Mass. Rep Jim McGovern caught in William Browder’s Magnitsky Hoax

Lucy Komisar
10 min readOct 9, 2019

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A member of Congress you thought was a liberal is caught up in a Russiaphobe conjob. His name is Jim McGovern, and he is a congressman from Massachusetts. I thought he was pretty decent, so how has he bought into the Browder hoax?

Rep. Jim McGovern

I first dealt with Jim McGovern in the 1980s when I was reporting U.S. military attacks on movements for democracy in Central America: in El Salvador, where the U.S. supported killer oligarchs, Nicaragua where it aided the right-wing “contras” against the leftist Sandinistas, in Honduras where its military base launched planes to violate the Congressional ban on regional intervention, in Guatemala where it promoted a holocaust against the indigenous Mayan people. McGovern was an aide to Rep. Joe Moakley and worked to expose the evils of U.S. Central American policy.

Many years later, I encountered him as the apparent willing collaborator of fraudster and tax cheat William Browder, discounting what Browder had told him in a congressional hearing and instead buying into a fake story, bereft of evidence, invented to block Russian authorities from getting justice in a massive Browder tax evasion scam. McGovern was a serious human rights defender in the 1980s. Did he believe the Browder hoax?

The McGovern story

McGovern was speaking at a Council on Foreign Relations roundtable in New York this past July 22. A typical politician, before he spoke, he made the rounds of Council members, greeting and shaking hands. As he shook my hand, I reminded him that, “As a journalist, I reported on your opposition in the 1980s to the murderous Reagan policy in Central America.”

Then I switched to the topic of William Browder, who had been a witness at the Congressional Human Rights Commission hearing which McGovern chaired in 2010.

Browder’s accountant (who he falsely calls his lawyer) Sergei Magnitsky had been detained in an investigation of Browder’s Hermitage Capitol multi-million-dollar tax evasion which Magnitsky had helped organize. In 2009, after eleven months in prison, he died of pancreatitis that was not properly treated.

At the hearing, witness Browder said about Magnitsky, “On November 16th, he went into critical condition, and it was only then that they allowed him to get medical treatment. They transferred him to Matrosskaya Tishina prison, which has a hospital.” I quoted: “But instead of giving him medical treatment, they put him into a straitjacket, put him in an isolation cell for 1 hour and 18 minutes, until he was dead.”

I noted that I knew that McGovern was a main sponsor of the Magnitsky Act of 2012, which sanctioned Russians Browder named as responsible for Magnitsky’s death. (They included the authorities that went after him for his tax crimes as well as people working in the prison complex, and some that had nothing to do with either, just people on Browder’s enemies list.)

I said, “The Act said that Magnitsky in prison ‘was beaten by 8 guards with rubber batons on the last day of his life; and the ambulance crew that was called to treat him as he was dying was deliberately kept outside of his cell for one hour and 18 minutes until he was dead.’ “

I said to McGovern, “The testimony you heard Browder give was quite different. Did you have any evidence to support the second statement?” McGovern replied: “pictures and an autopsy report.”

Photos of deceased Magnitsky’s hands and knee.

Here is the only picture that Browder has posted, showing bruises on Magnitsky’s hands and knee, hardly life-threatening, nothing on head or torso. If he’d had more, he would have displayed them prominently. And this is a link to the autopsy report, which describes illness, not beating.

I said to McGovern, “I’d like to see them, as the only photographs I’ve seen show bruises on hands and knee, which were not life threatening, and the autopsy also does not mention signs of a beating. Nor does the report of Physicians for Human Rights, Cambridge, Mass ( attached).”

I meet McGovern’s aide

He introduced me to his aide, Jonathan Stivers. Stivers said he would put me in contact with the right person to answer my query.

I later emailed Stivers:

Jonathan Stivers.

I was glad to have the chance Monday to talk briefly with Rep. McGovern at the Council on Foreign Relations. I was in contact with him years ago when I was reporting about American intervention in Central America, which he opposed.

