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Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg July 16, 2018

Putin's Pants-on-Fire claim about $400 million donation to Clinton from Bill Browder partners

Russian President Vladimir Putin offered a novel idea to advance the Russia investigation during a joint news conference with President Donald Trump in Helsinki.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team could come to his country, Putin said, if Russian investigators were allowed to go the United States to dig into alleged tax evasion by American-born financier Bill Browder and his associates.

"Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over 1.5 billion dollars in Russia," Putin said through a translator. "They never paid any taxes."

Putin continued.

"They sent a huge amount of money, over 400 million, as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton," he said. "Well, that’s their personal case. It might have been legal, the contribution itself, but the way the money was earned was illegal."

Did Browder's associates send $400 million to Hillary Clinton's campaign?

No. We found $17,700 donated to Clinton and another $297,000 to the Democratic National Committee.

A little background

The Russians say that Browder and his partners at Ziff Brothers Investments, a New York venture capital firm, illegally syphoned billions of rubles out of the country. To add salt to the wound, Browder had led the charge to pass the 2012 Magnitsky Act, a law that penalizes Russian officials suspected of sanctioning the death of Browder’s lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison.

The Ziff brothers came up during the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr. and others, and Natalia V. Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on the Hillary Clinton campaign. According to transcripts from Senate Judiciary Committee interviews, Veselnitskaya’s materials described the Ziffs as Democratic donors, although Trump’s son said they gave both to Democrats and Republicans.

Follow the money

We reached out to the Russian Embassy and the Russian consulate in Washington to get details on the $400 million donation and had not heard back in time for our deadline.

Given that Veselnitskaya tied Browder and the Ziff brothers together, we researched their political donations.

Browder became a British citizen and can’t legally contribute to U.S. candidates. Ziff Brothers Investments through its executives can give freely, and they have.

Before we get into their political contributions, we also wondered if Putin could have been talking about money that went to the Clinton Foundation. In past years, Browder and Ziff Brothers Investments had given to the Clinton Global Initiative, a project of the Clinton Foundation, but the total was not more than $110,000, records show.

In the 2016 election cycle, Ziff Brothers Investments gave $1.7 million. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, nearly two-thirds, or about $1.1 million, went to Democratic committees, and the rest to Republicans.

The center listed the firm’s top recipients:



DNC Services Corp


Senate Majority PAC


Defending Main Street

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Democratic Senatorial Campaign Cmte


Democratic State Central Cmte/Louisiana


National Republican Congressional Cmte


Democratic Party of Montana


Democratic Executive Cmte of Florida


Democratic Party of New Hampshire


Democratic Party of Virginia


Democratic Party of Wisconsin


Georgia Federal Elections Cmte



Federal law puts tighter limits on contributions to individual candidates. Here, the Ziffs mainly put their money into incumbents, and Republicans did better by a margin of about $145,000 to $46,000. Clinton’s campaign received $17,700.

Unless Putin had other Browder associates in mind, his figure of $400 million going to the Clinton campaign is a massive exaggeration. Between the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, the Ziffs gave about $315,000.

The Clinton campaign raised $563 million overall, so Putin's sum would account for nearly three-fourths of all donations. (PACs affiliated with Clinton's campaign raised an additional $231 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.)

Our ruling

Putin said associates of Bill Browder gave $400 million to the Clinton campaign. The associates appear to be the Ziff brothers. According to public data, Ziff Brothers Investments gave about $315,000 to Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.

Overall, the firm gave about $1.1 million to Democratic committees around the country.

The exaggeration is so great, we rate this claim Pants on Fire.

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Pants on Fire
Says associates of financier Bill Browder "sent a huge amount of money, over $400 million, as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton."
In a press conference with President Donald Trump in Helsinki.
Monday, July 16, 2018

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Putin's Pants-on-Fire claim about $400 million donation to Clinton from Bill Browder partners

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