WASHINGTON — The Russian-American lobbyist who attended a controversial June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr. said he was there by chance, as a result of a last-minute invite, and that he strolled into Trump Tower without anybody asking for proof of who he was.
“No one asked us for IDs,” Rinat Akhmetshin told Yahoo News in a brief telephone interview Friday. “We literally walked in” without any security check.
Akhmetshin’s presence at the meeting, first reported by NBC News, raised new questions about the credibility of multiple White House statements about the meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer that was also attended by Paul Manafort, then Trump’s campaign chief, and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.
It has also raised new questions about the purpose of the meeting given that Akhmetshin, who once served in the Soviet military, has long been suspected of Russian intelligence ties — allegations that he has persistently denied.
As Akhmetshin related to Yahoo News from the French seaside town of Biarritz, where he said he was surfing with his daughter, he happened to be having lunch in June 2016 with Natalia Veselnitskaya — the Russian lawyer with whom he had partnered in lobbying against the Magnitsky Act, a law passed by Congress and bitterly opposed by the Russian government, to impose sanctions on human rights abusers in Russia and other countries.
To fight the law, Veselnitskaya had set up a Delaware limited liability corporation called the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative. The group spent $120,000 to lobby Congress on the issue last year, with $10,000 of those funds going to Akhmetshin, according to lobbying records.
Akhmetshin said he was not expecting to attend any meeting at Trump Tower that day. In fact, he was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt when Veselnitskaya told him that she had a meeting scheduled and asked him to come along. Although Trump Jr. has insisted that Vesenikstaya mainly wanted to talk about Russian adoptions, Akhmetshin said she brought a folder with information about an American hedge fund operating in Russia that she believed was funneling money to the Democratic National Committee. “She spent years researching this stuff,” he said. She left the folder with her hosts at Trump Tower, Akhmetshin said, adding that he had never seen its contents and doesn’t know the details of what was in it. “I didn’t prepare the document,” he said.
Akhmetshin cut the interview short, saying he had to have dinner with his daughter. Knowing of his work with Veselnitskaya, Yahoo News had originally reached him by phone in Moscow on Monday, not long after stories about the lawyer’s meeting at Trump Tower first broke. When asked why he didn’t tell a reporter then that he had also attended the meeting with Trump Jr., he replied: “You didn’t ask me.”
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