clear
Monday September 25th, 2017 12:08AM

Russian-American lobbyist says he was at Trump son's meeting

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — A prominent Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet military officer said he was at a meeting between a Russian lawyer and President Donald Trump's son, son-in-law and campaign chairman last year, adding 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 a Friday 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 coordinated 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.

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

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, lobbying for Russian interests trying to undermine the allegations of a lawyer who died in a Russian prison and is the namesake of a U.S. sanctions law.

Akhmetshin told the AP he served in the Soviet military in a unit that was part of counterintelligence 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 Clinton. The go-between stated that the discussion was part of a Russian government effort to help the GOP candidate.

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 attorney 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 attorney 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.

Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and current White House senior adviser, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended the meeting. Akhmetshin said he recognized Kushner and Trump Jr. He also said he recognized Manafort because they worked in "adjacent political circles" but never together.

He said there were others in the room but he didn't know them. Publicist Rob Goldstone, who brokered the meeting via email with Trump Jr., has told the AP that he was there.

Asked about Akhmetshin's participation, Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni declined comment. Trump Jr.'s attorney did not respond to inquiries, nor did a spokesman for Kushner. Veselnitskaya has denied having any ties to the Russian government. When reached by the AP this week, she declined comment. She did not respond to additional attempts to contact her Friday.

The confirmation of Akhmetshin's participation in the meeting drew swift reaction from the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who said he wanted Akhmetshin to appear before the committee and provide "any relevant documents and information."

Schiff said whether Akhmetshin is connected to Russian intelligence or not "it is clear the Kremlin got the message that Donald Trump welcomed the help of the Russian government in providing dirt on Hillary Clinton." Schiff said Trump Jr.'s omission of Akhmetshin's role in his public account of the meeting and the president's son's shifting explanations "paint a portrait of consistent dissembling and deceit."

Kushner disclosed the meeting on his security clearance paperwork, but Schiff said the Akhmetshin revelation raises questions about how much Kushner disclosed about it. He said he believes Kushner's clearance should be reviewed, and "if he was not perfectly candid," the clearance should be revoked.

Akhmetshin, who spoke to the AP while on vacation in France where he said he has been surfing, said the meeting was "not substantive" and he "actually expected more serious" discussion.

"I never thought this would be such a big deal, to be honest," he said.

The Russian government has denied any involvement or knowledge of the June 2016 meeting. Asked Friday about Akhmetshin, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters: "We don't know anything about this person."

Akhmetshin has been identified in media reports as a former officer in Russia's military intelligence service known as the GRU. He has denied that, saying he served in the Soviet Army from 1986 to 1988 after he was drafted but was not trained in spy tradecraft. He said his unit operated in the Baltics and was "loosely part of counterintelligence."

Akhmetshin said he has not been contacted by the U.S. special counsel's office or the FBI about the meeting with Trump Jr. He said he's willing to talk with the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chairman has pressed the Justice Department about why Akhmetshin has not registered as a foreign agent.

The chairman, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said in a March letter that Akhmetshin has "reportedly admitted to being a 'Soviet counterintelligence officer' and has a long history of lobbying the U.S. government for pro-Russia matters."

Akhmetshin said that the Justice Department's Foreign Agents Registration Act unit sent him a letter in April and told him, "it has come to our attention you should have filed for FARA." He said he didn't believe he needed to file. He has previously registered with Congress for the lobbying work, and he plans to raise this issue before Grassley's committee.

"I think I have a legal right to tell my story," he said.

Separately on Friday, the data and digital director for Trump's presidential campaign said he will speak with the House Intelligence committee later this month as part of its own Russia probe.

Brad Parscale said in a statement that he is "unaware of any Russian involvement" in the data and digital operations but will voluntarily appear before the panel.

___

Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Stephen Braun and Julie Pace contributed to this report.

___

Submit a confidential tip to The Associated Press: https://www.ap.org/tips

___

Follow Desmond Butler and Chad Day on Twitter: https://twitter.com/desmondbutler and https://twitter.com/ChadSDay

