Donald Trump Jr.'s controversial meeting at Trump Tower last year, in which he allegedly met with Russian operatives to receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign, is receiving renewed attention. New reports have emerged that an ex-Soviet counter-intelligence official who attended Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting, Rinat Akhmetshin, has much more extensive Kremlin linkages than originally thought — something which special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly rigorously investigating.
Last June, Trump Jr. reportedly organized a meeting in which he, Jared Kushner, and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort met with four Russians, including Akhmetshin, in hopes of seeking damning information about Trump's election opponent.
The New York Times, which first broke the news of the meeting, had already reported that Akhmetshin had been an attendee at the meeting. Akhmetshin has framed his presence at the meeting as casual, saying that he had been spontaneously invited by a friend. He also decried any allegations that he has any spying ties with Russia, saying in a text message to the Times in July, “I am the target of a well-coordinated and financed smear campaign.” However, he has not commented on the Times' newest report.
But a new story on Monday revealed that Akhmetshin's connections to the Russian government run deeper. Indeed, New York Magazine characterized Akhmetshin as "almost definitely" a spy for the Russians (though the Times, notably, did not use the word "spy" and instead referred to Akhmetshin as a "lobbyist with a web of Russian connections"). The Trump administration has not yet commented on the Times' Monday story on Akhmetshin.
Last month, The Guardian reported that Akhmetshin himself acknowledged he previously served in a Russian counter-intelligence unit, but said he never formally trained as a spy. In Monday's article, the Times noted his two-decade-long history of advancing Russian interests while residing in the United States, including working with close allies of President Vladimir Putin and helping prosecute (for corruption charges) an American businessmen in the former Soviet Union who was actually a CIA officer. According to the Times, Akhmetshin's resume contains substantial gaps; he reportedly said that he ran a think tank in Washington, D.C. for years after it had been officially dissolved.
The Guardian also noted that a Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin, told reporters about Akhmetshin: “We don’t know anything about this person.” As special counsel Mueller continues to investigate the alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign — all of which the Trump administration has vehemently denied — perhaps an even clearer picture of if and how exactly Akhmetshin is tied to the Kremlin will emerge.