A former Soviet military officer and Washington lobbyist who attended a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump's son during the 2016 campaign has denied working for Russian military intelligence but said he saw documents with damaging information about rival Hillary Clinton at the meeting.
In an interview with The Financial Times published on September 1, Rinat Akhmetshin said, “I was never good enough to be in [the] GRU,” the Russian military intelligence agency, but he readily admitted he worked for a different Soviet counterintelligence group connected with the Soviet-era spy agency, the KGB, in the late 1980s.
Akhmetshin, who emigrated to the United States 23 years ago and is now a well-known lobbyist on Russian matters in Washington, said that in the June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr. he saw the documents provided to Trump by Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya that had been touted in e-mails before the meeting as having damaging information about Clinton.
He told the Times that he did not read the papers, but he had seen the "Russian version of it before." He said that Veselnitskaya "developed" the documents "with the help of private corporate intelligence" and that they showed “how bad money ended up in Manhattan and that money was put into supporting political campaigns.”
Akhmetshin said in a previous interview with the Associated Press in July that Veselnitskaya told Trump Jr. that the documents showed people tied to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and illegally supporting Clinton's campaign.
Trump Jr., after disclosing some details of the meeting earlier this year, initially said it had focused on the issue of adopting Russian children. Later, he said the meeting yielded nothing of value for the Trump campaign to use against Clinton.
The Financial Times this week reported that Akhmetshin testified for several hours on August 11 before a grand jury assembled by Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is probing whether there were ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, as well as allegations that Russia attempted to interfere in the election.
Akhmetshin denied testifying before the grand jury in the September 1 Financial Times interview, but at the same time said he was prepared to "fully cooperate" with investigators.
Besides denying that he worked for Russian military intelligence in the interview, Akhmetshin said he has never worked on behalf of the Russian government in his current role as a lobbyist in Washington, although he has done extensive work for Russian billionaires with close connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He told The Financial Times he is a "mercenary" who will work for almost anyone, but he has limits. “I will never do things against [the] Russian government. It’s stupid...Simply, the stakes are too high,” he said.
In accepting Veselnitskaya's invitation to attend the meeting with Trump Jr., Akhmetshin told The Financial Times, “I thought it was kind of [about] sensitive issues, even if she didn’t say it...Honestly, I was so impressed by Natalya being able to score a meeting like that.”
With reporting by The Financial Times, Washington Examiner, and Business Insider