky in jail, charging him with the very crime he'd helped uncover.

The ex-pat community in Moscow was initially unsure of what to think about the apparent attack on Browder and his companies. Browder at one time had been one of Putin's most enthusiastic Western supporters.

While many ex-pats who lived through the transition to Putin (myself included) immediately saw the new president as a dangerous autocrat who in the very best case would be a human rights downgrade from the awful-enough Yeltsin regime, Browder was one of the leading Western voices insisting that Putin was a man with whom we could do business. So it was odd to see his Hermitage company targeted.

In any case, after nearly a year behind bars, Browder's employee Magnitsky, who was married and had a young son, became ill. Before being transferred to Butyrka he had been diagnosed with gallstones, pancreatitis, and cholecystitis in another jail, and scheduled for surgery. But he never received treatment.

On November 16th, 2009, Magnitsky was finally transferred to another infamous Moscow jail, Matrosskaya Tishina, ostensibly to go to the medical ward. He never made it there and was instead handcuffed to a bedrail in an isolation cell. According to Browder's book, Red Notice, guards in riot gear entered the room and beat Magnitsky with rubber truncheons. He was discovered by a civilian doctor dead on the floor a little over an hour later.

Magnitsky's death would become a major scandal abroad, but that was mostly due to the accident of his having worked for an influential American, Browder. In fact, Magnitsky was killed as part of a commonplace scam in the gangland state that is Vladimir Putin's Russia: a reidersky zakhvat, or "raider attack."

The scam works as follows: a group of thugs with strong government and/or police ties targets a private company with assets. They then cook up an excuse to "raid" the company offices, at which point the thugs take the company's seals, certificates of ownership, registration files, etc. From there, the "raiders" simply sign over the company to new owners while the old ones are either pushed out, killed, or thrown in jail.

This grotesque new interpretation of the "hostile takeover" began in the Yeltsin years but ultimately became a major part of the gangland revenue model in Putin's Russia. One study delivered to the Duma by Russia's then "Business Ombudsman," Boris Titov, showed that 600,000 criminal cases had been brought against Russian "entrepreneurs" between 2010 and 2013, and that 110,924 of them had resulted in prison terms.

The case involving Browder and Hermitage wasn't even close to being the biggest. A firm called TogliattiAzot, which has 10,000 employees and controls upwards of 20-percent of the world's ammonia production, was successfully raided by the oligarch Dmitri Mazepin in a case that has rattled Western investors for years.

The Magnitsky case, at least as described in Browder's book, was typical of the reiderovsky methodology. The raiders first forced Hermitage to pay an exorbitant tax bill, then raided Hermitage's offices and stole documents they later used to reassign ownership of three of Hermitage's subsidiaries to themselves. They then claimed for themselves a $230 million tax "rebate." When Magnitsky uncovered this fraud/theft, he was tossed in jail.

The billionaire Browder at this point made getting payback for Magnitsky his life's mission. As detailed in Red Notice, he became a self-taught lobbyist and in 2012 managed to push through congress the law that came to be known as the Magnitsky Act. Among other things, it listed 18 individuals deemed responsible for Magnitsky's death and not only barred them from entering the U.S., but made provisions for the freezing of any assets they held abroad.

Despite his financial power and profile, Browder for all his furious complaints had until the passage of the Magnitsky Act barely elicited a yawn from the Putin government. But once the Magnitsky law was passed, beating back the rule almost immediately became a primary focus of the Russian government.

"They didn't care before. But now that we could freeze assets, that interfered with the whole business model of the Putin regime," Browder told me a few months ago. "That got their attention."

It should be noted that support of the Magnitsky law was not unanimous in the Western business community. There are some who disputed Browder's version of events, or were at least unsure enough about what had happened to hesitate.

A common concern was that in Russia, you never know whether things are being executed on orders from the very top, or merely by self-motivated crooks operating under the krysha, or protection (literally, "roof"), of higher-ranking officials. Those who lived there long enough knew the amounts of money taken in the Browder case weren't enough to raise the pulse rate of the king thieves who run the Russian state. In fact, sanctioning Russia's leaders for having committed these crimes was sure among other things to anger them on the level of being an insult to their professionalism.

