Thursday, January 18, 2018

Red Notice Discussion Guide

Book Red Notice
Book: Red Notice
Author: Bill Browder

Bill Browder recounts how his actions and those of his associates became entangled with enormous corruption and human rights violations by Russian oligarchs. This book was published in 2014 and republished in 2015, well before the U.S. 2016 presidential election and the resulting investigation, yet it is the backstory to at least some of the meetings between the U.S. administration and Russian officials. Browder details the events that led to Russia stopping U.S adoptions of Russian children, the topic that Donald Trump Jr. stated he discussed with Russians. Browder lays out factually how the adoption ban was a direct retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, which allows the U.S. to sanction foreign government officials (initially Russian officials) implicated in human rights violations. 

Red Notice is a must read for anyone interested in events unfolding in the investigation to presidential election interference or looking for a book focused on standing up to power. 

Online Reading

Every day there are new stories about human rights abuses in Russia or the U.S. government’s support of or retaliation toward Russia’s actions or Bill Browder’s continued crusades. The links here provide a few different directions to consider in bringing the most current news into your book discussion.

While Browder recounts events from his perspective chronologically, it may also be helpful to read a journalists’ third person perspective written at the time of the events. This New York Times article is one of the many article referred to in Red Notice and focuses on Russian officials receiving blame for Sergei Magnitsky’s death. 

Browder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2017. As described in an Atlantic article preceding the testimony,

“financier Bill Browder has emerged as an unlikely central player in the ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Sergei Magnitsky, an attorney Browder hired to investigate official corruption, died in Russian custody in 2009. Congress subsequently imposed sanctions on the officials it held responsible for his death, passing the Magnitsky Act in 2012. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government retaliated, among other ways, by suspending American adoptions of Russian children.”

The New Yorker wrote about the Russia adoption ban in 2012 and in 2013 Michael Bohm responded to 10 of the myths surrounding the ban and summarizing,

“In the end, the Kremlin's massive propaganda campaign against U.S. adoptions, conducted mostly on state-controlled television, was a big success. Unfortunately, the Kremlin showed that if you repeat lies about U.S. adoptions often enough, many Russians — 76 percent, according to a January VTsIOm poll — will accept them as truth.” 
You can follow Bill Browder on Twitter where he continues to advocate for human rights.  Use any of his tweets as a jumping off point for conversation on current human rights topics or the investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. 2016 presidential elections.


The index in Red Notice is comprehensive and you can find more detail on all of the following people through it. Here is a shortcut to a few of the people that figure prominently.
Bill Browder, author, financier, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, which was largest foreign investor in Russia until 2005. Since 2009 he has been leading a campaign to expose Russia’s corruption and human rights abuses
Vadim, Russian whom Browder hires as his head of research in 1997, leaves Russia
Ivan Cherkasov, Hermitage’s Chief Operating Officer, leaves Russia
Sergei Magnitsky, Russian tax lawyer who stays in Russia and is ultimately imprisoned and tortured to death by Russian officials and for whom the Magnitsky Act is named
Eduard Khayretdinov, Russian criminal defense attorney whom Browder hires initially to defend Ivan; leaves Russia secretly
Vladimir Pastukhov, Moscow lawyer and outside counsel for Hermitage who counsels Vadim to leave Russia and later leaves himself
Jamison Firestone, American managing partner of a Moscow law firm, Browder’s lawyer in Moscow
Edmond Safra, billionaire investor and Browder’s first investor in Hermitage Capital
Beny Steinmetz, billionaire who brought Browder and Safra together
Artem Kuznetsov, corrupt, brutal Interior Ministry official
Major Pavel Karpov, corrupt lead investigator into Ivan Cherkasov's criminal case
Oleg Silchenko, Interior Ministry investigator who tortures Sergei through increasingly horrific living conditions
Congressman Jim McGovern, MA congressman and chairman of Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission who introduces the Magnitsky Act to the House of Representatives.
Senator Cardin, Maryland Senator who writes a letter to Secretary of State Clinton requesting all officials involved in Sergei’s death have US travel privileges permanently revoked and introduces Magnitsky Act to Senate along with Senator John McCain.

Discussion Topics

Bill Browder's Transformation

Bill Browder unapologetically describes his wealth creation in Russia through the first part of the book. By the end he has become a human rights activist.

How did you view his transformation? Does the origin of his wealth from the same system that perpetrated human rights abuses color your view of his human rights efforts?

Do you know individuals personally who have transformed from taking advantage of a situation to speaking out against the same power?

Congressional System to Pass Magnitsky Act

Browder presents a non-politician’s view of getting the Magnitsky Act passed in Congress. What did you think? How effective and how equitable is the U.S. system of creating law?

Adoption from Russia

Do you know anyone who has adopted a child from Russia? What is their reaction to the Magnitsky Act and the retaliatory adoption ban? Read Michael Bohm’s response in the Moscow Times to myths surrounding the ban.

On-going Presidential Election Meddling Investigation

Browder describes how Russia passed a law in 2012 to ban the adoption of Russian children by American families (page 357- 362) as retaliation for the Magnitsky Act. In 2017-18 these are topics that figured in Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Did this book give you more insight into an element of the Mueller investigation? Did the story of Sergei Magnitsky change your view of how you believe Russia acted leading up to the U.S. presidential election of 2016?

Current Events

Check out Bill Browder’s Twitter account and get up-to-date on one of his areas of focus this week. Look at both sides of the issue. A jury is usually instructed by the judge to decide the facts in the case based upon the testimony heard. What does your book group see as the facts in Browder’s current issue?

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