July 14 (UPI) — A Russian-American lobbyist who supposedly served in a counterintelligence unit of the former Soviet military said Friday he attended a meeting last year between Donald Trump Jr. and an attorney linked to the Kremlin.
Rinat Akhmetshin confirmed to The Washington Post that he was at a June 9, 2016, meeting with Trump Jr., Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, then-Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner at Trump Tower in Manhattan. NBC News first reported Akhmetshin’s attendance at the meeting.
Akhmetshin at the time was lobbying against U.S. sanctions on Russia for human rights violations. He said that “as part of her work, with her clients,” Veselnitskaya found that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee in support of Hillary Clinton, and that she’d “left a document behind” after the meeting.
The gathering happened after British music publicist Rob Goldstein reached out to Trump Jr., saying Veselnitskaya had potentially damaging information on Clinton’s campaign. Trump Jr. on Tuesday released an email chain between himself and Goldstein, in which the latter described Veselnitskaya as a “Russian government attorney,” and the information in question as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. [Donald] Trump.”
Veselnitskaya disputes Goldstein’s characterization of her as a government lawyer.
Akhmetshin, though, strongly refuted that he has any links to the Kremlin or Soviet-era intelligence.
“I never worked for the Russian government. I served as a soldier, for two years, like tens of millions of Russian young men who were drafted. I am proud of my military service. At no time have I ever worked for Russian government or any of its agencies. I was not an intelligence officer. Never,” he told the Post.
Akhmetshin, who became an American citizen in 2009 and still has citizenship in Russia, said he and Veselnitskaya had lunch the day of the meeting.
“She said, ‘Why don’t you come with me?’ I said, ‘really?’ We were having lunch a few blocks north of Trump Tower.”
A lawyer for Trump Jr. did not confirm Akhmetshin attended the meeting, but did say another, unidentified person was there.
Trump Jr. has dismissed suggestions he did anything wrong by meeting with Veselnitskaya.
In a statement released Sunday, he said she made “vague” and “ambiguous” statements that “made no sense” related to the alleged incriminating information about Clinton.
Trump Jr. then said Veselnitskaya’s “true agenda” was to discuss the U.S. adoption of Russian children, which Moscow has banned, and the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 U.S. law that intended to punish Russian human rights abusers following the 2009 death of imprisoned Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
“I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign. I was not told her name prior to the meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to attend, but told them nothing of the substance,” Trump Jr. said. “We had a meeting in June 2016. After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense.”
On Tuesday night, Trump Jr. told Fox News he had nothing to hide and would be willing to testify about the meeting.
“This [was] pre-Russia fever. This [was] pre-Russia mania,” he said. “I don’t think my sirens went [off] or my antenna went up at this time because it wasn’t the issue that it’s been made out to be over the last nine months, 10 months.”
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller — as a special counsel in the Justice Department’s Russia probe — is investigating allegations of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia in an effort to defeat Clinton in last fall’s presidential election.
In the midst of the firestorm renewed by Trump Jr.’s email revelation, the president defended his son early Wednesday.
“My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!” Trump tweeted, referencing Trump Jr.’s Fox interview.