Now I’ve been looking into the William Browder/Sergei Magnitsky story. I pointed out that in the Human Rights Commission hearing which the congressman chaired in 2010 ( attached), William Browder said about Magnitsky, “On November 16th, he went into critical condition, and it was only then that they allowed him to get medical treatment. They transferred him to Matrosskaya Tishina prison, which has a hospital. But instead of giving him medical treatment, they put him into a straitjacket, put him in an isolation cell for 1 hour and 18 minutes, until he was dead.”

But the Magnitsky Act ( attached) says that “he was beaten by 8 guards with rubber batons on the last day of his life; and the ambulance crew that was called to treat him as he was dying was deliberately kept outside of his cell for one hour and 18 minutes until he was dead.”

I asked the congressman if he had any evidence to support the second statement. He said “pictures” and an “autopsy report.”

I said I’d like to see them, as the only photographs I’ve seen show bruises on hands and knee [corrected from ankles and wrists], which were not life threatening, and the autopsy also does not mention signs of a beating. Nor does the report of Physicians for Human Rights, Cambridge, Mass, also attached.

He said to be in touch with you and you indicated you would put me in contact with the right person.

I look forward to your staff’s help in resolving this question.

Stivers replied with copies to Cindy Buhl, McGovern’s legislative director, and Kimberly Stanton, the director of the Congressional Human Rights Commission where Browder had testified: [BTW all House emails are firstname.lastname@mail.house.gov, so showing these email addresses does not invade anyone’s privacy.]

From: Stivers, Jonathan <Jonathan.Stivers@mail.house.gov>
Sent: Wednesday, July 24, 2019 2:44 PM
To: LK@ .com; Buhl, Cindy <Cindy.Buhl@mail.house.gov>; Stanton, Kimberly <Kimberly.Stanton@mail.house.gov>
Subject: FW: Followup to Council on Foreign Relations Q about the William Browder/Sergei Magnitsky story

Hi Lucy,

It was nice to meet you at the CFR Roundtable on Monday. I’m copying Cindy Buhl in Rep. McGovern’s office and Kim Stanton at the Lantos Human Rights Commission who may be able to answer your questions on this matter. Thank you,

Jon
Jonathan Stivers
Staff Director
Congressional-Executive Commission on China
Jonathan.Stivers@mail.house.gov

Kimberly Stanton.

Will McGovern’s staff do what he asked?

I had forgotten that two years earlier Kim Stanton had refused to answer my queries. Which are below.

— Original Message —
From: Lucy Komisar
Sent: Monday, March 27, 2017 2:20 PM
To: White, Abraham
Subject: Magnitsky law

I am a journalist working on a story that relates in part to the Magnitsky Act that Rep McGovern sponsored/supported.
Can I talk with you about this?
I am especially interested in getting the evidence on which the Magnitsky Act was based.
Thank you.
Lucy Komisar

On 4/4/2017 12:25 PM, White, Abraham wrote:

Hi Lucy — Connecting you with Kim Stanton on our team who can help with background on this. Will let you two take it from here.
Thanks,
Abraham

From: Lucy Komisar
Sent: Tuesday, April 04, 2017 1:13 PM
To: Stanton, Kimberly Kimberly.Stanton@mail.house.gov
Subject: Re: Magnitsky law

Hi Kim

In addition to what I said to Abraham:
I am especially interested in getting the evidence on which the Magnitsky Act was based.

I would also like to get the reports since the Act’s implementation. None have been issued yet.

According to the law the President has to collect the relevant evidence on individuals sanctioned and make an annual report to Congress.

Sec. 4) The President shall report to Congress annually regarding each foreign person sanctioned, the type of sanctions imposed, and the reason for their imposition.

This is the Senate bill, not the final Act.

I assume the House bill said the same. To whom/to what committee would the reports have been sent? See Section 1263 (a). Who/what office of the President would have sent them? The State Department will submit the report.

As a main sponsor, did you get them? If you have copies, can you send them to me? There aren’t any reports yet.

Lucy Komisar

On 4/7/2017 5:08 PM, Stanton, Kimberly wrote:

Hi, Lucy — my initial responses/questions are below.

Regards,
Kim

She wrote to me: I assume you mean the Global Magnitsky Act, which is found in Sections 1265–1270 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, Public Law 114–328. The Act authorizes the imposition of certain kinds of sanctions on individuals who meet certain conditions. The Act itself does not directly impose any sanctions, so it does not depend on evidence.

