Paul Behrends, a key aide to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, was booted from the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee late last night after news stories focused attention on his cozy ties to Russian lobbyists.
“Paul Behrends no longer works at the committee,” a House Foreign Affairs Committee spokesperson told Rosie Gray at The Atlantic yesterday evening.
Rohrabacher expressed confidence in Behrends. But Gray reports that a “shakeup” may be coming for Rohrabacher’s chairmanship of the powerful subcommittee.
One of the sources with knowledge of the events suggested that Behrends was fired from the committee under pressure from House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce.
There has been tension between Royce and Rohrabacher over Rohrabacher’s activities, and Royce scuttled Rohrabacher’s plan last year to screen an anti-Magnitsky film in Congress. Royce also nixed Rohrabacher’s plan to visit Moscow again earlier this year.
Rohrabacher and Behrends made an official visit to Moscow about two months before Donald Trump, Jr met with a delegation of Russians in Trump Tower, but there are strong similarities between the Kremlin’s approach to Rohrabacher and Putin’s approach to Donald Trump, as they were parts of a pattern.
For example, both discussions revolved around the Kremlin’s displeasure with the Magnitsky Act under the pretext of “adoptions,” and both episodes involved people claiming some relationship to Russian prosecutor general Yuri Chaika.
Behrends arranged the meeting schedule in Moscow. As Ms. Gray has previously noted, her efforts to understand Rep. Rohrabacher’s weirdly-accommodating attitude towards Russia all lead back to Behrends. “Other congressional staffers who have worked with or around Behrends see him as egging on Rohrabacher’s worst instincts,” she says.
“Paul here is the key figure, not Dana,” said one Hill staffer. “Paul is the instigator here.”
“He’s nudging it along, encouraging it,” said another Hill source. “And he pushes Dana to follow what he would normally want to do but gives him that encouragement and that support.”
Although Rohrabacher’s press secretary denies it, Capitol Hill sources have told Ms. Gray that Behrends was probably responsible for invitations to the anti-Magnitsky film when it was shown in Washington.
POLITICO reports that “Behrends has been the chief Capitol Hill contact for the lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya” and Rinat Akhmetshin, the sketchy Russian lobbyist who attended the Trump Tower meeting in June. In fact, Behrends was spotted last year showing Akhmetshin around in the halls of Congress “almost by the hand.”
According to POLITICO, Behrends has been friends with Trump allies Peter Thiel and Sebastian Gorka for years. Behrends has also been a very helpful lobbyist for Erik Prince, the infamous mercenary who attempted to set up a back channel for talks between the Trump White House and the Kremlin in a secretive visit to the Seychelles.
According to POLITICO, Behrends is motivated by a militant Catholicism and agrees with Vladimir Putin’s view of the world as a clash of Christian and Muslim civilizations — the same chauvinist paradigm promoted by Steve Bannon.
It’s a fairly new political phenomenon that Putin has cultivated in the West. Behrends “was your typical GOP hawk until Trump came around,” Ben Schreckinger says, quoting a source who works with the aide.
The good news for American sovereignty is that House Republicans are so bothered by the behavior of Paul Behrends and Dana Rohrabacher that they can be embarrassed into action, after all. The bad news for American democracy is that they are not there yet with Donald Trump.
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