New twist to Trump Jr's chat with Russian

Mr Donald Trump Jr, seen at the Republican National Convention last year, has said that the meeting yielded no meaningful information.
Mr Donald Trump Jr, seen at the Republican National Convention last year, has said that the meeting yielded no meaningful information.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Former KGB man and Soviet army veteran admits he was at meeting with Russian lawyer

WASHINGTON • He is a veteran of the Red Army, photographed in the 1980s with fellow soldiers in a Russian birch forest.

He collects fine art, likes opera and owns a nearly US$2 million (S$2.75 million) townhouse in trendy Logan Circle, in the centre of Washington.

He often zips around the city on a bright orange bicycle.

Mr Rinat Akhmetshin, the Soviet army veteran, revealed another detail of an exotic life last Friday.

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He was one of the people at the meeting Mr Donald Trump Jr had with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower on June 9 last year.

The presence of Mr Akhmetshin adds another development to the evolving narrative about the gathering, which Mr Trump Jr arranged after learning that a Russian lawyer claimed to have damaging information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, his father's rival in last year's election.

The news of Mr Akhmetshin's attendance shows how the story of the meeting keeps changing and has increased pressure on the White House to offer a more comprehensive account of what happened.

Mr Akhmetshin, a naturalised US citizen who talks openly of his past in a KGB counter-intelligence unit focused on hunting spies in the Russian military, is well known in diplomatic and media circles in Washington, where he has worked for years on behalf of business and political interests in Russia and other former Soviet states.

It was in that capacity, Mr Akhmetshin said in an interview last Friday, that he accompanied the Russian lawyer, Ms Natalia Veselnitskaya, to the meeting as part of an effort to amend a US law known as the Magnitsky Act that sanctioned Russians for human rights abuses.

Mr Akhmetshin said in the interview that he took part in the meeting at the request of Ms Veselnitskaya. He said he had no ties to the Kremlin.

"I am a target of (a) well-coordinated and financed smear campaign,'' he said in a text message.

He described his time in the military as routine, serving from 1986-1988, like "millions of other Soviet boys". He said he left the military with the rank of sergeant.

NBC News first reported Mr Akhmetshin's role in the Trump Jr meeting, but did not identify him.

He first confirmed to the Associated Press that he attended the meeting. He said Ms Veselnitskaya turned over documents that she believed showed the flow of illicit money to the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

She suggested the Trump associates make them public.

"This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money," he quoted her as saying. He added that he did not know if the documents were from the Russian government.

Mr Trump Jr did not disclose that other people who were not mentioned in e-mails about the meeting, which he released on Twitter, were also in attendance, including Mr Akhmetshin and a translator.

He has said the meeting produced no meaningful information, saying in an interview with Fox News after he released the e-mail chain that "it was literally just a wasted 20 minutes".

His lawyer Alan Futerfas suggested last Friday that his client has not disclosed all the details because it was hard to remember, given the amount of time that had passed and the lack of significance attached to the conversation.

"The frustrating part of all this for me is that this meeting occurred 13 months ago," he said.

"There is no record, no list of who was there. It was not a memorable meeting for anyone. Now 13 months later, everyone expects we should have a perfect recollection."

NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST, BLOOMBERG

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 16, 2017, with the headline 'New twist to Trump Jr's chat with Russian'. Print Edition | Subscribe