The story of the meeting between Donald Trump Junior and the lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya on 9th June 2016 has now taken a further twist with the disclosure that the lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin accompanied Veselnitskaya to the meeting.
Some sections of the media are trying to find something sinister in Akhmetshin’s presence at the meeting. He is being called a ‘lobbyist’ working on behalf of Russian interests to oppose the Magnitsky Act and a “former Soviet counter-intelligence official”.
Akhmetshin is a US citizen.
He may indeed be a Washington lobbyist with a record of opposing the Magnitsky Act. That of course is not a crime.
Since the Magnitsky Act was precisely the subject Veselnitskaya intended to discuss during her meeting with Donald Trump Junior it is completely unsurprising that she brought a professional lobbyist experienced in opposing the Magnitsky Act with her to the meeting.
Nothing sinister or strange should therefore be read into Akhmetshin’s presence at the meeting.
If Donald Trump Junior did not disclose his presence previously, it may be because his presence was unimportant, or because Donald Trump Junior did not know who he was.
As for whether, presumably as part of his military service, Akhmetshin once served in a Soviet military unit tasked with counter-intelligence, that is completely inconsequential. As anyone who knows Russians of a certain age can confirm, it was actually quite usual in the USSR for Russians with knowledge of a foreign language to do their military service in such units. I happen to know at least two such Russians.
As Akhmetshin correctly says, that in no sense means that he was any sort of professional spy, or that he was ever trained as a spy, or that he is a spy now.
As it happens Akhmetshin provides further confirmation of Donald Trump Junior’s account of the meeting. Here is what he says
In his first public interview about the meeting, Akhmetshin said he accompanied Veselnitskaya to Trump Tower where they met an interpreter. He said he had learned about the meeting only that day when Veselnitskaya asked him to attend. He said he showed up in jeans and a T-shirt.
Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democrats, Akhmetshin said. Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to the Trump associates and suggested that making the information public could help the campaign, he said.
“This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money,” Akhmetshin recalled her saying.
Trump Jr. asked the attorney if she had sufficient evidence to back up her claims, including whether she could demonstrate the flow of the money. But Veselnitskaya said the Trump campaign would need to research it more. After that, Trump Jr. lost interest, according to Akhmetshin.
“They couldn’t wait for the meeting to end,” he said.
Akhmetshin said he does not know if Veselnitskaya’s documents were provided by the Russian government. He said he thinks she left the materials with the Trump associates. It was unclear if she handed the documents to anyone in the room or simply left them behind, he said.
This is in all essentials exactly what Donald Trump Junior says happened at the meeting.
In other words all this latest ‘revelation’ has done is provide further corroboration – from someone who is a US citizen and who has no known connection either to the Trump campaign or to the Russian government – that Donald Trump Junior’s account of his meeting with Veselnitskaya is true.
In my recent discussion of the meeting between Donald Trump Junior and the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, I made the point that Veselnitskaya’s status and the purpose of her visit to the US to meet with Donald Trump Junior was so completely misrepresented in the emails Donald Trump Junior received from the British pop music promoter Rob Goldstone (who it turns out also attended the meeting) that clearly some sort of deception was going on and Donald Trump Junior was obviously the target of it.
A theory which has been doing the rounds is that the intention behind the deception was to secure from Donald Trump Junior some sort of commitment to have the Magnitsky Act sanctions lifted in return for damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Perhaps the most persuasive account of this theory is the one provided by the US investigative journalist Robert Parry
The Russian lawyer, Natalie Veselnitskaya, who met with Trump Jr. and other advisers to Donald Trump Sr.’s campaign, represented a company that had run afoul of a U.S. investigation into money-laundering allegedly connected to the Magnitsky case and his death in a Russian prison in 2009…..
As a lawyer defending Prevezon, a real-estate company registered in Cyprus, on a money-laundering charge, she was dealing with U.S. prosecutors in New York City and, in that role, became an advocate for lifting the U.S. sanctions, The Washington Post reported.
That was when she turned to promoter Rob Goldstone to set up a meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. To secure the sit-down on June 9, 2016, Goldstone dangled the prospect that Veselnitskaya had some derogatory financial information from the Russian government about Russians supporting the Democratic National Committee. Trump Jr. jumped at the possibility and brought senior Trump campaign advisers, Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, along.
By all accounts, Veselnitskaya had little or nothing to offer about the DNC and turned the conversation instead to the Magnitsky Act and Putin’s retaliatory measure to the sanctions, canceling a program in which American parents adopted Russian children. One source told me that Veselnitskaya also wanted to enhance her stature in Russia with the boast that she had taken a meeting at Trump Tower with Trump’s son.
If Donald Trump Junior had agreed that a future Trump administration would lift the Magnitsky sanctions in return for damaging information about Hillary Clinton then that would indeed have been evidence of a willingness – at least on his part – to collude with Russia in order to help his father win the election. Proponents of the Russiagate scandal would in that case have some valid points to make about his meeting with Veselnitskaya, though it should be stressed that it still would not have broken any law.
