He’s a Member of Congress. The Kremlin Likes Him So Much It Gave Him a Code Name:

He’s a Member of Congress. The Kremlin Likes Him So Much It Gave Him a Code Name:

Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, has come under intense political and investigative scrutiny for his closeness to Russia. CreditBill Clark/CQ Roll Call, via Associated Press

WASHINGTON — For two decades, Representative Dana Rohrabacher has been of value to the Kremlin, so valuable in recent years that the F.B.I. warned him in 2012 that Russia regarded him as an intelligence sourceworthy of a Kremlin code name.

The following year, the California Republican became even more valuable, assuming the chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee that oversees Russia policy. He sailed to re-election again and again, even as he developed ties to Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia.

Then came President Trump.

As revelations of Russia’s campaign to influence American politics consume Washington, Mr. Rohrabacher, 70, who had no known role in the Trump election campaign, has come under political and investigative scrutiny. The F.B.I. and the Senate Intelligence Committee are each seeking to interview him about an August meeting with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, Mr. Rohrabacher said. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is said to be interested in a meeting he had last year with Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s short-lived national security adviser.

At the same time, fellow Republicans — questioning his judgment and intentions — have moved to curtail his power as chairman of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats. And back home in Southern California, where Democrats and Republicans alike smell blood, the 15-term congressman is facing his toughest re-election contest in decades, with well-funded candidates from both parties lining up to unseat him.

“I feel like I’m in good shape politically,” he said breezily during an interview last week, a day before he voted against his party’s tax bill. “My constituents couldn’t care less about this. They are not concerned about Russia. They are concerned about the taxes on their home. They are concerned about illegal immigrants coming into their neighborhood and raping people.”

Nor is Mr. Rohrabacher, a self-proclaimed veteran of international intrigue, all that perturbed by the interest of federal and congressional investigators. He said he would talk to them when scheduling allows.

Mr. Rohrabacher, left, campaigning in 1988 with his friend Oliver North, who was embroiled in the Iran-contra scandal. Mr. Rohrabacher has since served 15 terms. CreditNick Ut/Associated Press

The story of Mr. Rohrabacher’s transformation from Cold Warrior to pro-Putinist is well worn. A vocal Young Republican in the 1960s, he latched onto Ronald Reagan, California’s Republican governor, and followed him to Washington and a speechwriting job in the White House. Then came the fall of the Soviet Union and a détente in relations with the former superpower. For Mr. Rohrabacher, who claims to have lost a drunken arm-wrestling match to Mr. Putin in the 1990s, the era of good feelings never really ended.

Mr. Rohrabacher has laughed off suggestions that he is a Russian asset, and said in an interview that he did not remember being briefed that the Russians viewed him as a source. The F.B.I. and the senior members of the House Intelligence Committee sat Mr. Rohrabacher down in the Capitol in 2012 to warn him that Russian spies were trying to recruit him, according to two former intelligence officials.

“I remember them telling me, ‘You have been targeted to be recruited as an agent,’” he said. “How stupid is that?”

And yet, as investigators in Washington scrutinize the Russian interference campaign, Mr. Rohrabacher, like an extra in a spy thriller, just keeps showing up — if not quite at the scene of the action, then just off camera.

In April 2016, he was in Moscow, accepting a copy of a “confidential” memocontaining accusations against prominent Democratic donors that would, months later, reappear in Trump Tower when a Russian lawyer who had reported those allegations to the Russian government, Natalia V. Veselnitskaya, sat down with Donald Trump Jr. to deliver a similar document.

Last August he was in London on a quick diversion from an anniversary trip to the Iberian Peninsula to meet Mr. Assange at the fugitive’s sanctuary in the Ecuadorean Embassy. American intelligence agencies believe Mr. Assange acted as a conduit for Russian operatives seeking to release a trove of hacked Democratic emails. Mr. Assange denies the accusation, and Mr. Rohrabacher hoped to broker a meeting with Mr. Trump to allow him to make his case.

