The Fifth Person in the Room for Don Jr.’s Meeting

NBC got the blockbuster story of the day—at least so far. In addition to Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Natalia Veselnitskaya, there was a fifth person who attended that meeting on July 9, 2016 (in addition to the person Don Jr. has identified as an interpreter). His name is Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-born American citizen.

Exactly a year ago, Mike Eckel published an expose on Akmetshin after he spoke with him at a showing of the film “The Magnitsky Act: Behind the Scenes,” which appears to be a crude attempt by those with Russian interests to smear Magnitsky’s name. In his headline, Eckel calls Akmetshin a “Russian gun-for-hire.” Here’s where that came from:

“I call him skilled because — though I am certain that they exist — I know of no Russian gun-for-hire who managed to run his campaigns so successfully, running circles around purportedly much more seasoned Washington hands,” says Steve LeVine, a veteran Washington reporter who explored some of Akhmetshin’s past work in his 2007 book The Oil And The Glory.

Barely registering in U.S. lobbying records, the 48-year-old Akhmetshin has been tied to efforts to bolster opponents of Kazakhstan’s ruling regime, discredit a fugitive former member of Russia’s parliament, and undermine a Russian-owned mining firm involved in a billion-dollar lawsuit with company information allegedly stolen by hackers.

Eckel provides details about all of those specifics and then delves into how Akhmetshin has been involved in efforts to overturn the Magnitsky Act—as well as his apparent ties to Prevezon, the holding company represented by Natalia Veselnitskaya.

But in a letter requesting information from DHS Secretary John Kelly, Sen. Chuck Grassley writes much more explosively about Akhmetshin.

Mr. Akhmetshin is a Russian immigrant to the U.S. who has admitted having been a “Soviet counterintelligence officer.” In fact, it has been reported that he worked for the GRU and allegedly specializes in “active measures campaigns,” i.e., subversive political influence operations often involving disinformation and propaganda. According to press accounts, Mr. Akhmetshin “is known in foreign policy circles as a key pro-Russian operator,” and Radio Free Europe described him as a “Russian ‘gun-for-hire’ [who] lurks in the shadows of Washington’s lobbying world.” Mr. Akhmetshin reportedly entered the U.S. in the 1990s and became a U.S. citizen in 2009, while also retaining his Russian citizenship.

What jumps out at me is that it has been reported that Akhmetshin specializes in “active measures campaigns.” That is exactly how U.S. intelligence officers have described the efforts of Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. It’s also important to note that Grassley’s letter is dated April 4, 2017. Senator Lankford (Republican member of the Intelligence Committee) said that they learned about the June 9th meeting in April. Did they also learn that Akhmetshin attended that meeting?

Grassley goes on in his letter to tie Akhmetshin to Fusion GPS, the company that hired Christopher Steele and produced the dossier on the reported connections between Trump and Russia. As I wrote earlier, this is part of an effort to discredit the dossier and suggest that Democrats are responsible for setting Don Jr. up. Grassley’s citing for that information is an article from the Daily Caller back in January 2017, which states that Fusion GPS was hired to dig up dirt on Bill Browder, Sergei Magnitsky’s former client who has been fighting Russian attempts to smear the whistleblower.

Desmond Butler spoke to Akhmetshin after this news broke and he confirmed that he attended the June 9th meeting. His recounting of what took place sounds a lot like what Trump’s people have reported so far. But it is important to keep in mind that, at every step along the way, they have lied about who was involved in this meeting, how it came about, and what was discussed.

There are all sorts of angles going on with this story right now. But in addition to it being clear that Trump’s people have been lying, it is also clear that someone is determined to not let them get away with those lies. NBC News didn’t characterize the person(s) who leaked this story about Akhmetshin to them. But for the last week it has been made clear that the leakers have known more about what happened than they’ve made public on any given day. Do they know what transpired in the meeting? Who knows? But it’s worth noting something from the original story about this meeting in the New York Times:

Mr. Manafort, the former campaign chairman, also recently disclosed the meeting, and Donald Trump Jr.’s role in organizing it, to congressional investigators who had questions about his foreign contacts, according to people familiar with the events.

So once again I’ll raise the question, “Has Manafort been flipped?” He was in the meeting, knows who was there and knows what was discussed.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.