“Somebody said that her visa or her passport was approved by Attorney General Lynch,” Mr. Trump said Thursday at a joint news conference with President Emmanuel Macron of France. “She was here because of Lynch.”
Mr. Trump was referring to a report in a Capitol Hill publication, The Hill, on how Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer, entered the United States without a visa in early 2016.
Ms. Veselnitskaya, according to the report, was granted immigration parole to represent a Russian businessman, Denis Katsyv, in a money laundering case in New York City.
But the use of parole for entry is not particularly unusual, and approval authority lies with the Department of Homeland Security, not the Justice Department. And there is no indication that Ms. Lynch was personally responsible for the decision.
What is immigration parole?
Visitors can enter without a visa under special circumstances through what is called immigration parole, typically granted on a case-by-case basis for “urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit,” according to the Congressional Research Service.
For example, Jews fleeing the Soviet Union in 1988 and 1989 were admitted through this category, as were orphans after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. And the administration of President George W. Bush regularly paroled in Iraqi translators in danger (before a special immigration class was created for them), said Margaret Stock, an immigration lawyer based in Anchorage. The Defense Department could get these requests cleared within 24 hours, much faster than the standard immigration process.
Why was Ms. Veselnitskaya paroled in?
Ms. Veselnitskaya “received significant public benefit parole with multiple entry authorization from Oct. 8, 2015, to Jan. 7, 2016, which was subsequently extended to Feb. 28, 2016, and which was not in effect in June of 2016 or thereafter,” said Nicholas Biase, a spokesman for the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York.
A memorandum of agreement among immigration enforcement agencies gives a glimpse into the subcategory Ms. Veselnitskaya probably fell under: “aliens who will participate in administrative, judicial, or legislative proceedings, and/or investigations.”
This classification is typically used for people who have trouble obtaining a visa because of a criminal history or other issues.
Was Ms. Lynch responsible for Ms. Veselnitskaya’s June meeting?
Ms. Veselnitskaya’s parole expired in February 2016. And according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security, she entered the United States in June through a visitor’s visa issued by the State Department.
A State Department spokesman could not confirm this, citing a law that prohibits the department from discussing individual visa cases. It is unclear what circumstances necessitated Ms. Veselnitskaya’s parole, and why she was able to obtain a visa in June.
Regardless, Ms. Lynch denied having any knowledge of Ms. Veselnitskaya’s personal travel. And all the immigration law experts The Times spoke to expressed doubt that the former head of the Justice Department had made the request for Ms. Veselnitskaya’s parole.
“Most paroles for litigation are routine and would not come to the attention of the cabinet secretary,” said David Martin, an immigration law professor at the University of Virginia.
While it is likely that a Justice Department official requested parole, the decision to authorize it came from the Department of Homeland Security. So, Ms. Stock said sarcastically, Mr. Trump would be more on target blaming Jeh Johnson, the former Homeland Security secretary, than Ms. Lynch.
“I’d be shocked if she personally was involved in this,” said Eli Kantor, a media liaison with the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “It’s just a red herring.”