Trump Administration Draws Scrutiny After Revoking Putin Critic's Visa

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The Trump administration revoked travel privileges for one of the harshest critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin causing an immediate response from Capitol Hill. British citizen Bill Browder, a crusader for the Magnitsky Act designed to punish Russian human rights abusers, found his travel to the United States blocked in recent days.

“The Department of Homeland Security should expedite an immediate review of the decision to revoke Mr. Browder’s visa,” Senators John McCain of Arizona and Ben Cardin of Maryland said in a statement on Monday.

The senators added it “would be unfortunate if the U.S. decided to bar [Bill Browder] based on a decision by those same Russian officials who have been targeted by this important legislation (the Magnitsky Act).”

The situation appears to be triggered by Russia’s decision to place Browder on the Interpol wanted list in pursuit of his arrest. The Department of Homeland Security notified Browder late last week that his status as a member of the Global Entry program was revoked. Administered by Customs and Border Protection, the status allows trusted travelers expedited entry into the country.

When Browder tried to book a flight to the United States, he discovered his privileges to enter the U.S. as a citizen of Great Britain were gone. Browder uses the Electronic System for Travel Authorization to gain entry into the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program.

“I discovered that my Global Entry status had been revoked,” Browder said. “We then checked into a flight to Newark and the airline wouldn’t let me check in, wouldn’t let me board because of the visa issue. At that point, I then contact my contacts in law enforcement and it was confirmed to me that Russia had added me using the Interpol diffusion system on the 17th of October.”

Browder is a British financier and a driving force behind the Magnitsky Act, The bipartisan law passed in 2012 to punish human rights abusers in Russia. Its name come from Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer, jailed after discovering a tax fraud scheme who died under suspicious circumstances. Browder was one of Magnitsky’s clients.

Browder’s support for the law makes him an enemy of Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia has on four previous occasions petitioned to get Interpol to secure Browder’s arrest. The international police organization rejected all four prior requests, deeming them politically motivated. It is expected to do the same in this case as well.

Previously, Browder’s automatically revoked visa privileges, as a result of Russia’s actions, were resolved within hours by the United States government.

“I am hopeful that this is just a technical issue driven by Interpol and it will be resolved quickly,” Browder said Monday. He added he received little information from Homeland Security when he inquired about his Global Entry status.

“After waiting for an hour and a half, I got through to a representative who told me that they couldn’t disclose why my Global Entry had been revoked, and if I wanted to find out, I should file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request,” Browder said. “I only learned why when I went to my law enforcement contacts about Interpol.”

Browder discovered Russia's recent actions came just after Canada passed its own version of the Magnitsky Act last week. In a speech Thursday, Vladimir Putin accused Canada of playing “unconstructive political games” and derided Browder as a criminal.

Word that Browder’s visa had been revoked triggered immediate scrutiny among critics of the Trump administration and its ties to Russia.

Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images; Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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