Some American business interests also quietly grumbled that the Magnitsky rule would derail the fragile relations between the two countries – the commercial relations, particularly – and that Browder might have achieved a moral right at the expense of irreversibly angering the Russians and queering lucrative business interests.

Hillary Clinton herself went so far as to oppose the Magnitsky rule at one point in time. Her opposition, as reported by the Wall Street Journal and others, coincided with a trip to Moscow by Bill Clinton in which he was paid $500,000 to give a speech by Renaissance Capital, a firm that Sergei Magnitsky himself had claimed was part of the tax fraud perpetuated against Browder.

The Obama administration, too, originally opposed the Magnitsky rule in favor of a "reset" and a continuation of a nervous détente with Putin, one that among other things would include further nuclear arms reductions. Obama at the time was pushing the idea of "nuclear zero," a world without nuclear weapons. But there was considerable opposition to this concept in the Senate, and the Magnitsky act became a vehicle for consolidating legislative opposition to the "reset."

Eventually, Obama relented and the Magnitsky law passed. The predictions that it would drive the Russians ape proved immediately true. Russian government officials were infuriated and felt unfairly maligned by the law. The general tenor of the Russian complaints that I remember hearing went something like this: We're not the only vicious kleptocracy in the world, and naming your human rights abuse/extortion law after Magnitsky makes it seem like we are.

After the law passed, the Russians fought back, hard. The counterattacks against the Magnitsky Act and Browder were numerous and ranged from savage to absurd.

One of the first moves was to ban Western adoptions of Russian children, which was one of the few moves Russia could make that didn't involve imperiling their own financial interests. The move had life-threatening consequences for abandoned Russian children with diseases like Down Syndrome and spina bifida, who might otherwise have been adopted by foreigners with means. As one U.S. official told the Daily Beast last year, the Russian messaging was, "You repeal Magnitsky and we'll let go of the kids."

Browder put it another way. "Banning adoptions was especially cruel because what they were essentially saying is, 'We're going to hurt kids because we don't care, and you do,'" he says.

The Russians also passed a counter-law petulantly banning 18 Americans from entering Russia because of "human rights abuses." The list included noted federal Judge Jed Rakoff and none other than former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, recently dismissed by Trump.

When none of these moves were successful in beating back the Magnitsky rule, some Russians tried a public relations campaign in the West. This included the production of a documentary called The Magnitsky Act – Behind the Scenes, which denied that Magnitsky had been mistreated and more or less absolved the Russian regime of any guilt.

The movie's director, Andrei Nekrasov, has a record as a staunch Putin critic, having among other things made a damning film about the assassination/poisoning of former intelligence officer Alxander Litvinenko. He has told reporters he began his Magnitsky project intending to tell it from Browder's point of view, even envisioning Browder as narrator, but became convinced the facts didn't support that narrative.

What that means is hard to say. But add it to the long list of factors that make the Magnitsky/Browder case a very difficult one to unwind.

What's not in dispute is that the anti-Magnitsky lobbyists have in recent years used singularly revolting tactics. Veselnitskaya and her clients at Prevezon among other things created an organization called the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation, whose long-winded title is a sarcastic echo of the formal name of the Magnitsky Act.

The organization's purpose was really to lobby against the Magnitsky rule, but was couched as having been formed to seek out "legal and legislative options to help overturn this adoption ban." The HRAGIF, in other words, was essentially a vehicle for negotiating the release of children held as political hostages.

If you click on the website, you'll see heart-rending black-and-white photos of children who ostensibly could be living in peace and comfort with nice American families, if only the United States would drop its wrong-headed human rights sanctions law. If you want to make yourself ill, take a tour through the whole site.

Veselnitskaya is the wife of one Andrei Mitusov, at one time the deputy transport minister of the Moscow Oblast, the equivalent of a borough or maybe a county. Mitusov worked under Pyotr Katsyv, who in turn is the father of Denis Katsyv, identified by the Organized Crime Corruption Reporting Project as one of the people who ended up with the monies originally stolen in the Magnitsky case. According to these reports, the money ended up in the accounts of their Prevezon Holdings, which is registered in Cyprus.

