A Soviet military intelligence officer turned lobbyist attended
meeting at Trump Tower last June with Donald Trump Jr., Paul
Manafort, Jared Kushner, and a Russian lawyer, NBC News reported
Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-born lobbyist who since at least last
year has been working with the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, to
overturn a US law sanctioning Russians, confirmed his
participation in the meeting
to the Associated Press. He said that Trump Jr. asked
Veselnitskaya for information on illicit money flowing into the
Democratic National Committee but that Veselnitskaya had nothing
substantive to provide.
Trump Jr. has said that he agreed to meet with Veselnitskaya last
June at Trump Tower to discuss compromising information she said
she had on Hillary Clinton but that he was disappointed the
meeting instead focused on Russia’s adoption policy.
Veselnitskaya later told NBC News that she didn’t have derogatory
information on Clinton and asked for the meeting to
talk about the Magnitsky Act.
The Magnitsky Act was passed to punish those suspected of being
involved in the death of Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who
uncovered a $230 million tax-fraud scheme in 2008 that implicated
high-level Kremlin officials and allies of President Vladimir
Putin. The scheme quickly snowballed into one of the biggest
corruption scandals of Putin’s tenure. The law authorizes the US
president to deny visas to, and freeze the assets of,
Russians believed to have been complicit in Magnitsky’s
death. Russia retaliated by barring Americans from adopting
NBC News initially declined to name Akhmetshin as the lobbyist
who attended with Veselnitskaya. But William Browder, the founder
of the investment advisory firm Hermitage Capital who spearheaded
the Magnitsky Act, told Business Insider that there was “only one
person” who fit the profile described by NBC News.
Browder added that Akhmetshin’s presence was highly significant.
“In the world of Russian intelligence, there is no such thing as
a ‘former intelligence officer,'” he said. “So in my opinion you
had a member of Putin’s secret police directly meeting with the
son of the future next president of the United States asking to
change US sanctions policy crucial to Putin.”
There may also have been a sixth person at the meeting, Trump
Jr.’s lawyer told NBC News on Friday morning, wo was a friend of
Emin Agalarov and served as a translator. Veselnitskaya told the
New York Times earlier this week that an interpreter
accompanied her to the meeting, but she did not mention
Agalarov, a Russian pop star and son of Russian oligarch
Aras Agalarov, asked his
publicist Rob Goldstone to arrange the meeting between Trump
Jr. and Veselnitskaya.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty profiled Akhmetshin, who has
denied any current relationship to Russia’s spy agencies, last
July — roughly one month after he organized the showing of an
anti-Magnitsky Act film at the Newseum in Washington, DC.
Akhmetshin was part of “a team of political and legal operatives”
put together by Veselnitskaya to lobby for the repeal of the Act,
The New York Times reported last week.
“I am an American citizen since 2009 who pays taxes, earned his
citizenship after living here since 1994, and swore an oath of
loyalty to the United States of America,” Akhmetshin, a dual
Russian-American citizen, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Glenn Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who founded
the opposition-research firm Fusion GPS, was also part of the
team, The Times said. Simpson, who hired Christopher Steele to
produce the Trump-Russia dossier, has denied being tied to
efforts to overturn Magnitsky.
Additionally, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported,
Akhmetshin visited the Russia-friendly congressman Dana
Rohrabacher last May along with Ron Dellums, a former California
congressman and longtime Washington lobbyist. Veselnitskaya, too,
attended a dinner with Rohrabacher and
Akhmetshin last year.
Dellums said the initial meeting with Rohrabacher in his office
was to discuss Russia’s adoption policy, while Akhmetshin said it
was to discuss the real-estate firm Prevezon.
When Veselnitskaya met with Trump Jr., Prevezon was under
investigation by the Department of Justice over whether it
laundered millions of dollars — allegedly stolen in the tax-fraud
scheme that Magnitsky uncovered — into New York City real estate.
Denis Katsyv, the owner of Prevezon and the son of a senior
Russian government official, Pyotr Katsyv, is represented by
Veselnitskaya and has been at the center of efforts to overturn
the adoption ban — which would start with the repeal of the
Magnitsky Act. In February 2016, the younger Katsyv registered a
nonprofit company in Delaware called the Human Rights
Accountability Global Initiative Foundation, the stated aim of
which is to overturn the ban.
Records list Akhmetshin as the lead lobbyist for the foundation,
according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
A Russian mining company accused Akhmetshin
of orchestrating a smear campaign against them in November
2015 that involved hacking into the company’s private documents
and disseminating them, The Daily Beast
reported on Friday, citing court records. But the company
suddenly withdrew all allegations gainst Akhmetshin last