Rinat Akhmetshin, an alleged former Soviet intelligence operative, confirmed Friday to the Associated Press that he was present during the infamous June 9, 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskya.
Akhmetshin's presence at the meeting added another layer to the ever-expanding narrative surrounding the meeting and the Trump campaign's alleged collusion with the Russian government during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Donald Trump Jr. did not disclose Akhmetshin's presence during his "transparent" tweet of the emails Tuesday, nor in the subsequent explanations for the meeting.
Akhmetshin confirmed to the AP that he was present at the meeting in June 2016. The former Soviet operative thought it was "not substantive" and that he "actually expected more serious" discussion.
"I never thought this would be such a big deal, to be honest," he told the AP Friday.
Akhmetshin recalled that the Russian lawyer, Veselnitskaya, presented the three members of the Trump campaign — Kushner, Manafort, and Trump Jr. with "details of what she believed were illicit funds that had been funneled to the Democratic National Committee."
She suggested, according to Akhmetshin, that if the information was revealed to the public, it would help the Trump campaign and expose the DNC as corrupt. "This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money," Akhmetshin recalled her saying.
Trump Jr. pressed the Russian lawyer for evidence but Veselnitskaya said the Trump campaign would need to research it more. Trump Jr. then lost apparent interest, according to Akhmetshin.
"They couldn’t wait for the meeting to end," Akhmetshin said.
Akhmetshin also denied that he was a former Soviet spy. He said that he served in the Soviet Army from 1986 to 1988 but was not trained in spy tradecraft.
"That is not correct," Akhmetshin said bluntly, adding that he would be willing to meet with the Senate Judiciary Committee after Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Ia.) wrote a letter to Homeland Security seeking information about him because he was not registered as a foreign agent.
Akhmetshin pushed back against Grassley's calls to have him register as a foreign agent, saying that he had previously registered with Congress for the lobbying work and that he planned to raise this issue before the judiciary committee.
"I think I have a legal right to tell my story," he said.
It was revealed by the New York Times last week that Trump Jr. met with Veselnitskya, which he confirmed when he tweeted out an email chain he'd responded to before the meeting with music publicist Rob Goldstone.
The email chain sparked widespread outrage by Trump's political opponents who have pointed to the meeting as hard evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia against the rival campaign of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Initially, Akhmetshin's identity was withheld when NBC reported Friday that a "Russian-born American lobbyist" who had "served in the Soviet military and emigrated to the U.S." accompanied Veselnitskya to the meeting.
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) July 14, 2017
Another NBC report Friday stated that there was an additional sixth person in the June 9 meeting, although their identity has yet to be revealed.