When Prevezon was charged in the aforementioned money-laundering case, the company engaged an American firm to help with "litigation support." That firm was Fusion-GPS, the same company that commissioned the dossier on Donald Trump written by ex-spy Christopher Steele.

By an amazing coincidence, Fusion was working on behalf of this strange group of Russians at exactly the same time its founder, Glenn Simpson, was deciding to hire Steele to produce the most famous anti-Russian dossier of all time.

I originally thought that coincidence was too odd to ignore. But after looking into it and talking to some of the people involved, I came away believing that Fusion had not been employed by "the Russians," but rather by "some Russians," and not very sophisticated ones at that.

There were lots of conspiracy theories floating around in Washington at that time (including a theory, pushed variously by people in both parties, that "the Russians" had used Fusion to plant disinformation in the Steele report), but to me it seemed more likely that Fusion had just done what oppo firms do, i.e. take business wherever they can get it. Even dingbats like the Prevezon people are entitled to buy research help.

Still, this ultimately is the question that hovers over the latest revelations involving Trump Jr. Is Natalia Veselnitskaya a cutout for the Kremlin? Or is she just the lawyer for a group of provincial yahoos inveigled in a relatively small-time (by Russian standards) ripoff, in the States to push a preposterous and off-putting kids-for-sanctions deal to get their money back?

If it's the former, the collusion narrative is suddenly red hot. If it's the latter, then what we've got is a case of failed or attempted collusion, by a Trump scion who is too dense to know what he's meeting about and with whom.

What's the truth? I have no clue. This will be for poor Robert Mueller to sort out. Veselnitskaya seems like a nobody, but then again she scored a key meeting with the Trumps and also received special permission from the Obama Justice Department to remain in country. And there is that oddly auspicious settlement in the Prevezon case to ponder.

The relatively localized and specific Magnitsky controversy ultimately became a vehicle for a much broader and weightier disagreement between camps of powerful Russians and Americans. It became the nexus of two different ways to envision the future of Russian-American relations.

Hardliners on both sides originally used the Magnitsky affair as a way to argue – successfully – against the kind of pragmatic rapprochement/disarmament campaign that Barack Obama once favored with his "reset" idea.

With Russiagate en fuego, Magnitsky is no longer needed as an excuse to hype up aggression between the two countries. But it's not surprising that characters from the old divisive controversy keep appearing in this new one. 

Everything we know about the members of Trump's campaign who had contact with the Russian government. Watch here. your social media marketing partner


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-65 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-07-15 17:23
Americans and Russians are intertwined on many issues as Taibbi shows. This is normal. This is how the world works. I wish the right wing media would just stop looking for something evil in all of this. It is just normal. Hillary's people had all the same relationships, or even more. Russiagate is a total fabrication of the CIA, FBI, NSA, NYT, Wapo and a few more media. Its only point is to brainwash the American people with fake news.

Finally Tiabbi is getting the point. He too was snared into the Magnitsky affair. Maybe he will be investigated by Mueller.
+35 # DrD 2017-07-16 07:53
Heaven help us if chaining people to prison beds and beating them to death is "normal". Thank goodness for Matt for trying to make sense of this tangled web.
+13 # ericlipps 2017-07-16 08:06
You're kidding, right? Did you even READ this piece?

If that appeal is quoted accurately, Junior agreed to support a foreign government's attempt to boost his father's campaign. What he should have done instead is contact the FBI immediately without bothering to respond either yes or no to the Russian request.

Being "intertwined" in this fashion may or may not be a federal crime. It certainly stinks to high heaven, and the smell would have choked a lot of voters (though perhaps not bitter Bernieites who'd have cast their ballots for a tree stump before voting for Hillary) if it had become known before Election Day.
0 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-07-16 13:36
" Junior agreed to support a foreign government's attempt to boost his father's campaign"

No, not at all. He said he'd love it if there were incriminating information about Hillary.

The NYT and others have dropped this story because it has come out that Goldstone, Veselnitskaya, and Christopher Steele are all connected via Fusion GPS, as Matt notes above. Steele was already working for the Clinton campaign. He was looking in Russia for connections to Trump. He wrote his "Dossier" at about this time.

