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How a Mysterious Russian Businessman Got His Picture Taken With Donald Trump

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Donald Trump campaigns in Aston, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, on September 22, 2016.Evan Vucci/AP

On Monday, the Justice Department announced the indictment of two Republican operatives for allegedly funneling $25,000 from a Russian citizen to Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee in 2016. In leveling those charges, the feds generated a mystery: Who was the Russian? The indictment charged Jesse Benton and Doug Wead, who have links to Trump and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), but it did not identify the person who originally provided the money, who it referred to simply as “Foreign National 1.” But publicly available evidence suggests that man is probably Roman Vasilenko, a retired Russian naval officer and now a St. Petersburg, Russia-based businessman who operates a multi-level marketing company.

According to the feds, Wead and Benton’s scheme began in September 2016, when Wead contacted a Ukrainian translator and offered to help Foreign National 1 meet Trump. In the indictment, Foreign National 1 is described as a “business associate of Wead living outside the United States.” Benton allegedly arranged for Wead, Foreign National 1, and the translator to attend a September 22 “roundtable” fundraiser with Trump at Philadelphia’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The indictment says that Foreign National 1 wired $100,000 to Benton’s company and that Benton later used $25,000 of that money to pay for the Russian’s ticket while keeping the remaining $75,000. The indictment does not accuse Foreign National 1 or the translator of any wrongdoing, and they have not been charged. The indictment adds that the Trump campaign and the RNC were unaware of the alleged scheme.

In one email to the event organizers, Benton emphasized that their Russian guest wanted to have his picture taken with the candidate. “The[] photo is important to him,” Benton wrote, according to the indictment. And he got his wish: Foreign National 1, the translator, and Wead all had official photos taken with Trump, and Wead took a photo of the Russian man posing with Trump on his personal camera, the indictment notes.

Those photos provide the apparent link between the indictment and Vasilenko, which was first reported by Forensic News, a nonprofit investigative journalism publication.

Vasilenko documented his foray into American politics on his social media accounts, which include details that seem to line up neatly with the government’s allegations. His company, Life Is Good, not to be confused with the American t-shirt company, created a video that shows Vasilenko and his entourage, all wearing shirts bearing the company’s logo,........

© Mother Jones

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