USA TODAY International Edition
Drip, drip, drip: Your guide to Trump Jr.’ s Russian meeting
The president’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., said Tuesday that he released email correspondence about his June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer to be “totally transparent.” Yet three days later, a series of bombshell news reports revealed there was actually much more to the story. Trump Jr.’ s emails show he actively sought damaging information about Hillary Clinton even after he was told it would come from the Russian government. As multiple congressional committees and a special counsel are investigating possible collusion between Trump associates and Russians who sought to influence the election by hacking Democrats close to Clinton, the president’s son is now expected to testify about his meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower. Here are takeaways from Friday’s new revelations: A RUSSIAN- AMERICAN LOBBYIST WAS AT MEETING His name is Rinat Akhmetshin, and he confirmed his participation in the meeting to multiple news outlets. Born in Russia, the lobbyist served in the Soviet military and emigrated to the U. S., where he became a citizen in 2009. He is still a Russian citizen, The Washington Post reported. HE’S REPORTED TO HAVE TIES TO RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE He served in the Soviet military in a unit that handled some counterintelligence matters.
Still, Akhmetshin told the Associated Press that any efforts to tie him to Russian intelligence agencies are a “smear campaign.” The Kremlin says it doesn’t know anything about him.
But Hermitage Capital Management chief William Browder — the driving force behind a 2012 law that imposed U. S. sanctions on Russian officials involved in human rights abuses and corruption — described Akhmetshin as “a counterintelligence asset who knows his way around Washington” in an interview with USA TODAY. Akhmetshin was also referred to as a “former Soviet military counterintelligence officer” in a 2015 lawsuit by a Russian mining company that accused him of hacking its computer system. The claims were withdrawn last year, the AP reported. HE MAY NOT HAVE FOLLOWED LOBBYING RULES Akhmetshin was “the primary organizer’’ of Russia’s opposition to the Magnitsky Act, working with Veselnitskaya, according to Browder. The 2012 U. S. law, named for Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky, who was beaten to death in a Russian prison three years earlier, barred Russians suspected of human rights abuses from entry to the U. S. In retaliation, the Kremlin barred Americans from adopting Russian children.
But Akhmetshin did not register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent. People working on behalf of foreign interests must register and make periodic disclosures about their activities and how much they’re being paid. Browder filed a detailed complaint with the Justice Department last year and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R- Iowa, followed up with a March letter asking what the agency had done in response.
Grassley called it “particularly disturbing’’ that Akhmetshin and the firm Fusion GPS “were working on this pro- Russia lobbying effort. In fact, it has been reported that he worked for the GRU [ Russia’s military intelligence agency] and allegedly specializes in” disinformation efforts. RUSSIAN LAWYER MAY HAVE PROVIDED DIRT ON CLINTON Trump Jr. has insisted that no meaningful information about Clinton was provided in the meeting, which lasted 20 to 30 min- utes, and that it was a waste of time. But Akhmetshin, in a separate interview Friday with the Post, said that Veselnitskaya had learned that an American hedge fund, perhaps linked to the Democratic National Committee, was in violation of Russian tax law. Akhmetshin told the AP that Veselnitskaya brought documents she said would show the Democratic National Committee received illicit funds. When Veselnitskaya told Trump Jr. the Trump campaign would need to do some of its own research, the president’s son lost interest, Akhmetshin told the AP. POSSIBLE VIOLATION OF CAMPAIGN LAW Paul Ryan, a top lawyer with the watchdog group Common Cause, argued Friday that any research Veselnitskaya left behind with Trump Jr. about the DNC would amount to an illegal contribution. His group and two others have filed complaints with the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission. OTHERS ATTENDED THAT TRUMP TOWER MEETING Trump Jr. had not disclosed Akhmetshin’s presence at the meeting. We already knew that the president’s son invited other members of the campaign — chairman Paul Manafort and Trump son- in- law Jared Kushner — so that’s three people. Veselnitskaya makes four and entertainment publicist Rob Goldstone, who helped arrange the meeting, makes five. In addition to Akhmetshin, participants also reportedly include a translator and, according to CNN, an asyet- unnamed representative of the Russian family who had asked Goldstone to set up the meeting.