Another intriguing detail to Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer: We already knew that he, Natalia Veselnitskaya, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort were in the room. Now comes word that Veselnitskaya brought along a Russian-born lobbyist described by NBC News as a "former Soviet counterintelligence officer who is suspected by some US officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence." The lobbyist's name is Rinat Akhmetshin, and he confirms to the AP that he attended the meeting. Like Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya, however, he said the meeting didn't yield much of substance. "I never thought this would be such a big deal to be honest." He also denies being a spy. Coverage:
- His background: Akhmetshin was born in Russia, emigrated to the US after serving in the Soviet military, and reportedly holds dual citizenship. He insists to the Washington Post that he is not and was never a Russian intelligence officer. He says that he served two years in the Soviet army as an 18-year-old draftee and that his unit had some unspecified role in intelligence matters. But he says he never trained as a spy.
- Now a lobbyist: Now a Washington resident, he is well-known in congressional circles as a pro-Kremlin lobbyist, reports the New York Times. He has been working with Veselnitskaya trying to get the Magnitsky Act overturned. (The act, which punishes Russians accused of human rights abuses, is bitterly opposed by Vladimir Putin.)
- Grassley's letter: Now getting a lot of attention is a letter written by Sen. Chuck Grassley in April to Homeland Security seeking information about Akhmetshin. Grassley said he "has been accused of acting as an unregistered agent for Russian interests and apparently has ties to Russian intelligence." Read it here.
- Why was he there? Akhmetshin said Veselnitskaya invited him to attend the meeting at the last minute. This part gets vague: He said she had come across evidence that a US hedge firm seemingly linked to the Democratic National Committee was violating Russian tax laws and sought his advice on how to present the information, per the Post.
- Documents left behind? Both the Post and the AP suggest that Veselnitskaya did indeed leave behind a folder of documents about what she had uncovered regarding allegedly shady funds going to the DNC.
- Never heard of him: A spokesman for Putin says "we have no knowledge of this person." Putin similarly has denied knowing Veselnitskaya.
- Hacking accusation: NPR notes that in 2015, a mining firm accused Akhmetshin of hacking into its computer system. Details on that via Courthouse News.
- All this means what, exactly? Everyone will have to stay tuned. "Apparently the White House is content to let the media put together the puzzle, piece by piece," writes Aaron Blake at the Washington Post. "If they truly have nothing to hide, that's a really bad strategy." A similar sentiment from Zack Beauchamp at Vox: If nothing else, the new scoop "does prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there’s more to this meeting than what we know right now."
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