An alleged former Soviet intelligence office has said he was at a meeting Donald Trump Jr has confirmed took place with a Russian lawyer. Some see the talks as part of Kremlin efforts to help his father's campaign.
Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin told the news agency AP Friday that he was at a June 2016 meeting in which Donald Trump Jr. was promised information about Hillary Clinton.
He said the meeting was "not substantive" and he "actually expected more serious" discussion. "I never thought this would be such a big deal to be honest," he told AP.
As emails posted by Trump Jr. this week show, the meeting was attended by Donald Trump's election campaign manager Paul Manafort, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Akhmetshin - who denies he has ties to Russian intelligence - said Trump Jr. had asked Veselnitskaya at the meeting for evidence of illicit money coming into the Democratic National Committee, but when Veselnitskaya said she didn't have any, Trump Jr. lost interest.
"They couldn't wait for the meeting to end," he reportedly said.
The meeting heightens questions about whether President Donald Trump's campaign coordinated with the Russian government during the election. Possible collusion between the Trump team and the Kremlin is the subject of several investigations, most principally by the FBI.
Akhmetshin said Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents and that he was unaware of its content or whether they had been provided by the Russian government. It was also unclear if she left the materials with the Trump associates, he added.
Akhmetshin added that he had not been contacted by the special counsel's office or the FBI about the meeting with Trump Jr., but said he is willing to talk to investigators. "I think I have a legal right to tell my story," he said.
The Russian government has denied any involvement in or knowledge of the June 2016 meeting. Asked on Friday about Akhmetshin, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, told reporters: "We don't know anything about this person."
The plot thickens
Trump Jr. earlier this week said publicly he had met Veselnitskaya in June 2016, despite earlier claims that he – and other members of the Trump campaign team – had not met with any Russians during Trump's election campaign. He did not disclose Akhmetshin's presence.
Veselnitskaya told the US broadcaster NBC she had been accompanied by one other man, but that she would not identify him.
Veselnitskaya later told NBC that she didn't have negative information on Clinton and had asked for the meeting to talk about the Magnitsky Act, which authorizes the US president to deny visas to and freeze the assets of selected Russians, as a punishment for Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
jbh/rt (AP, Reuters)