Donald Trump Jr. and the White House claimed he was being transparent by releasing his emails about meeting with a Russian lawyer, but the media just reported something else they may have conveniently left out.
Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist who has done counterintelligence work in his native country, has now confirmed to the Washington Post that he sat in on that meeting in June 2016. NBC News had reported earlier Friday that a Russian-American lobbyist was present, but hadn't used his name, and the Associated Press was the first to interview Akhmetshin.
Akhmetshin told AP that the meeting 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 AP.
He was more colorful in brief comments to Al-Monitor's Laura Rozen:
akhmetshin 2me: "what a clusterf***. my client got in the middle of this & now i am getting dragged into this."https://t.co/mxi01or0jD 2/2
— Laura Rozen (@lrozen) July 14, 2017
It's not terribly surprising that there was another person in that meeting. As I noted on Tuesday, the emails between Trump Jr. and a publicist arranging the meeting included this line from the publicist: "I will send the names of the two people meeting with you for security when I have them later today." It seemed possible that the person was merely a translator, given the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, is not fluent in English; now we know it was Akhmetshin.
But Akhmetshin's presence will only increase suspicions about the nature of the meeting. NBC described him as "a former Soviet counter intelligence officer who is suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence." Akhmetshin denied that he ever served as an intelligence agent -- essentially a spy -- but said that he did serve in the counterintelligence unit of the Soviet military.
Akhmetshin's ties have been the subject of plenty of speculation before. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly just three months ago asking for information and noting that Akhmetshin "has been accused of acting as an unregistered agent for Russian interests and apparently has ties to Russian intelligence." William Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, filed a complaint with the Justice Department in July 2016 alleging that Akhmetshin failed to file as a foreign agent.
Whatever his remaining ties to Russia -- and Akhmeshin's background will surely be a focus in the hours ahead -- "Alleged Russian agent attended meeting" sure looks like a bad headline.
Veselnitskaya, of course, has her own alleged ties, so Akhmetshin wouldn't be the first person in that meeting with supposed links to the Kremlin. (The Kremlin has denied knowing either of them.) But his presence would increase suspicions that the Russian government was truly behind this, as the publicist who arranged it stated plainly in those emails. In other words: It would feed the narrative that this meeting was, in fact, Donald Trump Jr. working with the Russian government, albeit through intermediaries.
At the very least, the White House is allowing this story to get out of hand. Trump Jr. and his father, President Trump, claimed transparency about the meeting earlier this week. Now we come to find out they left out a very important detail -- one of the apparently now six people who was in the room. At this point, it's almost as if they are trying to look like they are hiding something.
There are still many questions to be answered about this situation and things that don't yet add up about it. Apparently the White House is content to let the media put together the puzzle, piece by piece. If they truly have nothing to hide, that's a really bad strategy.