(MOSCOW) — First, there was Dennis Rodman, who struck an unexpected friendship with the reclusive leader of North Korea. Now, add Steven Seagal to the list of improbable celebrity diplomats.
The former action film hero has apparently developed a web of high level contacts in Russia, which he tapped into for a visiting delegation of American lawmakers who came, in part, to investigate April’s Boston marathon bombing.
One suspect in that bombing, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, spent six months last year in Dagestan, a restive region in southern Russia.
The meetings, it appears, yielded little new information about the Boston suspect and no smoking gun to suggest an intelligence failure.
“There is nothing specific that could’ve been done that we can point to that, had it been done differently, would’ve prevent this,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the Republican from California who led the delegation.
But Rohrabacher, who said he has known Seagal for “a number of years” and said the two had often discussed “thwarting radical Islamic terrorism,” repeatedly praised the actor for “going out of his way” to set up meetings for the delegation in Russia.
“We are very appreciative of the help he has given this congressional delegation to make sure we accomplished our mission,” Rohrabacher said.
Indeed, at one point Rohrabacher said that, without Seagal’s assistance, the delegation may not have been able to meet with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin, the highest level Russian official to sit down with them during the week-long visit.
“I don’t know if he would have been available to us without Steven actually suggesting that he do that,” he told reporters. “We are very pleased that he opened up some doors for us so we could have some very high level discussions.”
Earlier in the week, Rohrabacher’s office revealed that Seagal had offered to set up meetings for the delegation with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a man who was criticized in the State Department’s latest annual human rights report for his heavy-handed anti-terrorism tactics — including abductions and burning the houses of the families of suspected terrorists.
Rohrabacher said that, ultimately, the delegation did not have time to visit Chechnya (Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., a member of the delegation, said he never planned to go to Chechnya). But Rohrabacher also suggested that Congressional ethics prohibitions on accepting private plane rides was partly to blame for the trip not taking place.
“There’s also a problem with the rules of the House that say that I can’t, we can’t go on a private plane. If Mr. Seagal or anybody else was willing to fly us, we aren’t permitted to go on that,” he said.
Seagal, who attended the press conference on Sunday, appears to have formed a friendship with Kadyrov, who has posted photos of the two together on his Instagram page. Speaking to reporters after the press conference was over, Seagal defended the Chechen leader.
“I just think its fascinating to see all the accusations that are being thrown around and I’ve asked many many people ‘Hey, is there any evidence of this or has he been indicted?’ Because there’s a big difference between wild speculations and accusations and then facts,” Seagal said.
“I’m friends with many presidents of many countries and there’s rumors about all of them,” he added. The actor said he had traveled extensively around Russia’s North Caucasus region, which is home to an Islamist militant uprising.
Seagal, who said his goal is to improve counter-terror cooperation between the United States and Russia, also sought to take credit for setting up a meeting with Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, which is the successor to the Soviet-era KGB. The meeting focused on the Boston bombing investigation and the threat of terrorism.
Although Rohrabacher said the FSB meeting was scheduled by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Seagal insisted it was he who made the arrangements. As he made his case, Cohen shook his head.
“He can shake his head no, but the fact of the matter is, yes I did. I can tell you how it happened, and I probably shouldn’t say this because it’d be better for me if I didn’t,” Seagal said before explaining.
“Dmitri Rogozin, as you may know, controls FSB — they fall under him, I mean that’s his specific designation. And I asked him for that meeting and I knew about that meeting before they did,” the actor said. “That’s the truth.”
Seagal added that the embassy likely only confirmed the meeting afterward.
At that point, Rohrabacher interjected, saying: “I’m sure that when Steven Seagal has put in a good word that it did nothing but help us get that appointment.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Sugam Pokharel and AJ Willingham, CNN
Ivana Kottasova, CNN