It appears (no proof yet) that the Goldstone/Vesel nitskaya proposal to Junior was a sting operation to fabricate some Trump + Russia connections.

Goldstone'e email was just a con-game. There is no Crown Prosecutor so how could this person have documents. Offering documents from a person who does not exist is simply ludicrous.

If there were any documents (and there were not), they could have been stolen from the Russian government. Stolen documents given or sold to Junior is not evidence of a Russian Government collusion with Trump.

He sure as hell should not have gone to the FBI. What are they -- our daddies? We don't want the FBI overseeing anything. It is a criminal organization.

I would like to see Trump brought down as much as anyone - but for the right reasons and not for some CIA/Clinton fake news campaign. Trump's policies are very destructive. He's among the worst of the worst republicans. Truth is important.
-5 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-07-16 13:45
Christopher Steele's "Dossier" was really a piece of crap. It was terribly written, it was full of really dumb mistakes about people and Russian society. Some of the stories it told (the Golden Showers episode) were exaggerated to the point of silly.

Goldstone's emails to Trump, Jr. read the same way. They could have been written by Steele. No one is talking to Steele, who was a paid disinformation creator by the Clinton campaign. If this investigation goes on much longer, you'll see the hands of the Clinton campaign on it. For that reason, it will vanish pretty soon.
+4 # carytucker 2017-07-16 20:27
Quoting Rodion Raskolnikov:
Christopher Steele's "Dossier" was really a piece of crap. It was terribly written, it was full of really dumb mistakes about people and Russian society. Some of the stories it told (the Golden Showers episode) were exaggerated to the point of silly.

Goldstone's emails to Trump, Jr. read the same way. They could have been written by Steele. No one is talking to Steele, who was a paid disinformation creator by the Clinton campaign. If this investigation goes on much longer, you'll see the hands of the Clinton campaign on it. For that reason, it will vanish pretty soon.

The more it becomes apparent that money laundering of the magnitude required by the Moscow-centered crime syndicate--e.g. 'that oddly auspicious settlement in the Prevezon case'--constitu tes Mr Trump's signature contribution to the kleptocracies East and West, the more frequent and shrill the denials from friends of the Putin-Trump axis. I look forward soon to reading that Mr Mueller et al. are doing the bidding of the Clintons, or, wait, is it the 'deep state'? Lots of bad faith here from the Friends of Putin.
-4 # Depressionborn 2017-07-17 05:18
It turns out the Moscow-based lawyer whose brief meeting with Trump campaign officials last year was obtained under false pretenses has significant ties to Democrat opposition researchers in the United States and was extended special privileges by the Obama administration.
+32 # dotlady 2017-07-15 23:00
Sure RR, "this is the way the world works." The world of thugs and Mafia allied with industry and willing to sell their countries out for personal profit.
+8 # lfeuille 2017-07-15 23:41
Robert Parry on Russia-gate and Magnitsky:

How Russia-gate Met the Magnitsky Myth
+37 # Salburger 2017-07-16 07:04
But the point is that Trump Jr. Kushner and Manfort all conspired to get something of value from a foreign government as part of an election campaign, and that is a felony regardless of the people on the other side.
+8 # Salus Populi 2017-07-16 09:56
Is it, now? Or is it only a felony if the other side does it?

On Democracy Now last week, Nermeen Shaikh interviewed Glen Greenwald of The Intercept. After delineating the cases of Democratic operatives, or people paid by the Democrats, going to Ukraine and Russia (in separate trips) to get dirt on Trump from "Kremlin-affili ated agents," in his words, in the latter case [the infamous 'Steele dossier'], and from Ukrainian government officials in the former, Greenwald asks, "... I want to hear the standard that we’re supposed to use to assess Trump Jr.'s actions.

"Is it that it's wrong in all cases to get incriminating information about your opponent from a foreign government? In which case, why is it OK for the Democrats to do it with Ukrainian officials or for their investigator to go to Moscow and get dirt on Trump?