However nothing of the sort in fact happened. Veselnitskaya came to the meeting either empty handed or with nothing of interest to show, and Donald Trump Junior very properly refused to make any promises about the Magnitsky sanctions – apparently pointing out to Veselnitskaya that he is a private citizen and that she should address her complaints about the Magnitsky Act to those with public authority to decide the question – and showed her the door.
That is what everyone who took part in the meeting – including Akhmetshin and Goldstone – says happened, and there is no reason to doubt it.
I would add that there is no hint in Goldstone’s emails that any trade off of information about Hillary Clinton in return for a commitment to lift the Magnitsky Act sanctions was ever offered.
Though Robert Parry’s theory is plausible and is consistent with what Akhmetshin says, it is fair to point out that the family lawyer of father and son Agalarov – who were the original instigators of the meeting between Veselnitskaya and Donald Trump Junior – says that they categorically deny that the misrepresentations in Goldstone’s emails had anything to do with them, and they blame Goldstone for them
The vast majority of what Rob Goldstone said in email exchange with Donald Trump Jr. is not accurate. The only thing that’s true is that Emin asked the meeting to be arranged. The rest of it is not true, it’s false.
It is not true that Alar Agalarov had a meeting with Russian prosecutors about the campaign. It is not true that Natalya is a lawyer for the Russian Federation government, we understand that she’s a private practitioner, who represents private clients. It is not true that our understanding was that the purpose of the meeting was to talk about the campaign, our understanding was only that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Magnitsky Act, which is an issue that we understand Natalya has been pursuing and interested in for some time.
Rob Goldstone was a publicist, a promoter for Emin’s musical career. So, they certainly had a relationship in that regard.
Rob Goldstone is an entertainment industry publicist. So, I think it’s fair to say that he was out of his alignment in making these communications. And what he said … is not true.
The important thing about this denial is that it admits that Emin Agalarov was the person who originally suggested the meeting between Donald Trump Junior and Veselnitskaya. However if his denial and that of his father is to be believed, all they had in mind was a meeting to discuss the Magnitsky Act.
Neither of them apparently had any thought of a trade off of information about Hillary Clinton in return for a commitment to lift the sanctions imposed by the Magnitsky Act.
Perhaps the Agalarovs are not telling the truth, or perhaps Veselnitskaya – after securing the introduction to Goldstone from the Agalarovs – fooled Goldstone by pretending to be either the “Crown Prosecutor of Russia” or someone acting for this mythical person, or perhaps Goldstone sought to impress the Agalarovs with his importance by hyping up Veselnitskaya’s status in order to secure the meeting with Donald Trump Junior – which might not have happened otherwise – or perhaps Goldstone and Veselnitskaya were working on the deception together.
However two final points can be made before the chapter is closed on this strange affair.
The first is that there is some speculation that a speech Donald Trump announced around this time, which he said would expose Hillary Clinton’s malpractices but which he subsequently cancelled, was in some way connected to the meeting between Donald Trump Junior and Veselnitskaya.
There is not a scintilla of evidence that this was the case.
The Goldstone emails show that there was no communication between Goldstone and Donald Trump. There is no evidence Donald Trump ever saw Goldstone’s emails, or had any knowledge of them or of his son’s meeting with Veselnitskaya until the story broke a few days ago. All those involved categorically deny that he had any such knowledge or that the failure of Veselnitskaya to come up with information about Hillary Clinton had anything to do with the cancellation of his speech. There is no reason to doubt this, and this theory should be abandoned.
By contrast the wording of Goldstone’s emails does at least point to a possibility that what happened was an unsuccessful attempt either to put flesh on the allegation in the first 20th June 2016 entry of the Trump Dossier that the Russians were feeding information to the Trump campaign from a secret file or dossier that they have on Hillary Clinton, or was possibly an attempt to verify this allegation.
Along with the timing there do seem to be some connections between some of the people involved – including Veselnitskaya and Goldstone – and Fusion GPS, the company which commissioned the Trump Dossier.
Though the Trump Dossier makes no reference to the meeting between Donald Trump Junior and Veselnitskaya, it does contain one brief reference to Araz Agalarov in an entry dated 14th September 2016, which reads as follows
Two knowledgeable St. Petersburg sources claim Republican candidate TRUMP has paid bribes and engaged in sexual activities there but key witnesses silenced and evidence hard to obtain.
Both believe Azeri business associate of TRUMP, Araz Agalarov will know the details.
This allegation – like many others in the Trump Dossier – is unsubstantiated, impossible to verify, and almost certainly invented.
However it does show that the people responsible for the Trump Dossier had the Agalarovs in their sights, which adds to the possibility that this was some sort of attempt either to spin something sinister out of their relationship with Donald Trump, or to probe into its nature.
There is now inevitably talk of Donald Trump Junior being summoned to testify before various Senate committees about this affair. In truth since we know all the details of his actions there is no useful point in this other than to make some drama out of it.
If the Senate is really interested in getting to the bottom of this affair then the person they should be asking to see is Rob Goldstone, who was the author of the emails. On the face of it he has some serious questions to answer, and his replies could be interesting.