WASHINGTON — The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. and others on the Trump team after a promise of compromising material on Hillary Clinton was accompanied by a Russian-American lobbyist — a former Soviet counterintelligence officer who is suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence, NBC News has learned.
The lobbyist, first identified by the Associated Press as Rinat Akhmetshin, denies any current ties to Russian spy agencies. He accompanied the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, to the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower attended by Donald Trump Jr.; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law; and Paul Manafort, former chairman of the Trump campaign.
Born in Russia, Akhmetshin served in the Soviet military and emigrated to the U.S., where he holds dual citizenship. He did not respond to NBC News requests for comment Friday, but he told the AP the meeting was not substantive. “I never thought this would be such a big deal, to be honest,” he told the AP.
He had been working with Veselnitskaya on a campaign against the Magnitsky Act, a set of sanctions against alleged Russian human rights violators. That issue, which is also related to a ban on American adoptions of Russian children, is what Veselnitskaya told NBC News she discussed with the Trump team.
But, given the email traffic suggesting the meeting was part of a Russian effort help Trump’s candidacy, the presence at the meeting of a Russian-American with suspected intelligence ties is likely to be of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller and the House and Senate panels investigating the Russian election interference campaign.
As has been previously reported, the meeting was set up by music publicist Rob Goldstone, who told Donald Trump Jr. in an email chain that Veselnitskaya has “information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”