"Or is it some other standard that distinguishes what Trump Jr. did in this case versus what Democrats did with the Steele dossier and with Ukraine? And I just don’t see this distinction."

This is not a brief defending the awful President Drumpf, who is beyond the pale even for a U.S. President -- many of which have carried out abundant crimiinal acts and violations of both international and U.S. law. But if it's a violation when Trump does it, it's a violation when Clinton or the DNC do it.

As I've previously noted, there are plenty of impeachable offenses that are available, that have nothing to do with Russia. So why the monomania?
+6 # lfeuille 2017-07-16 12:32
Yes, I wish someone would answer this question. It is astounding that people are so willing to go along with such a blatant double standard.
-1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-07-16 14:03
"something of value from a foreign government"

No, read the proposal again. They were to get something of value from "the Crown Prosecutor of russia." There is no such office in Russia and hence no such person"

Here's the email --

"Good morning

Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.

The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary"

You can't get something from someone who does not exist. Goldstone's note is bogus. There was no foreign government in this operation. Goldstone referred to the Russian government without any authorization. He does not work for the Russian government and was not speaking on its behalf. He could have had stolen documents, but if that were the case then Trump Junior would not be dealing with a foreign government.

Besides politicians get lots of valuable stuff, mostly cash, from the Israeli government and no one complains. The Israelis have bought and paid for a very significant part of the US congress.

This is a red herring. Just more attempts to throw dirt at Russia.
0 # Depressionborn 2017-07-18 01:10
Quoting Salburger:
But the point is that Trump Jr. Kushner and Manfort all conspired to get something of value from a foreign government as part of an election campaign, and that is a felony regardless of the people on the other side.

"something of value" is info? really? then all the dc "politicos" will have to go home.

Salburger 2017-07-16 07:04 has to be kidding
+13 # wrknight 2017-07-16 09:43
When all is lies, there's no way to know the truth.
+3 # ahollman 2017-07-16 12:13
First, when logging on to comment, I now regularly get a warning: "This connection is not secure". RSN needs to get a secure connection, with a link starting "https://".

We are attempting to balance our need to cooperate with countries on some issues while confronting them on others. Re the US and the USSR/Russia, we need to balance cooperating with them on security issues (e.g. nuclear weapons proliferation, avoiding direct conflict when both countries have supported opposing factions in third countries), while opposing its awful record of blatant human rights violations and interference with foreign governments (where the US comes to the table with dirty hands).

The Magnitsky Act is not the first US attempt to restrict trade with countries that violated human rights. The 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment denied most-favored-na tion trading status to countries which violated human rights by restricting or preventing their own citizens from emigrating. While written to apply to -any- countries which did this, its impetus came from Soviet restrictions on emigration, most notably of Jews.

Then, the US and the USSR supported opposing sides in Vietnam and in the Angolan civil war. Now the two are supporting opposing sides in Syria.

Both continues were then and still are the only two which can end life on Earth, so we must cooperate there, despite all else.

Let's keep talking on nukes, but keep up the pressure on Russian human rights violations, our own notwithstanding .
-2 # Depressionborn 2017-07-17 08:03
lies don't last:

Translator at Donald Trump Jr. Entrapment Meeting Worked for State Department, a Globalist NGO and Hillary Clinton Directly and has a Email Address.

sorry liers
0 # Depressionborn 2017-07-17 16:27
the story keeps becoming more and more interesting:

State Dept leak - Why were Bill Browder (Heritage Fund), Kyle Parker (House Foreign Affairs), and Robert Otto (State Dept) passing around pictures of Veselnitskaya's house the day she met Trump Jr? (00002215.eml)
0 # Depressionborn 2017-07-18 14:12

The more we learn about the FBI, the more shocked we become! TRUE PUNDIT broke the story that the Russian translator, Anatoli Samochornov, actually was working for the FBI under Robert Mueller at the time of the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer. Wow, what a setup
0 # yolo 2017-07-20 07:05
William Browder is not an American, as Taibbi says. Browder gave up his US citizenship and became a British citizen. Sergei Magnitsky, as the article states is Russian. So my question is why is this an American matter? Could it be a British citizen has more influence over American politics because of his money than US citizens who have been treated worse?

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