Donald Trump Jr. recently claimed that his meeting with a Kremlin-backed lawyer was designed to address the adoption of Russian orphans – not to collude with Russia to weaken Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.
President Trump recently acknowledged that he discussed Russian orphans during his previously-undisclosed second meeting with Vladimir Putin during the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.
And, at least on the surface, this appears to be quite admirable.
St. James writes: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27) The psalmist tells us that God is the helper of the fatherless. (Psalm 10:14) The prophet Jeremiah penned: “If you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless, or the widow…then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.” (Jeremiah 7:6-7) In the time of Jesus, widows and orphans were often found among the poorest-of-the-poor; and early Christians contributed to the care those in need knowing that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35).
And so, as people of faith, we should be excited about the fact that President Trump and his son are actively engaging in conversations with the Russians about orphans (many of whom are severely disabled), and about the many ongoing challenges that Americans face when they want to adopt Russian orphans because of a law that was enacted by the Russian government in 2013. The needs of the orphans are great, and Americans are willing to help.
However, we cannot fully understand the depth of what’s happening and the legal ramifications of actions that will, likely, need to be taken by the United States until we fully understand the issues that surrounded the torture and the death of man named Sergei Magnitsky.
Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky (08 April 1972 – 16 November 2009) was a Russian lawyer and auditor who was arrested after alleging that there had been large-scale theft that was being both sanctioned and accomplished by Russian officials. Sergei Magnitsky was held in Moscow’s Butyrka prison for 358 days – only seven days short of the one-year term during which he could be legally held without trial. Sergei developed gall stones, pancreatitis and a blocked gall bladder while imprisoned – and adequate medical care was both delayed and denied. A Human Rights Council set-up by the Kremlin found that Sergei had been physically assaulted shortly before his death, and his case quickly drew international attention because of the ongoing work and diligence of Bill Browder, the founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management and the largest foreign investor in Russian until 2005.
Bill Browder continued to pursue justice after Sergei Magnitsky was arrested by the Russian police, held without trial, denied necessary medical care and treatment, and was brutally beaten to death while in police custody.
The United States government adopted the Magnitsky Act at the end of 2012 in response to the dedicated efforts of Bill Browder and many others (including Senators John McCain and Ben Cardin). The Magnitsky Act (formally known as the “Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012”) was a bipartisan bill that was passed by the U.S. Congress and that was signed into law by President Obama – intending to sanction and punish the Russian officials who were responsible for the arrest, torture and death of Sergei Magnitsky in Moscow’s Butyrka prison in 2009. Vladimir Putin quickly responded to the Magnitsky Act (which barred Russian officials who were involved in Sergei’s death from entering the United States and from using the American banking system) by pushing legislation that banned the adoption of Russian orphans by American families – an act that was widely unpopular in both the United States and Russia. The Magnitsky Act gained international traction and was enacted in similar forms in countries outside of the United States, too.
And so, the “pregnant question” seems to be: Can the legal obstacles that prevent the adoption of Russian orphans by American families be innocently discussed and resolved without addressing the Magnitsky Act? While Donald Trump Jr’s newly disclosed discussion with the Kremlin-backed lawyer may not have been focused upon the sharing of information that would have been damaging to the presidential bid of Hillary Clinton, we can’t avoid considering the likelihood of lengthy discussions about sanctions imposed upon Russian officials and about the freezing of Russian assets (worth billions of dollars). The same would be true in any discussions about the adoption of Russian orphans by American citizens that Vladimir Putin and President Trump have had.
There are several roads forward that we need to consider as people of faith.
- First, as people of faith, we must continue to support the ongoing missions, objectives, and goals of Human Rights organizations around the world. Men and women who have been justly (or unjustly) accused of committing a crime have the God-given right to face their accusers, and to be set free when crimes that they are accused of committing can’t be proven. St. Paul says: “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (2 Corinthians 13:1) We must also recognize that judges and juries are appointed by God to ensure that testimony is properly heard and considered, and that those who provide testimony are warned: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16) The use of corrupt judges and helplessly biased juries must continue to be publicly denounced on a world-wide basis.
- Second, as people of faith, we must continue to support the missions, objections, and goals of Human Rights organizations that are trying to bring an end to the violence that people face while in custody – both in prisons around the world and in the United States. Police officers are called by God to a “Vocation of Service” and are not called to serve as judges, juries, and (in some cases) executioners. The Bible provides a distinction between watchmen, armed guards, and judges. (Ezekiel 33:6, Nehemiah 4:13, Ezekiel 44:24) We, as people of faith, must also continue to draw upon the story of our Lord’s Passion as we consider how those who are being held in custody are treated by those who have imprisoned them. (Luke 22:63-65)
- Third, as people of faith, we cannot allow the Russian government to use orphans (many of whom are severely disabled) as pawns in a game that’s intended to weaken sanctions imposed by the Magnitsky Act. We must continue to support strong sanctions against false arrest, lengthy imprisonments and police brutality – while we continue to try to meet the immense needs of Russian orphans. We can’t allow Moscow to confuse the issue, and we cannot sit by in silence while President Trump and his son discuss lifting sanctions that were imposed after the vicious torture and untimely death of Sergei Magnitsky. The President of the United States cannot be allowed to ignore State-sponsored false arrests and violent overreach by police officers who are functioning outside of their God-appointed roles.
- And fourth, as people of faith, we must support and encourage the just efforts that are being employed to investigate President Trump and his family’s interactions with the Kremlin. Many people of faith grew silent (and were even encouraged) when they learned that Donald Trump Jr. and his father had both secretly and privately discussed the issue of the adoption of Russian orphans by American families. But a pregnant question remains: Can the legal obstacles that have been imposed by the Russians (and that presently prevent Russian orphans from being adopted by American families) be innocently discussed and resolved without addressing the specifics of the Magnitsky Act? And, if the lifting of the sanctions imposed against Russians by the Magnitsky Act were discussed before the election wouldn’t that provide evidence of direct and inappropriate consultations between President Trump’s campaign and Russian officials?
The American Court Jester