A former Russian counterintelligence officer, suspected of ongoing ties to Moscow’s services, was at the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump’s top associates and a Kremlin-linked lawyer.
Rinat Akhmetshin (pictured), who served in the military and now acts as a “lobbyist” after emigrating to the US, accompanied lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower as she met Donald Trump Jr. — who arranged the gathering to hear about material from the Russian Government which might be damaging to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton — Donald Trump Sr.’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
The e-mail exchange between Trump Jr. and Rob Goldstone, the British publicist who was a go-between to set up the meeting, said two people would be with Veselnitskaya and would need to be cleared by Trump Tower security. It has not been established if the third Russian was in the discussion.
Trump Jr., whose story about the meeting has regularly changed as he is confronted by new revelations, has never acknowledged Akhmetshin’s presence.
Akhmetshin confirmed to the Associated Press that he attended: “I never thought this would be such a big deal, to be honest.”
Alan Futerfas, the attorney now retained by Donald Trump Jr., said he talked with Akhmetshin. He characterized the lobbyist as a “friend of Emin [Agalarov]’s” — the pop singer and son of the Kremlin-linked real estate tycoon who set the meeting in motion — and maybe as a friend of Natalia’s.”
Futerfas continued, “He is a U.S. citizen. He told me specifically he was not working for the Russian government, and in fact laughed when I asked him that question.”
Representatives for Kushner and Manafort declined to comment.
Still a Russian Spy?
On April 4 Senator Charles Grassley, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, wrote the Department of Homeland Security for information about Akhmetshin. Grassley said Akhmetshin, who admitted his past as a Soviet counterintelligence officer, had failed to register as a foreign agent.
Grassley also charged that Akhmetshin worked with Fusion GPS, the group including a former British intelligence officer who produced a dossier last year setting out details of claimed financial and political links between the Trump campaign — including Donald Trump Sr. — and Russian officials.
Futerfas insisted that Trump Jr. knew nothing about Akhmatshin’s background at the time of the meeting.
When asked about whether he now had reservations, Futerfas responded, “I have absolutely no concerns about what was said in that meeting.”
Akhmetshin opened his first Washington lobbying office in 1998. Called the International Eurasian Institute for Economic and Political Research, its declared mission was to “help expand democracy and the rule of law in Eurasia”. His earliest clients included members of Kazakhstan’s opposition before he fled the country for the US, becoming a citizen in 2009.
In 2011 Akhmetshin was accused of helping to organize a smear campaign against a former Russian Duma deputy who had sought political asylum in the US. And in 2015, he was named in federal and state courts for involvement in the hacking of International Mineral Resources, a mining company based in The Netherlands, to steal sensitive and confidential materials.
Like Veselynitskaya, Akhmetshin represented HRAGI, which has lobbied Congress for removal of sanctions on Russia. That has included issues around the ban on the adoption of Russian children by American families, imposed by Vladmir Putin after Congress’s passage of the Magnitsky Act imposing sanctions for human rights violations.
Trump Jr. initially said last Saturday, after the meeting was revealed by The New York Times, that it was about “adoptions”. However, he changed the story after further information established that the discussion was prompted by claims that the Russians had damaging material on Hillary Clinton — information confirmed by Trump Jr’s e-mails to Goldstone.
HRAGI removed Akhmetshin from its roster of lobbyists on May 8, five days before the Justice Department settled a long-running corruption case against a Russian company called Prevezon Holding. HRAGI represented Prevezon’s owner, whose lawyer is Veselnitskaya.