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What is the Magnitsky Act Donald Trump Jr. Discussed With the Russian Lawyer?

by Countable | 7.12.17

When Donald Trump Jr. met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016 under the pretext of receiving damaging information on Hillary Clinton, he didn’t expect to end up having a discussion about an Obama era sanctions law. But that’s exactly what he got, and the obscure piece of legislation — known as the Magnitsky Act — has played a significant role in diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Russia in the years since its enactment.

What is the Magnitsky Act?

The bipartisan legislation — enacted in 2012 — sanctioned Russians connected to the death of Sergei Magnitsky or responsible for killings, torture, and human rights violations against people exposing illegal activity by the Russian government. Sanctioned individuals are ineligible for entry to the U.S. under the law, which also freezes the person’s financial and property assets in the country.

Sergei Magnitsky was an auditor investigating tax fraud by Russian government officials who was imprisoned and denied medical treatment for chronic conditions for months before being beaten to death by officers of Russia’s interior ministry.

What has its impact been?

Since the first sanctions were meted out by the Treasury Department in April 2013 against 18 people connected to the deaths of Magnitsky and others, the Russian government has pushed back against the law.

Among the retaliatory steps the Russian government has taken since the Magnitsky Act was enacted are passing a law denying adoptions of Russian children by Americans and issuing a "Guantanamo list" of U.S. officials prohibited from entering Russia. It also has continued to lobby for the law’s repeal through people like Veselnitskaya.

But they don’t seem to be enjoying much success in that effort at the moment. In December 2016, the Magnitsky Act was expanded to apply to human rights abusers globally when Congress tacked it on as an amendment to the annual defense authorization, after the Senate passed such a global expansion as a standalone bill earlier in the session. This April, the Trump administration announced it was in the process of implementing the expansion. There are currently 44 individuals sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act.

Tell your reps whether you think of the Magnitsky Act and its global expansion: Should it be enhanced further, or repealed?

— Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: Anosima via Flickr / Creative Commons)

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