President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr.; his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, met with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower last June to discuss what was billed as possible dirt on Hillary Clinton. But there were at least two other people in that meeting whose presence was not disclosed until Friday.
NBC News reported Friday that a Soviet military intelligence officer turned lobbyist also attended the meeting, and Trump Jr.’s lawyer said a sixth person was there, too.
NBC withheld the lobbyist’s identity in its reporting. But William Browder, the founder of the investment advisory firm Hermitage Capital who spearheaded the Magnitsky Act, told Business Insider that there was “only one person” who fit the profile described by NBC: Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-born lobbyist who since at least last year has been working with the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, to overturn the law.
The Associated Press later confirmed Akhmetshin‘s presence at the meeting.
Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman under President Barack Obama, said the revelations would make it easier for Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the FBI’s investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election, to subpoena someone from outside Trump’s orbit “for an independent account” of the meeting.
“Until today, the only people we knew were in the meeting were three people connected to Trump and a lawyer who is not an American citizen and is probably beyond the reach of law enforcement,” Miller told Business Insider on Friday, referring to Veselnitskaya.
“Mueller could subpoena Trump, Jr., Kushner, and Manafort, but if they all told the same story or said they didn’t remember what happened, Mueller would have no way of independently verifying their accounts of the meeting,” Miller continued. “Now there are two other people who were in the meeting who may not have the same incentives to protect the president, or who, at the very least, may not be willing to risk perjury to do so.”
Trump Jr. has said he agreed to meet with Veselnitskaya in June 2016 at Trump Tower to discuss what he was told was compromising information on Clinton, but he did not mention that Veselnitskaya was accompanied by at least two other people.
Trump Jr. has said in recent days that he was disappointed that the meeting instead focused on Russia’s adoption policy. Veselnitskaya later told NBC that she didn’t have derogatory information on Clinton and had asked for the meeting to talk about the Magnitsky Act.
The Magnitsky Act was passed to punish those suspected of being involved in the death of the Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered a $230 million tax-fraud scheme in 2008 that implicated high-level Kremlin officials and allies of President Vladimir Putin. The scheme quickly snowballed into one of the biggest corruption scandals of Putin’s tenure. The law authorizes the US president to deny visas to, and freeze the assets of, Russians believed to have been complicit in Magnitsky’s death.