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP Elections, AP Elections - Campaigns
© Copyright 2017 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Heller facing hot seat on GOP health care bill decision
Nevada Sen. Dean Heller is facing the ultimate hot seat when it comes to his decision on whether to support the upcoming GOP health care bill
2:33AM ( 20 minutes ago )
China cremates body of jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo
China cremates the body of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo amid international criticism of Beijing for not letting him travel abroad as he had wished
2:31AM ( 23 minutes ago )
White House says budget deficit to be $99B higher this year
White House budget office says budget deficit to be larger than expected this year by $99 billion
2:29AM ( 24 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Lighting should have made pilots aware of potential disaster
Investigators looking into close call between airliners in San Francisco will try to understand why pilots missed cues they were landing in the wrong place
2:11AM ( 43 minutes ago )
3 dead in fire at Honolulu high-rise with no sprinklers
At least three people died in a fire that broke out on the 26th floor of a Honolulu high-rise Friday and hundreds fled as smoke billowed from the upper floors of the giant apartment complex.
1:38AM ( 1 hour ago )
Disney fans get look at 'Incredibles 2,' 'Wreck-It Ralph 2'
Disney fans get look at 'Incredibles 2,' 'Wreck-It Ralph 2' at fan expo
1:33AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Growing sinkhole swallows 2 houses, 1 boat in Florida
A sinkhole in Florida swallowed a boat, destroyed two houses and prompted officials to evacuate residents from about a dozen homes Friday
10:33PM ( 4 hours ago )
Travel ruling paves way for more refugees, but appeal awaits
A court decision on President Donald Trump's travel ban has reopened a window for tens of thousands of refugees to enter the United States
10:26PM ( 4 hours ago )
Papers reveal pot dealer's grisly confession to 4 slayings
A marijuana dealer says in court documents he killed four men on his family's Pennsylvania farm, shooting one of them and crushing him with a backhoe and trying to set three of the bodies on fire in a metal bin
9:27PM ( 5 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Allowed in by Trump, Afghan girls robotics team lands in DC
An all-girls robotics team from Afghanistan have arrived in Washington following a last-minute intervention by President Donald Trump
12:15AM ( 2 hours ago )
The Latest: Congressman calls Trump Jr. explanation worrying
A prominent Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet military officer attended a meeting with President Donald Trump's son, son-in-law and campaign chairman last year
10:50PM ( 4 hours ago )
The Latest: Dems say 3 states get a boost in GOP health bill
Latest GOP health care bill has a boost for Louisiana after its senators complained of 'unfair treatment' in earlier version
8:05PM ( 6 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Trump, administration press Republicans to back health bill
President Donald Trump and other administration are lobbying Republicans from both sides of the Atlantic to back the Senate GOP's reworked health care bill
4:49PM ( 10 hours ago )
Top House Republican says budget plan to move ahead
A Republican leader says the House is moving ahead with the party's long-overdue budget blueprint, even as divisions between moderates and conservatives over cutting programs like food stamps threaten passage of the measure
4:31PM ( 10 hours ago )
The Latest: Louisiana gets money in latest health care bill
Louisiana will get more money under the new version of the Republican health care bill
4:08PM ( 10 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
Peru's ex-president sent to same jail as nemesis Fujimori
Peruvian authorities say former President Ollanta Humala is being held in preventative detention at the same prison where the former strongman he once tried to overthrow is serving a long sentence
8:49PM ( 6 hours ago )
Brazil's former president sees politics in Silva conviction
AP Interview: Ex-Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff says the corruption conviction of her mentor and predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is aimed at keeping him out of next year's presidential election
8:04PM ( 6 hours ago )
Trump campaign data chief to talk to House Russia panel
President Donald Trump's campaign data and digital director says he plans to speak with the House Intelligence Committee as part of its Russia probe
2:52PM ( 12 hours ago )
AP Elections
FEC says lawmakers may use campaign funds on home security
The Federal Election Commission has voted 5-0 to let lawmakers use campaign funds to upgrade security systems at their homes after a House member was critically wounded in a shooting last month
3:34PM ( 1 day ago )
The Latest: Trump says most 'would have taken that meeting'
President Donald Trump is addressing the controversy over his eldest son's meeting with a Russian attorney during last year's presidential campaign
3:17PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Exclusive: Senator's family business uses Mexican labor
An arts and crafts business Sen. Joe Donnelly's family has owned for generations relies in part on Mexican manufacturing, even though the Indiana Democrat denounced Carrier Corp. last year for outsourcing jobs to Mexico
1:54PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Elections - Campaigns
China cremates body of jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo
China cremates the body of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo amid international criticism of Beijing for not letting him travel abroad as he had wished
2:31AM ( 23 minutes ago )
The Latest: Woman in Hawaii fire horrified at flames below
A 71-year-old woman who lives in the upper floors of the Honolulu high-rise where a fire killed three people says that when it started, she smelled smoke, stepped out on her balcony, and saw flames spreading on the floors below
2:27AM ( 26 minutes ago )
DOJ appeals judge's travel ban ruling to Supreme Court
Trump administration seeks additional Supreme Court ruling on travel ban after federal judge issues an order favorable to refugees
2:26AM ( 28 minutes ago )
Hawaii dad, mom, grandma accused of starving girl to death
A Hawaii father, mother and grandmother are charged with murder after allegedly starving a 9-year-old girl
2:16AM ( 38 minutes ago )
LEADING OFF: Bumgarner back from crash, All-Stars aplenty
LEADING OFF: Bumgarner back from crash, All-Stars aplenty
2:11AM ( 43 minutes ago )