On Friday morning, less than one week after The New York Times published its first bombshell report regarding a secretive meeting between Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016, the story has become even murkier. Even though the emails in which the meeting was set up could serve as proof that Trump Jr. was open to colluding with Russia by receiving damaging information on Hillary Clinton, the latest bit of information has raised more questions ― so, who is Rinat Akhmetshin?
First things first: He was confirmed on Friday as the fifth attendee of the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting that took place on June 9, 2016. Akhmetshin confirmed as much to the Associated Press, and Trump Jr.'s personal attorney has now also admitted the Russian-American lobbyist was in the room.
Akhmetshin, a Russian lobbyist (and an American citizen) born in 1967, has a long background in Russian affairs that's raising some serious red flags. Perhaps none more so than his job as an intelligence officer during the late years of the Soviet Union. According to the AP, Akhmetshin acknowledged working in a counterintelligence unit of the Russian military, but denied having been formally trained in spying.
That is not how many American and Russian observers have characterized him, however. He reportedly has a history as an effective and longstanding lobbyist for the Russian government on sensitive affairs, including mounting public relations efforts against the Magnitsky Act, an American law barring some wealthy Russians implicated in human rights abuses from entering the United States or using its banking system. Veselnitskaya also has a history of staunch campaigning against the Magnitsky Act, named after a Russian attorney who died in jail after alleging high-level corruption and financial fraud on the part of Russian police, banks, and courts, among others.
Akhmetshin has also been accused of involvement in hacking, with a 2015 case ― which was heard in courtrooms in the Netherlands and the United States alike, according to Radio Free Europe ― alleging he coordinated the hacking of a Russian mining company. Akhmetshin denied any involvement in the hacking, but did admit he was involved in the affair as an adviser.
In short, he's precisely the sort of figure whose presence at the meeting puts yet another charge into the Trump-Russia scandal that's already been brewing for months. When only Veselnitskaya's involvement was publicly known, even though she reportedly has connections to the Russian government, the troubling optics weren't nearly so pressing.
In Akhmetshin, on the other hand, you have a former counterintelligence officer who's been accused in the past of involvement in hacking schemes, and a track record of lobbying in Washington, D.C. on behalf of Russian interests. For his part, Akhmetshin has claimed he didn't expect the meeting would cause so much scrutiny, telling the AP he "never thought this would be such a big deal."
Despite the fact that the White House has already shifted its reaction to news of the meeting, and of Trump Jr.'s collusion-curious email ― President Donald Trump himself is now insisting there's nothing unusual about taking a meeting in pursuit of direct coordination with a hostile foreign government, after flatly insisting the whole story was a hoax and a ruse for months ― the additional revelation that a former Soviet intelligence officer was in the room does not help the administration's case.
It also marks yet another instance of Trump Jr. changing his story about the meeting, correcting the record in a seemingly limited capacity immediately following another headline-grabbing, scandal-stoking detail. On Tuesday, June 11, he told Fox News host Sean Hannity that his disclosure about taking the meeting with Veselnitskaya represented "everything."
Trump Jr.'s lawyer Alan Futerfas confirmed Akhmetshin's presence at the meeting in a statement to NBC News on Friday morning.
He is a U.S. citizen. He told me specifically he was not working for the Russian government, and in fact laughed when I asked him that question. ... I have absolutely no concerns about what was said in that meeting.
It remains to be seen whether there will be any further revelations regarding the now hyper-scrutinized meeting that occurred last summer, but there are reasons to think more details could be coming. According to Futerfas, a hitherto unnamed translator may have attended the meeting as well.