TRUMP JR. IN HOT SEAT:

For­mer Soviet mil­i­tary of­fi­cer was also at meet­ing with pres­i­dent’s son and cam­paign chair

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - DES­MOND BUT­LER AND CHAD DAY

WASH­ING­TON — A prom­i­nent Rus­sianAmer­i­can lob­by­ist and for­mer Soviet mil­i­tary of­fi­cer at­tended a meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s son, son-in-law and cam­paign chair last year, the lob­by­ist said Fri­day.

The ad­mis­sion adds a new wrin­kle to the Trump team’s evolv­ing ex­pla­na­tions about the June 2016 ses­sion.

Ri­nat Akhmetshin con­firmed his in­volve­ment to The As­so­ci­ated Press in an in­ter­view.

He had not been pre­vi­ously iden­ti­fied as a par­tic­i­pant in the meet­ing at Trump Tower in New York, which was billed as part of a Rus­sian gov­ern­ment ef­fort to help the Repub­li­can’s White House cam­paign.

The meet­ing has height­ened ques­tions about whether Trump’s as­so­ciates co-or­di­nated with Rus­sia to med­dle in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion — to help him and thwart Hil­lary Clin­ton — and whether they’ve been forth­com­ing about their for­eign con­tacts.

Fed­eral and con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors are prob­ing pos­si­ble con­nec­tions be­tween the cam­paign and Moscow.

Akhmetshin has been re­ported to have ties to Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence, a char­ac­ter­i­za­tion he dis­misses as a “smear cam­paign.”

He’s a well-known Wash­ing­ton pres­ence who lob­bies for Rus­sian in­ter­ests.

Akhmetshin told the AP he served in the Soviet mil­i­tary in a unit that was part of counter-in­tel­li­gence but he was never for­mally trained as a spy.

In emails posted by Don­ald Trump Jr. ear­lier this week, a mu­sic pub­li­cist said he ar­ranged the meet­ing be­cause a Rus­sian lawyer wanted to pass on neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion about Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton.

While Trump Jr. has con­firmed that Rus­sian lawyer Natalia Ve­sel­nit­skaya was in the meet­ing, he has not dis­closed Akhmetshin’s pres­ence.

The pres­i­dent’s son has pub­licly dis­counted the meet­ing, say­ing he did not re­ceive the in­for­ma­tion he was promised.

In a state­ment Sun­day, Trump Jr. said the lawyer had said she had in­for­ma­tion that peo­ple tied to Rus­sia were fund­ing the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee and sup­port­ing Clin­ton, a de­scrip­tion that Akhmetshin backed up in his in­ter­view with the AP.

In his first pub­lic in­ter­view about the meet­ing, Akhmetshin said he ac­com­pa­nied Ve­sel­nit­skaya to Trump Tower, where they met an in­ter­preter.

He said he had learned about the meet­ing only that day when Ve­sel­nit­skaya asked him to at­tend. He said he showed up in jeans and a T-shirt.

Ve­sel­nit­skaya brought with her a plas­tic folder with printed-out doc­u­ments that de­tailed what she be­lieved was the flow of il­licit funds to the Democrats, Akhmetshin said.

Ve­sel­nit­skaya pre­sented the con­tents of the doc­u­ments to the Trump as­so­ciates and sug­gested that mak­ing the in­for­ma­tion pub­lic could help the cam­paign, he said.

“This could be a good is­sue to ex­pose how the DNC is ac­cept­ing bad money,” Akhmetshin re­called her say­ing.

Trump Jr. asked the lawyer if she had suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to back up her claims, in­clud­ing whether she could demon­strate the flow of the money.

But Ve­sel­nit­skaya said the Trump cam­paign would need to re­search it more. Af­ter that, Trump Jr. lost in­ter­est, ac­cord­ing to Akhmetshin.

“They couldn’t wait for the meet­ing to end,” he said.

Akhmetshin said he does not know if Ve­sel­nit­skaya’s doc­u­ments were pro­vided by the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment.

He said he thinks she left the ma­te­ri­als with the Trump as­so­ciates.

It was un­clear if she handed the doc­u­ments to any­one in the room or sim­ply left them be­hind, he said.

The Rus­sian gov­ern­ment has de­nied any knowl­edge of the June 2016 meet­ing.

Asked Fri­day about Akhmetshin, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s spokesper­son, Dmitry Peskov, told re­porters: “We don’t know any­thing about this per­son.”

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