Earlier this week, Donald Trump Jr. revealed that he, along with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and current White House aide Jared Kushner, had met with a Russian lawyer who works as a lobbyist against U.S. sanctions after receiving an email saying that she could provide him with damaging information from the Russian government on Hillary Clinton. And on Friday, NBC News reported that in addition to Natalia Velenitskaya, the meeting included a former Soviet spy with suspected ongoing ties to Russian intelligence. Though NBC did not reveal the Russian lobbyist's name, the Associated Press confirmed with Rinat Akhmetshin that he was at the meeting, along with a Russian translator.
The revelation that more people were in attendance of the June 9, 2016 meeting complicate the Trump administration's and Trump Jr.'s claims that the meeting was not evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. And it also continues to display a striking lack of transparency about the meeting from Trump Jr. and the Trump administration. As recently as last Friday, Trump Jr. claimed that the meeting was just about adoption and unrelated to Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, and as recently as Tuesday, Trump Jr. trumpeted his own transparency for posting the emails about the meeting, while he still continued to leave out Akhmetshin's involvement.
Akhmetshin spent summer 2016 working on the same issue that employed Velenitksaya: lobbying against the Magnitksy Act, a 2012 law passed by Congress that enacted direct penalties, limits on travel, and frozen financial assets on specific oligarchs connected to the Kremlin. The act was a response to the 2009 death in prison of Sergey Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who had been engaged in an investigation into Kremlin corruption. It then led to Putin banning American adoption of Russian children, which is why you've heard so many references to adoption in the midst of this. According to a report last year from Radio Free Europe, on June 13, 2016, just days after the meeting, Akhmetshin organized a screening in Washington of a film about the Magnitsky Act casting doubt on the narrative about Russian corruption and spinning the events in a pro-Kremlin way.
Akhmetsin has also been involved previously in efforts to affect politics of foreign countries. According to Steve Levine's 2007 book, The Oil and the Glory, Akhmetshin worked for Kazakhstan's former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin in his opposition to Kazakhstan's long-time President Nursultan Nazarbayev. According to Levine's book, Akhmetshin was instrumental in highlighting Nazarbayev's human rights abuses in U.S. foreign policy circles and the international press. Levine said of Akhmetshin in the 2016 Radio Free Europe report, "I call him skilled because—though I am certain that they exist—I know of no Russian gun-for-hire who managed to run his campaigns so successfully, running circles around purportedly much more seasoned Washington hands.”
Representatives of the Trump administration continue to minimize the weight of any stories related to Russian collusion. After months of asserting that investigations were baseless or "fake news" because there was no evidence of involvement in Russian election interference by members of the Trump campaign, the administration has done little to change its tune now that there appears to be concrete evidence of members of the Trump campaign desiring to collude with Russia. Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, said Friday morning on Fox & Friends:
The goalposts have been moved. We were promised systemic — hard evidence of systemic, sustained, furtive collusion that not only interfered with our election process but indeed dictated the electoral outcome.
Many commentators feel that Conway, in dismissing clear collusion with the new standard of changing the election results, is herself moving the goalposts.
Regardless of the Trump administration's spin, the unfolding revelations reflect at least one clear conclusion: The Trump campaign and administration have been notably dishonest in their claim that there was no collusion with Russia, along with their continued iffiness on whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election at all. The revelation that Trump Jr. had continued to hide elements of his meeting even while claiming to be transparent, and that there was someone with ties to Russian intelligence and high-level pro-Kremlin lobbying involved in the June 9 meeting, only sends us deeper into the Russia investigation.