Politics

What's Happening in the Donald Trump Jr. Controversy Right Now

July 14th 2017

By:
Mike Rothschild

If the Russia story is a "cloud" over the presidency of Donald Trump, then the latest wrinkle in the story is a cloud over his family life.

Over the weekend, the New York Times reported on a meeting that Donald Trump Jr., took in June 2016 with a Russian lawyer with connections to that country's leadership. The meeting, which was initiated by friend of the president's oldest son, concerned damaging information about Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign that the Russian government apparently wanted to pass on.

Trump Jr. offered multiple explanations for the meeting, which also included then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, but finally admitted that he took the meeting to get dirt on the Clinton campaign. It was confirmed several days later when, ahead of the New York Times breaking the story, Trump Jr., released the emails he exchanged with Goldstone.

On Friday morning, the story seemed to get even worse for the Trump administration, as NBC News reported that there was at least one more person in that meeting, a former Soviet intelligence analyst who might still have ties to the Russian intelligence apparatus.

Who is he?

While the NBC story didn't identify him, the Associated Press tracked him down quickly, and revealed him to be Rinat Akhmetshin, a former KGB counter-intelligence officer who emigrated to the United States. Akhmetshin is now a lobbyist who represents the same firm represented by Natalia Veselnitskaya, the lawyer who Trump Jr. and the others met with in Trump Tower on June 9. The two have been working together to overturn the Magnitsky Act, a set of U.S. sanctions on Russia passed in response to human rights abuses by the Vladimir Putin government.

Akhmetshin admitted to the AP that he was in the meeting and claimed Trump Jr., pressed for information about illegal contributions going to the Democratic National Committee (DNC). He also denied any link to Soviet or Russian intelligence, and said he was never trained in espionage.

Ominously, the investment banker who spearheaded the passing of the Magnitsky Act told Business Insider that "in the world of Russian intelligence, there is no such thing as a 'former intelligence officer,'" meaning that if Akhmetshin was linked to the Russian secret police, he likely still is, and could have relayed anything discussed in the meeting back to Putin.

Could there have been even more people there?

Buried in the NBC story was an admission by Trump Jr.'s lawyer that Veselnitskaya actually had two people with her. One was a person described as a "friend" to the lawyer, and was later revealed as Akhmetshin, with another person said to be a "translator."

Experts on social media quickly pointed out that Akhmetshin speaks English, and there would be no need for a translator. However, Veselnitskaya likely doesn't, meaning a translator would be needed. It's also possible that the sixth person was Rob Goldstone, the publicist who contacted Trump Jr. to set up the meeting. Goldstone was known to have checked in to Trump Tower on Facebook the day of the meeting.

As of now, the sixth person's identity hasn't been confirmed.

How bad is this for Trump Jr.?

It's not clear right now, nor is it entirely clear that the eldest Trump son actually broke the law. It's also unknown how this will effect Kushner or Manafort, or the special counsel's investigation into the Russia affair. But some Democrats are openly campaigning to get Kushner's security clearance revoked, an effort that House Republicans blocked.

What happens now?

Akhmetshin was already known to U.S. authorities, and had been included in a Senate Judiciary Committee complaint earlier this year about people who are effectively engaged in lobbying work but who aren't registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. It's likely that he'll be asked to testify before either the special counsel or one of the Congressional investigations on the Trump-Russia matter.