The Donald Trump Jr. collusion saga took a new turn on Friday. It emerged that a former counterintelligence officer in the Soviet Army who reportedly has close ties to Russian intelligence was on hand at Trump Tower in June 2016 when Donald Jr. was led to believe a pro-Kremlin lawyer was about to deliver compromising information about Hillary Clinton.
Donald Jr. claims that the lawyer didn’t really bring anything of value, and appeared to use it as a pretext to talk about American families adopting Russian children. Well, the former Soviet soldier now claims that the lawyer really did bring Kremlin-flavored “opposition research” (read: kompromat) about Hillary after all.
AP reporters Desmond Butler and Chad Daly tracked down Rinat Akhmetshin, who is now a prominent Russian-American lobbyist, while he was vacationing in France. Watch Butler discuss the interview here.
Akhmetshin is an associate of Natalia Veselnitskaya, the lawyer who met with Donald Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort at Trump Tower. Akhmetshin told the AP that Veselnitskaya was working from a document that supposedly detailed illicit funds–“bad money,” as she called it–being funneled to the Democratic National Committee. Reportedly, she urged the three Trump advisers to make this information public.
However, when Donald Jr. asked for specifics, Veselnitskaya suggested that the Trump campaign do its own research. At that point, according to Akmetshin, the three Trump advisers “couldn’t wait for the meeting to end.” Akhmetshin isn’t sure whether Veselnitskaya got these “bad money” documents from the Kremlin. He does believe, though, that she left the documents at Trump Tower.
Legal experts believe that if this is true, everyone who attended that meeting could face some yuuuuge criminal liability. Laurence Tribe, a professor at Harvard Law, believes that if Akhmetshin is telling the truth, it only bolsters the “already strong case” that Donald Jr., Kushner, and Manafort illegally sought out foreign help for the Trump campaign. Tribe added that if Akhmetshin is right, it adds yet another “layer of obviously deliberate deception” to the welter of lies Donald Jr. has told about his dealings with Russians since this story broke last weekend.
Rick Hasen, a law professor at UC Irvine and an expert on election law, also thinks this could add to the potential legal headaches for Donald Jr. He believes that if Akhmetshin’s account is accurate, it bolsters the “solicitation/coordination claims” against Donald Jr.
When Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, learned of this development, he called for Akhmetshin to testify before Congress and provide “any relevant documents and information” about the meeting. Schiff believes that Donald Jr.’s failure to mention Akhmetshin’s presence only adds to the “portrait of constant dissembling and deceit” that we’ve seen from Donald Jr. since this story broke.
This new revelation could also cause problems for Kushner as well. Butler noted that it’s unclear whether Kushner mentioned Akhmetshin on his disclosure forms. As a condition of getting a security clearance, Kushner had to disclose all of his contacts with foreign nationals. Schiff put it bluntly–if Kushner “was not perfectly candid,” his clearance should be permanently revoked.
At best, this meeting was grossly inappropriate, and the one person in that room who knew it was inappropriate–Manafort–didn’t say a word. But it’s starting to look like more than that. Lawrence O’Donnell noted earlier this week that Kushner’s only plausible defense for not disclosing this meeting is “I forgot.”
That excuse looks a lot less plausible with Akhmetshin’s presence.
And now we face a situation where we even have to ask if an American presidential campaign received “opposition research” from a foreign government. The mere fact Trump fostered an environment where this was even remotely possible should send a chill down your spine.
(featured image courtesy Mike Maguire, available under a Creative Commons-BY license)