WASHINGTON (CN) – A lobbyist who once served in a Soviet military counterintelligence unit confirmed that he was present at the June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr., members of the Trump campaign and Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya.
The meeting took place after Veselnitskaya told Trump Jr. that she had damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin confirmed his presence at the meeting with the Associated Press on Friday.
“I never thought this would be such a big deal to be honest,” he told the AP.
Some reports have tied Akmetshin to Russian spy networks, but he has denied those allegations, saying that his experience in the Soviet military from 1986 to 1988 did not include any formal spy tradecraft.
Akmetshin also said that he has not been contacted by Robert Mueller’s special counsel, which is conducting the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, nor has he been contacted by the FBI.
He did confirm on Friday that he was willing to speak with the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has not yet compelled him to appear. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied having any knowledge of who Akmetshin is.
“We don’t know anything about this person,” Peskov told reporters Friday.
Revelations about the Russian-American lobbyist add another twist to Trump Jr.’s account of the June 9 meeting.
Trump Jr.’s retelling of the meeting has evolved several times in the last week. On July 8, when reports of the meeting first surfaced, the Trump Organization CEO issued a terse statement, but made no mention of the meeting’s purpose.
Then, just 48 hours after the New York Times published a more detailed report of Trump Jr.’s meeting – citing three White House advisors briefed on it – he admitted to the meeting’s purpose: to collect opposition research on his father’s opponent in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton.
The information was said to come from Veselnitskaya, and Trump Jr. arranged a time to meet with her after asking Jared Kushner and then campaign manager Paul Manafort to join him.
In Trump Jr.’s July 11 statement, he said he took the meeting but that it wasn’t what he was expecting. Instead of doling out dirt on Hillary Clinton, he said Veselntiskaya only wanted to talk about U.S.-Russia adoption policy.
The president’s eldest son appeared on the Fox News show “Hannity “ later that same day and said that he thought that type of meeting was “pretty common.”
“Listen, I’d been reading about scandals that people were probably underreporting for a long time. So maybe it was something that had to do with one of those things. I mean, this was [Clinton’s], perhaps, involvement with the Russian government. Again, I didn’t know there was any credibility, I didn’t know there was anything behind it. I can’t vouch for the information,” Trump Jr. said. “Someone sent me an email. I can’t help what someone sends me. I read it. I respond accordingly and I think if there was something interesting there, I think it’s pretty common.”
Trump Jr. did not mention Akmetshin’s attendance when he recounted the meeting to Sean Hannity.
Akmetshin told the Associated Press that he and Veselnitskaya presented Trump Jr., Manafort and now-White House advisor Jared Kushner with details about what the attorney believed were illicit funds funneling into the Democratic National Committee.
Akmetshin also recalled Veselnitskaya saying, “This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money.”
When Trump Jr. asked for the evidence to back it up, Akmetshin claims the attorney told him that research would fall to the campaign.
After that, Akmetshin said, Trump Jr. lost interest and “couldn’t wait for the meeting to end.”