The Russian-American lobbyist who attended a meeting at Trump Tower last June has deeper connections to the Russian government than previously known.
That’s according to a new report by The New York Times, which reveals that Rinat Akhmetshin has worked for clients with close ties to the Kremlin and has forged a working relationship with Viktor Ivanov, a former KGB officer and close associate of Vladimir Putin’s.
Akhmetshin, a Washington, D.C.-based political operative, was one of four Russians who attended a June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
That meeting is of interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government. According to The Times, Mueller is also interested in Akhmetshin’s role in the meeting.
Akmethshin, 49, attended the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who was representing Denis Katsyv, a Russian businessman who faced sanctions under the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that blacklists Russians accused of human rights abuses. (RELATED: Here’s What We Know About Rinat Akhmetshin)
Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin were also working with Fusion GPS on the project. Fusion GPS is the opposition research firm that hired former British spy Christopher Steele to investigate Donald Trump’s activities in Russia.
The involvement of Akhmetshin and Fusion GPS in the anti-Magnitsky project has raised questions about whether any information about the Trump Tower meeting somehow ended up in the uncorroborated and salacious Steele dossier. The Daily Caller has been told by a source who knows both Akhmetshin and the founder of Fusion GPS, Glenn Simpson, that the two operatives “run in the same circles” in the seedy world of Washington, D.C. opposition research.
Ken Vogel, a Times reporter who co-bylined the latest piece on Akhmetshin, has previously tweeted that Akhmetshin and Simpson have served as sources for one another in the past. Simpson was a reporter at The Wall Street Journal until 2009, when he left to start a private research firm.
Akhmetshin has downplayed the significance of the Trump Tower meeting, claiming that he attended with Veselnitskaya on a whim after bumping into her during a visit to New York City.
The meeting is of interest to investigators because Trump Jr. accepted it after being offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Trump Jr. accepted the meeting after being told by an acquaintance that a “Russian government attorney” — Veselnitskaya — would be providing the information. He was also told that it came from Russia’s top prosecutor. Trump critics have argued that the meeting could constitute collusion. The White House has said that no useful information about Clinton was provided and that there was no collusion.
Trump Jr.’s explanation for taking the meeting has shifted several times. He initially claimed that he and Veselnitskaya discussed Russia’s policies regarding adoptions by American citizens. Putin prohibited adoptions by Americans as retaliation for passage of the Magnitsky Act, which he strongly opposes.
But Russian operatives like Akhmetshin who have lobbied U.S. lawmakers — most notably, California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher — have used the adoption issue as a ruse to undercut the Magnistky Act.
Akhmetshin has a history of helping other pro-Kremlin efforts.
According to The Times, Akhmetshin forged a relationship with Ivanov, the former director of Russia’s Federal Narcotics Services, and, in Oct. 2010, chauffeured him around Washington, D.C. to promote a project he was working on at the time.
Akhmetshin said in an affidavit filed in a court case that he had exchanged emails with Ivanov discussing topics ranging “from narco-trafficking and terrorism in Afghanistan to surveillance of undercover agents, suspected undercover agents and their identities.”
In 2005, the government of Krygyzstan hired Akhmetshin to investigate whether the U.S. government had bribed the former president of the ex-Soviet republic in order to build an air base that was used as a staging group for the war in Afghanistan.
The campaign to discredit the Manas air base was seen as beneficial to the Russian government, which opposed a strong American presence in the region. After an extensive public relations campaign, Krygyzstan closed the base in 2014.
Akhmetshin has also been involved in at least two projects which involved alleged hacking of the lobbyist’s adversaries.
According to The Times, Akhmetshin was working for a group affiliated with Suleiman Kerimov, a Russian businessman with close ties to Putin. Kerimov was in a business dispute with a competitor named Ashot Egiazaryan.
In 2011, Egiazaryan’s London-based legal team received two emails containing spyware that traced back to computer servers registered to Kerimov’s offices in Moscow. Akhmetshin was not directly implicated in the hacking scheme, though he has said in court affidavits that he was paid by Kerimov. Akhmetshin also helped plant negative news stories about Egiazaryan, who sought asylum in the U.S. because of his conflicts with Putin’s government.
Akhmetshin was directly accused of hacking two years later, in a dispute involving EuroChem, a fertilizer company controlled by Russian businessman Andrey Melnichenko.
EuroChem was in a dispute with International Mineral Resources (IMR), a competitor.
Akhmetshin, who was working for a law firm hired by EuroChem, said in a court deposition that he obtained documents stolen from IMR’s computer systems through something called the “London information bazaar.”
He obtained a thumb drive containing documents stolen from IMR and passed it to an Israeli businessman during a meeting in London.
Akhmetshin denied being involved in the hacking of the documents. The lawsuit against him and EuroChem was dropped last year, with International Mineral Resources withdrawing its allegations altogether.
Akhmetshin has denied allegations that he is a Russian government operative or a Kremlin spy. According to The Times, he did not respond to repeated requests for comment. He has also not responded to numerous emails and phone calls placed by The Daily Caller.