In the days before her June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. and other top Trump campaign aides, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was granted a visa by the US State Department to enter the country.
"In Sept. 2015, DHS paroled Natalia Veselnitskaya into the U.S. in concurrence with the U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York, allowing her to participate in a client’s legal proceedings," the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement to BuzzFeed News Thursday night.
"Ms. Veselnitskaya was subsequently paroled into the U.S. several times between 2015 and 2016, ending in February 2016. In June 2016, she was issued a B1/B2 nonimmigrant visa by the U.S. Department of State," it said.
The statement contradicts remarks made by President Donald Trump earlier Thursday, suggesting that the Russian lawyer had somehow been allowed into the US by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
“Somebody said that her visa or her passport to come into the country was approved by Attorney General Lynch,” Trump said at a press conference in Paris. “Now, maybe that's wrong. I just heard that a little while ago, but a little surprised to hear that. So, she was here because of Lynch."
Almost immediately, a spokesperson for Lynch put out a statement insisting that she had no authority over whether or not the Russian lawyer was allowed to enter the country.
"Lynch, as the former head of the Justice Department, does not have any personal knowledge of Ms. Veselnitskaya's travel,” the statement said.
The Department of Homeland Security confirmed to BuzzFeed News that it granted Veselnitskaya special permission to enter the US in 2015, so that she could participate in a civil court case involving her client, the Russian-owned investment company Prevezon Holdings. The parole status was granted at the behest of the Department of Justice, specifically the Manhattan US Attorney's office, which had accused Prevezon of a massive money laundering scheme.
The timeline of Veselnitskaya's parole status appears to line up with statements she made in court during that case, in which she claimed that she had been denied a visa but granted parole so she could represent Prevezon. But in January 2016, after Veselnitskaya filed an affidavit saying that her parole status would soon expire, Justice Department lawyers told the court that her presence in the US, was no longer necessary.
Veselnitskaya's parole subsequently expired in February 2016, according to DHS. When she returned to the US in June, it was under a standard visitor's visa, newly issued by the State Department. It is not clear what prompted the State Department to change course on its decision to grant Veselnitskaya a visa.
But it was on that trip that Veselnitskaya met with key aides for Donald Trump's presidential campaign, on the premise that she would provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton. She remained in the US until at least the following week, when she traveled to Washington, DC, to push members of Congress into repealing the Magnitsky Act.
The State Department did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment.