The Russia scandal that has been threatening to envelop the Trump presidency since his inauguration now appears on the verge of turning into a full-blown crisis after more details have emerged about the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer last summer. After continually decrying the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign as a witch hunt, the latest evidence seems to show that at least one member of the Trump campaign was interested in meeting with Russian sources in hopes of finding out potentially damaging information about Hillary Clinton that could be used to influence the campaign. Of course, this person wasn’t just any member of the campaign; it was Donald Trump Jr., someone who happens to be the President’s own flesh and blood and who also shares his name.
New Details Emerge About Who Attended the Meeting
The latest revelations surround who attended the meeting, which was apparently set up by longtime Trump friend Roger Goldstone, in order to allow Trump Jr. to meet with a Russian official to gain allegedly damaging information about Ms. Clinton. Media reports already showed that, in addition to Don Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, the meeting was also attended by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort. However, a former Russian intelligence official has now gone on the record as saying that there were at least eight people at the meeting.
Manafort, Kushner, Goldstone, Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr. only make up just over half of the attendees, which begs the question as to who the other three people in the room were and what purpose did they have being there. Former Russian intelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin has helped clear up at least some of these questions after confirming that he also attended the meeting along with another Russian, Anatoli Samachornov, who was there to act as a translator for Veselnitskaya.
Who is Rinat Akhmetshin?
Although the media continually refers to him as a former Russian intelligence official, Akhmetshin denies that he was ever associated with Russian intelligence. Either way, the man is now an American citizen and is a registered lobbyist for Veselnitskaya’s organization, which is seeking to overturn the Magnitsky sanctions that eventually led to Russia banning Americans from adopting Russian children. For his part, Akhmetshin claims that he was simply there to help lobby Trump Jr. to convince his father to put an end to the Magnitsky Act, which gave the American government the ability to freeze the assets and withhold visas to any Russians accused of human rights violations.
The Eighth Attendee
Rumors are now circulating that the eighth person in the room was a Russian representative of father and son Aras and Emin Agalarov, who happen to be close personal friends of Vladimir Putin. Aras is a powerful businessman and his son is a famous Russian pop star, and both men are considered good friends with Trump. In fact, the President himself appeared in Emin’s 2013 music video.
What Does the New Evidence Mean?
The FBI is currently taking a close look at the meeting and there are some that are already saying that Trump Jr.’s decision to take the meeting in hopes of gaining dirt on Clinton shows direct evidence of collusion with Russia. As of now, both President Trump and Donald Jr. continue to deny any wrongdoing.
For his part, Donald Jr. continues to insist that he quickly ended the meeting after realizing that Veselnitskaya had no evidence and instead was only interested in discussing adoption and ending the sanctions. In one way, Akhmetsin’s attendance could be seen as backing up these claims since he works as a lobbyist for her organization. However, the fact that he continues to be linked to Russian intelligence could prove to be problematic. There is also the question of what interest the Agalarovs had in the meeting considering that they are close friends to both Putin and Trump.
Despite maintaining innocence, recent reports show that the Trump campaign decided to pay more than $50,000 in legal fees to Donald Jr.’s attorney at least two weeks before details of the meeting had fully begun to emerge. Although hiring a lawyer is a smart move and not necessarily a sign of wrongdoing, it still shows that the Trump campaign is worried about the potential legal fallout. As to the potential consequences, we’ll have to wait until the investigation is finished before we see how damaging they could be.