Kremlin Critic Bill Browder On Russian Influence
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
In another week filled with breaking news, the Senate judiciary committee approved a bipartisan bill to protect Robert Mueller - the special counsel leading the Russian investigation - for being fired by President Trump. But the Senate may not even vote on that bill. And a Russian lawyer who met with senior Trump campaign officials in 2016 acknowledged she does have ties to the Kremlin, after saying earlier she didn't.
One of the most prominent voices warning about the worldwide reach of Russian corruption, chicanery, and worse has been Bill Browder, British-American financier who was once the largest foreign investor in Russia and, of course, is now an outspoken opponent of the Putin regime. Mr. Browder, thanks so much for being with us.
BILL BROWDER: Great to be with you.
SIMON: Let's start with the story of this lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. She told NBC, I am a lawyer. I am an informant for the Russian government - after claiming that she wasn't anybody's agent. You know her, right?
BROWDER: I know her really well. She was trying to repeal the Magnitsky Act, which I was very instrumental in passing. And she did a lot of terrible things in Washington and New York to try to do that. And she had always presented herself as some kind of private citizen. When she calls herself now an informant, I would say that doesn't go nearly as far as what she really is. She is an agent of the Russian government. And the emails that came out yesterday pretty much prove that. And so what we know now is that an agent of the Russian government, proven by emails, showed up in Trump Tower, trying to get Donald Trump Jr. to convince his father to repeal an anti-Russian Magnitsky sanctions act.
SIMON: Now, Republicans on the House intelligence committee released that report this week, heavily redacted, saying that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia. You believe they missed something?
BROWDER: Well, I actually don't believe either the Republicans or the Democrats when they produce these reports because these are not objective reports. Everybody is arguing their partisan interests. The one report I will believe will be the report of Robert Mueller. He's a totally impartial law enforcement investigator who will come to the truth, whether it was collusion or it wasn't collusion. But when a partisan group puts together a report, it doesn't really hold much credibility for me.
SIMON: You testified this week before U.S. human rights commission, the Helsinki Commission about the Bitkov family. This is a Russian family of four jailed in Guatemala. You believe this is a story we ought to know about.
BROWDER: Yeah, this is a remarkable story. This is a family that fell out with the Kremlin like I did. When I fell out, I was expelled to London, and, I. Was safe after that. They ended up going to Guatemala thinking that they would be safe in Guatemala and then the Russian government tracked them down in Guatemala. This is a family of a mother, father, daughter, and infant son.
The Russian government tracked them down in Guatemala and then got a U.N. agency that's paid for by the United States to fight corruption and impunity in Guatemala - and the Russian government got that agency to prosecute this family for passport violations and sentenced the mother - the father to 19 years in prison, the mother and daughter to 14 years in prison. And then the Russians tried to take the infant son back to an orphanage in Russia.
It's the most remarkable story of evil coming out of Russia that I've seen in a long time. And what it shows is that they're not just messing with the election in the United States or doping in the Olympics. But they've got their tentacles into just about everything everywhere. This is one story that shows that.
SIMON: I have to ask you, Mr. Browder, there are plenty of people - and we hear from them - who are skeptical about Russia being seen at the center of so many allegations. And they say the U.S. and the West are just crawling back into a destructive Cold War mentality. How do you answer that?
BROWDER: Well, I mean, Russia was responsible for shooting down MH17. Russia was responsible for invading Ukraine. Russia is responsible for taking away the chemical weapons in Syria that they didn't take away. Russia was responsible for having honest athletes in the Olympics when they did the whole doping program. I mean, Russia is the one who is making the trouble. Russia is really a sort of a nonentity when it comes to - the economy is the size of the state of New York. Their military budget is 5 percent of the U.S. military budget. We shouldn't even be thinking about Russia other than the fact that they're sort of putting their nose into every bit of terrible activity all over the world.
SIMON: Quick question - but it's important to get along, isn't it?
BROWDER: Of course it's important to get along. But they're the ones not getting along. What we have to do is stop them from doing bad stuff. I'm not saying anyone should go to nuclear war with Russia. What we should do is contain them and show them that there are consequences if they do terrible things, which is what sanctions are all about.
SIMON: Bill Browder, author of "Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, And One Man's Fight for Justice." Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Browder.
BROWDER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.