Ex-Soviet Military Officer Participated in Trump Jr.'s Meeting with Russian Lawyer

Ex-Soviet Military Officer Participated in Trump Jr.'s Meeting with Russian LawyerA Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, who is also a former Soviet military officer, was in the room during a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, according to multiple reports.

Akhmetsh confirmed to The Associated Press on Friday after NBC News first reported that he took part in the meeting. “I never thought this would be such a big deal, to be honest,” Akhmetshin told the AP. He said that he believed Veselnitskaya left documents with Trump Jr. and his associates that detailed what she said was the flow of unlawful funds to the Democratic National Committee. When Veselnitskaya told Trump Jr. that his associates would need to conduct more research to prove the connection, the president’s son became less engaged in the meeting, according to Akhmetshin.

It’s unclear if Russian government provided the documents or they were obtained by other means. NBC News reported that several U.S. officials believe the lobbyist has ongoing ties to the Kremlin. Akhmetshin has denied the accusation. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, appeared to refute Akhmetshin’s alleged connection to Moscow. “We don’t know anything about this person,” Peskov said responding to the call from AP.

The story unfolds after a recently surfaced email chain confirmed that President Donald Trump’s eldest son was promised a meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer. Before the meeting, Trump Jr. was told the lawyer had some dirt information on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The president’s son accepted the offer, saying he would “love” to receive compromising information on his father’s political opponent. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and current presidential adviser, and Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager at the time, also attended the meeting held June 9, 2016, at Trump Tower in New York City.

Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas, told NBC News on Friday that his client hadn’t been aware of the lobbyist’s background at the time of the meeting and had believed the individual was simply a friend of the intermediary who set up the meeting. “He is a U.S. citizen,” Futerfas told NBC News of the lobbyist. “He told me specifically he was not working for the Russian government, and in fact laughed when I asked him that question.”

Akhmetshin was the subject of a letter that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in April as part of an investigation into potential violations committed by the lobbyist under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. In the letter, Grassley wrote that Akhmetshin had admitted to being a former Soviet counterintelligence officer. He also cited a Radio Free Europe report that described the operative as a “Russian gun-for-hire.” Akhmetshin told the AP that he served in the Soviet army from 1986 to 1988, but denied ever receiving counterintelligence training.

Trump Jr.'s attorney tells NBCNews‬ he thought an additional person in lawyer meeting was a friend of intermediary U.S. officials are examining Akhmetshin’s involvement in the 2016 meeting as part of their larger investigation into potential links between the Kremlin and Trump campaign associates, Politico reported Friday. Futerfas also revealed that another unnamed person, in addition to Trump’s team, was present. Futerfas did not identify that person or the lobbyist. Hours later, CNN reported that at least eight people may have attended the meeting, including publicist Rob Gladstone, an interpreter, and a representative for a Russian family who had asked Gladstone to set up the meeting. The New York Times has since identified the interpreter as Anatoli Samochornov.

The revelation of at least two additional meeting attendees appears to contradict Trump Jr.’s recent comments, as he claimed he’s been totally transparent about the meeting and said all relevant information had been reported. “This is everything,” Trump Jr. told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on last Tuesday. Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was described as a “Russian government attorney” in the email chain, revealed earlier this week that a man had accompanied her to the meeting. But she did not identify him. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) described the NBC News report as the latest detail in a “slow bleed” of information related to Trump Jr.’s meeting with Veselnitskaya. “Basic rules in Washington: It’s not the crime; it’s the coverup,” Durbin told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Friday. “Secondly, when you make a disclosure, make it complete.”

Being asked about the meeting Donald Trump claimed at a press conference in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday that Veselnitskaya was only in the country because of Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, The Hill reported. The president appeared to refer to a report from the political news website that said the lawyer had been previously refused a visa but was granted a special immigration waiver by Lynch’s office in order to enter the country from October 2015 to January 2016 to represent one of her clients in New York, subsequently extending her stay. In her turn, Loretta Lynch has moved to distance herself from the Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. after the president singled her out as the reason Natalia Veselnitskaya was in the country.

Contrary to the claim of Donald Trump that “Nothing happened from the meeting. Zero happened from the meeting, and honestly I think the press made a big deal over something that many people would do,” in Akhmetshin's recounting, Veselnitskaya suggested to those in the meeting — including Donald Trump Jr.; President Donald Trump's campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort; and Jared Kushner, who's now a White House senior adviser — that they make the contents of the documents public. She said that doing so could help Trump's campaign, Akhmetshin said. "This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money," he recalled her saying.

Akhmetshin said Trump Jr. then asked whether she had evidence to back up the assertion, to which Veselnitskaya said the campaign would have to do more research on the subject. That's when Trump Jr. lost interest, Akhmetshin said. "They couldn't wait for the meeting to end," he said, adding that he believes she left the documents with the Trump associates but that it was unclear whether she handed the documents to one of the three men or left them in the room.

In light of this investigation no wonder the White House is shaking up its legal team, bringing on board a veteran Washington criminal defense lawyer just as another high-profile attorney turns over responsibilities for representing a senior official in the cross hairs of the criminal probe. Ty Cobb, who has represented multiple figures in Washington scandals dating back to the Clinton administration, will be joining the White House staff at the end of this month as a special counsel to the president, charged with handling all legal and media-related issues relating to the Russia probe.

Sergiy Korsunskyi
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