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A man who says he is a previously unreported attendee of the controversial meeting in June 2016 between top Trump campaign advisers and a Russian lawyer said the attorney presented the men with documents.
Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist who served in the Soviet military, told The Associated Press on Friday that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, presented documents that she believed detailed the flow of illicit funds to the Democratic National Committee.
In Akhmetshin’s recounting, Veselnitskaya suggested to those in the meeting – including Donald Trump Jr.; President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort; and Jared Kushner, who’s now a White House senior adviser – that they make the contents of the documents public. She said that doing so could help Trump’s campaign, Akhmetshin said.
“This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money,” he recalled her saying.
Akhmetshin said Trump Jr. then asked whether she had evidence to back up the assertion, to which Veselnitskaya said the campaign would have to do more research on the subject. That’s when Trump Jr. lost interest, Akhmetshin said.
“They couldn’t wait for the meeting to end,” he said, adding that he believes she left the documents with the Trump associates but that it was unclear whether she handed the documents to one of the three men or left them in the room.
Akhmetshin told the AP he did not know whether the documents were provided by the Russian government.
Manafort’s spokesman declined to comment to the AP on Akhmetshin’s involvement in the meeting. Kushner’s spokesman and Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas, did not respond to the AP’s request for comment.
Akhmetshin told the AP he tagged along with Veselnitskaya for the meeting, where they were also joined by an interpreter. Rob Goldstone, the British music publicist who represents a Russian pop star with ties to Trump and helped arrange the meeting, previously told the AP he was in on the meeting. Goldstone checked into Trump Tower on Facebook on June 9, 2016, the day of the meeting, with the comment “preparing for meeting.”
Trump Jr. did not disclose Akhmetshin’s participation in the meeting, nor has he made mention of any documents presented or left behind.
When the story of the meeting broke on Saturday, Trump’s eldest son initially said the discussion with Veselnitskaya focused on adoption policy, specifically the Magnitsky Act, a US law that blacklists Russians accused of human-rights abuses. The law so enraged Russian President Vladimir Putin that he retaliated by barring US citizens from adopting Russian children.
Trump Jr. amended his statement the next day in accordance with further reporting by The New York Times, saying the premise of the meeting was obtaining damaging information on Hillary Clinton. He said Veselnitskaya never supplied such information and that she instead pivoted to discuss the Magnitsky Act. He said the meeting lasted roughly 30 minutes.
“After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton,” Trump Jr. said in that statement. “Her statements were vague, ambiguous, and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
But on Tuesday, after The Times alerted Trump Jr. that it was about to publish his email correspondence with Goldstone, Trump Jr. published what he said was the full email chain, which had the subject line “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential,” and released another statement. In those emails, Goldstone identified Veselnitskaya as a “Russian government attorney” who wanted to share some information about Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Goldstone said in his initial email to Trump Jr. that Veselnitskaya “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”
To that, Trump Jr. responded, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
The ordeal has put a dent in the White House’s narrative that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia to meddle in the election – a focus of the FBI investigation being led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Taking a meeting under the premise of obtaining damaging information on Clinton – regardless of whether any such information was provided – would in all likelihood be a violation of campaign law, experts said. Meanwhile, Democrats have taken aim at Kushner in recent days, calling for his security clearance to be revoked.