TrumpWatch, Day 176: How Many People Were at the Trump Jr.-Russia Meeting?

Donald Trump Jr. (Bryan Snyder/Reuters)

Former Soviet counter-intelligence officer and representative of Kremlin-linked billionaire said to be at meeting set up by Donald Trump Jr.

Developments on Day 182 of the Trump Administration:

Furor over Trump Jr.-Russia Meeting Grows with Revelations of More Participants

The furor over a June 2016 meeting between top Donald Trump associates and Kremlin representatives grows, overshadowing Trump’s visit to France, with revelations of more attendees at the discussion in Trump Tower.

Donald Trump Jr. set up the meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, after he was contacted by intermediaries who said Moscow had damaging information on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. brought in Trump Sr.’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Trump Jr., who said in March that he had never met a Russian official, has repeatedly changed his story with each new disclosure since the first New York Times article last Saturday. Guided by the White House, he initially said the meeting was about “adoptions”, then said that he was surprised that Veselnitskaya raised the issue of anti-Clinton material.

Finally the White House arranged for Trump Jr. to post his e-mail exchange with the intermediaries — Azerbaijani-Russian real estate billionaire Aras Agalarov, his pop singer son Emin, and Emin’s publicist Rob Goldstone.
But far from containing the story, the e-mails only fed it by confirming Trump Jr.’s enthusiasm for the anti-Clinton material, to be provided by Russia’s Prosecutor General.

Then on Friday, Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin — formerly in the Soviet Army and with suspected ongoing links to Russian intelligence services — confirmed reports that he was at the meeting. Akhmetshin and the alwyer Veselnitskaya are linked through their work for the firm HRAGI, which lobbies Congress for removal of sanctions on Russia.

See Former Russian Spy Was at Trump Jr.-Kushner-Manafort Meeting

And there is more to come: a source says that another Russian representative accompanied Veselnitskaya and Akhmeetshin. The person is said to be an associate of Aras Agalarov, the tycoon who has worked with Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. on projects such as the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and a failed attempt to build a Trump Tower in the Russian capital.

Meanwhile, Akhmetshin’s presence is raising questions about the depth of Russian State interest in the meeting. Earlier this year, GOP Representative Dana Rohrabacher — who has fervently represented Russian views in his statements — said the lobbyist has “international connections to different groups in Russia”. Asked if he thought Akhmetshin was connected to the Russian security services, Rohrabacher said, “I would certainly not rule that out.”

In early April, Senator Charles Grassley, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, claimed that Akhmetshin had failed to register as a foreign agent.

Akhmetshin denied on Friday that he was ever an intelligence agent but said he served two years in a Soviet military unit that handled counter-intelligence.

“At no time have I ever worked for the Russian government or any of its agencies. I was not an intelligence officer. Never,” he insisted.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said “nothing is known” about Akhmetshin. Peskov also said that the Kremlin was not familiar with lawyer Veselnitskaya, identified as a “Russian government attorney” in the Trump Jr. e-mails with Goldstone.

Fox News presenters Shepard Smith and Chris Wallace express frustration, anger, and disbelief.

Smith: “The deception, Chris, is mind-boggling….Why are we getting told all these lies?”

Wallace: “I don’t know what to say”

CBO: Trump Budget Forecast Off by $3.4 Trillion

The Congressional Budget Office says the forecast of Donald Trump’s draft budget is off by $3.4 trillion in its growth projection.

The White House proclaimed that its plan will turn a deficit of $603 billion this year into a $16 billion surplus in 2027. But the CBO estimates a $720 billion deficit in 2027, and more than double the cumulative deficit over the next 10 years: $6.84 trillion vs. $3.15 trillion.

The CBO says the difference lies in the overestimate in the Trump budget of rising tax revenue. The budget assumes a 3% rise in real GDP year-on-year by 2020, but the CBO estiates 1.85%, much closer to the average rate over the last two decades.

The CBO added that it was not given sufficient information by the White House for a full assessment: “Because the details on many of the proposed policies are not available at this time, CBO cannot provide an analysis of all their macroeconomic effects or of the budgetary feedback that would result from those effects.”

Essential Reading: Ivanka’s “Buy Foreign” Empire Is Exploiting Women

A Washington Post investigation establishes the contradiction between the “Buy American, Hire American” rhetoric of Donald Trump and the foreign operations of his daughter Ivanka’s company.

And the Post details the contradiction between Ivanka Trump’s loudly-declared interest in helping working women and the conditions those working women face in her foreign factories:

While President Trump has chastised companies for outsourcing jobs overseas, an examination by The Washington Post has revealed the extent to which Ivanka Trump’s company relies exclusively on foreign factories in countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and China, where low-wage laborers have limited ability to advocate for themselves.

And while Ivanka Trump published a book this spring declaring that improving the lives of working women is “my life’s mission,” The Post found that her company lags behind many in the apparel industry when it comes to monitoring the treatment of the largely female workforce employed in factories around the world.

From big brands such as Adidas and Kenneth Cole to smaller, newer players like California-based Everlane, many U.S. clothing companies have in recent years made protecting factory workers abroad a priority — hiring independent auditors to monitor labor conditions, pressing factory owners to make improvements and providing consumers with details about the overseas facilities where their goods are produced.

But the Trump brand has taken a more hands-off approach. Although executives say they have a code of conduct that prohibits physical abuse and child labor, the company relies on its suppliers to abide by the policy.

The clothing line declined to disclose the language of the code.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.

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