Almost three decades before he participated in the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer, among others, Irakly “Ike” Kaveladze accused the American press of taking part in an anti-Russian “witch hunt.”
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Kaveladze was a subject in a congressional probe into how foreigners were laundering money through U.S. banks. Kaveladze, who reportedly was born in the Soviet Union and immigrated to the U.S. in 1991, started thousands of corporations in the U.S. on behalf of Russian nationals and opened American bank accounts for them. The Government Accountability Office investigated those accounts.
In an opinion article for the publication Bridge News, published on September 24, 1999, and resurfaced on Tuesday by Just Security, a national security online forum, Kaveladze wrote that the money-laundering accusations were “ethnic targeting.” He pointed out that two bank employees had been fired or suspended because of the allegations, and that the press had “gone over their background with a fine-toothed comb, dwelling on the fact that both are Russian immigrants and naturalized U.S. citizens.”
But no one involved had broken any U.S. laws, he wrote. Rather, the Russian nationals had gone through the U.S. banks in order to “circumvent Russia’s strict currency laws” in a time when “corruption, bribery, theft and asset-stripping are pandemic in post-communist Russia.”
Kaveladze said “the main culprit is the Russian government,” which had created a corrupt system. He also criticized the U.S. government because it supported the Russian system through policy. But he also blamed the American press, writing, “An ethnic witch hunt has been substituted for a serious discussion of complex issues and disturbing processes taking place in Russia.”
The rhetoric echoes more recent claims by President Donald Trump and his supporters, who have said that the Democrats and the media are taking part in a “witch hunt” against him by claiming that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election and possibly coordinated with the Trump campaign.
Both the accusation and the “witch hunt” rhetoric have intensified in recent days, after The New York Times reported that Trump Jr. met in June 2016 with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer linked to the Kremlin, and that the person who arranged the meeting had told Trump Jr. that Veselnitskaya promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton. “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. responded in an email to the intermediary.
Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop star, reportedly requested the meeting, and a music promoter named Rob Goldstone arranged it. Besides Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya, the meeting was attended by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser; Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager; Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist; and Anatoli Samochornov, a translator who previously worked for the State Department. On Tuesday, a lawyer for Kaveladze confirmed to the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post that the latter attended too, on behalf of Agalarov and his father, Aras Agalarov, a property developer, for whom Kaveladze works.
Trump Jr. has called the Times reports “a big yawn,” and he released emails related to the meeting. President Trump tweeted on Monday, “Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That’s politics!”
But the lawyer for Kaveladze, Scott Balber, has said he received a phone call from a representative for Robert Mueller, the Department of Justice’s special counsel who is overseeing the FBI investigation into Russia’s election meddling, requesting Kaveladze’s identity. The request appears to be the first indication that the Trump Jr. meeting is part of Mueller’s investigation. The Senate Judiciary Committee is also looking into the meeting.
Kaveladze co-wrote the Bridge News opinion article with Alexei Bayer, who is also an immigrant from the former Soviet Union. Online biographies of Bayer describe him as an author and economist and president and owner of Kafan FX Information Services, a business consulting company in New York City.
A Twitter account that appears to belong to Bayer contains tweets that are critical about the older Trump and uses an unflattering image of the president as the Twitter avatar. Bayer could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.