Then earlier this year, this time on Capitol Hill, Mr. Rohrabacher dined with Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian central bank who has been linked both to Russia’s security services and organized crime. During Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, Mr. Torshin tried to set up a “backdoor” meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin, according to an email that has been turned over to Senate investigators.

Mr. Rohrabacher asserted that none of the meetings were untoward or inappropriate, given his chairmanship. Ms. Veselnitskaya and her allies are fighting the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on Russian officials for human rights abuses, and they deserved a hearing, he said. Russia, he argued, could be a key ally to defeat Islamic terrorists in the Middle East, and under Mr. Putin, the Kremlin has undertaken key reforms back home.

“I want to treat Russia as if it is a nation state that deserves to be judged as all other nation states are judged,” he said.

Mr. Rohrabacher said his efforts to connect Mr. Assange with the president have been stonewalled by John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff.

NBC News reported this month that Mr. Mueller’s investigators are looking at a 2016 meeting between Mr. Rohrabacher and Mr. Flynn, whose lobbying for foreign powers has come under scrutiny by the special counsel.

Mr. Rohrabacher acknowledged meeting Mr. Flynn twice, once to discuss computer chip technology and once to discuss a plan advanced by Mr. Flynn late last year to build a series of nuclear power plants across the Middle East. He said he did not remember discussing Russia.

“All I remember about that meeting is that they were promoting some kind of an idea about having Gulf State countries invest in building nuclear power plants of some kind, I think,” Mr. Rohrabacher said.

Mr. Rohrabacher may shrug off such scrutiny, but on the Foreign Affairs Committee, fellow Republicans have had enough. The committee’s chairman, Representative Ed Royce of California, pushed out Mr. Rohrabacher’s top committee aide, Paul Behrends, in July amid stories about his ties to pro-Russian lobbyists.

Mr. Rohrabacher, the chairman of an important Foreign Affairs subcommittee overseeing policy toward Europe, including Russia, has seen his power curtailed by fellow Republicans. CreditDrew Angerer/Getty Images

Since then, the chairman has taken a more hands-on approach to managing Mr. Rohrabacher’s subcommittee, a Republican House aide said. The chairman has not imposed a blanket ban on Mr. Rohrabacher’s travel or power to convene hearings, nor has he stripped Mr. Rohrabacher of his subcommittee chairmanship.

But Mr. Royce’s aides are closely scrutinizing his requests.

Mr. Rohrabacher has given conflicting assessments of his own status on the committee, most recently saying that he faced few limitations. But in an interview with The New York Times in late October, he acknowledged actions to curtail his activities and said they represented Republican regrets about leaving the gavel to someone who would not “just go along and get along with whatever the State Department wants.”

“What happens with our committee is, if there is anything positive to say about Russia, it is trash-canned,” he said.

Back home, Mr. Rohrabacher’s challengers from both parties have seized on the restrictions and the unwanted attention he is getting from investigators to make the case that he is out of step with the issues voters in the district care about.

Independent analysts and political operatives from both parties said that the Russia issue, the district’s steady leftward drift and a frustration with Republicans in control in Washington has put Mr. Rohrabacher on unstable ground.

Hans Keirstead, a prominent stem-cell researcher competing with five other Democrats to challenge Mr. Rohrabacher, compared the Republican’s Russia record to “a prologue to a very bad book.”

“We’ve got a Russian-tainted congressman,” Mr. Keirstead said in an interview, adding “Why should the constituents of the 48th District vote for an individual whose interests are elsewhere?”

Mr. Rohrabacher may be getting the message. In an invitation to a $1,000-a-head fund-raising lunch he will host at the Monocle Restaurant on Capitol Hill next month, he told supporters he was “under attack” like never before: “The attacks on my conservative positions on issues are unrelenting, nefarious and underhanded.”

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