Regarding the Magnitsky Act, the Treasury, which officially designates the people for the list, declines to provide any reasons or evidence. Kim Stanton, replying to my query said, “The evidence that the Treasury Department has relied upon in its decisions to sanction individuals in keeping with P.L. 112–208 is not public.”

But before you read the next email, read this to see how Stanton misled me when she said the Magnitsky Act does not require a report. Sec 407 requires annual reports.

Subject: Re: Magnitsky law
Date: Fri, 7 Apr 2017 17:30:42 -0400
From: Lucy Komisar LK@lucykomisar.com
To: Stanton, Kimberly Kimberly.Stanton@mail.house.gov

So the report was required of the global magnitsky act and not the initial one? Sorry for mixing that up.

I’m focusing on the Magnitsky case itself, and the people targeted as being responsible. So that would be the first law, 2012.

So I’d like whatever evidence was provided to congress which voted on that. the first law.

Evidence about what happened to Magnitsky and who were responsible for it.

Since that was passed 2012, I assume there is some information someplace that relates to that. Should I look at the discussions in the House and Senate?

Plus there are, as a result, some Russians on a US govt list who can’t get visas, etc. I assume that someplace it says what they did. Provides evidence. etc.

I’m also curious as to whether any of these people have been given a chance to contest the accusations. And if any did.

Lucy

No response, so I repeated

I had written

I am especially interested in getting the evidence on which the Magnitsky Act was based.

So what I get from your response, which does not include the information that I requested, is that Rep McGovern sponsored this law without any evidence that Mr Magnitsky had been abused or killed. Is that right?

And that the people who were subsequently put on the List were also put there without any evidence that they had been complicit in abusing or killing Mr. Magnitsky. Or other human rights violations. Is that right?

From what you said, or failed to say, that is what I conclude.

If you have other evidence, please send it or link to it.

Otherwise, I have to go with my conclusions.

Hard to believe that Rep. McGovern acted with no evidence to justify his support of legislation which has had significant foreign policy implications.

Thanks
Lucy Komisar

Facing a staff brick wall, I dropped that inquiry till this year and the chance conversation with McGovern at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Kim Stanton’s response was not surprising:

Hi, Lucy -

We have corresponded on this issue before and have nothing new to add.

Regards,

Kimberly Stanton

Meaning she still will not provide evidence for the Magnitsky Act claims. So, I wrote to McGovern’s press director:

Matt Bonaccorsi.

Dear Matt Bonaccorsi

I am a journalist working on a project that involves in part the Magnitsky Act. As a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, I attended the Council lunch July 22 where Rep. McGovern spoke about China. (I attach the roster.)

Before the meeting, he walked around the large table where we were seated to greet the people attending. In our brief conversation, I asked him if he had evidence about the claims made in the Magnitsky Act. He said “pictures” and “an autopsy report.”

I said I’d like to see them as the only photographs I’ve seen show bruises on hands and knee, [corrected from ankles and wrists] which were not life threatening, and the autopsy also does not mention signs of a beating. Nor does the report of Physicians for Human Rights, Cambridge, Mass.

He introduced me to the China Committee staff person Jonathan Stivers and said to be in touch. I was. Jonathan Stivers forwarded my query to Cindy Buhl and Kimberly Stanton, staff director for the House Human Rights Commission.

She replied that I had been in touch with her before (which I had forgotten, March and April 2017) and that she had nothing to add.

I included the email traffic. Bonaccorsi did not reply. Nor did Cindy Buhl, who as legislative director should be concerned when a bill her boss sponsored was based on fake facts.

As staff director of a committee that McGovern co-chairs, Stanton should comply with his wishes. But her greater loyalty is to Browder. She refuses to provide information McGovern said he wanted sent to me to back up the claims in the Magnitsky Act.

Alas, McGovern, may not be aware that she can’t, because this evidence does not exist, because the claims are a Browder fabrication. And either McGovern is complicit or his staff refuses to communicate this information to him.

Originally published Oct 9, 2019 at The Komisar Scoop.

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Lucy Komisar

journalist investigating financial crime, esp using offshore bank & corporate secrecy, focus now on Browder/Magnitsky hoax. @lucykomisar thekomisarscoop.com/