Two more participants have been reported in a notorious Trump Tower meeting that took place in June 2016 between members of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign team and a Russian lawyer, as discussion rages over whether the Trump campaign cooperated with any Russian efforts to influence last year’s U.S. presidential election.
Two Russian Americans — Anatoly Samochornov and Rinat Akhmetshin — were identified by news outlets Friday as having accompanied Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to the meeting, which Donald Trump Jr. originally said was just to talk about a Russian ban on Americans adopting Russian children.
This week Trump Jr. revealed that he attended the meeting because he had been promised some incriminating information about Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Akhmetshin told The Washington Post Friday that he participated in the meeting, after his role was first reported by other news sources. MSNBC reported later Friday that Samochornov, a translator, also was present. He is believed to have worked as a project manager for the U.S. State Department.
Named in complaint
Both Akhmetshin and Samochornov are named in an April 2017 complaint by the Senate Judiciary Committee examining the question of possible collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
Akhmetshin, who became a U.S. citizen in 2009 and retains his Russian citizenship, has lobbied against U.S. sanctions on Russia for human rights violations, the result of a U.S. law known as the Magnitsky Act.
Akhmetshin told the Post that his attendance at the meeting was a last-minute decision. He said he had been having lunch with Veselnitskaya a few blocks north of Trump Tower when Veselnitskaya invited him to attend the meeting later that day.
Akhmetshin has told media outlets that he once worked in Soviet counterintelligence, but only during his two years in the Russian military in the mid-1980s. He says he was drafted into the military, like most young Soviet citizens, at age 18.
“Just because I was born in Russia doesn’t mean I am an agent of [the] Kremlin,” he told Politico recently.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley in March questioned whether Akhmetshin might be downplaying the strength of his Russian ties. In March, Grassley, an Iowa Republican, filed a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department alleging collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians involved with the fight against the human rights sanctions on Russia.
Grassley’s complaint questions whether the Russians, including Akhmetshin, should have registered as foreign agents “for their efforts to bring down a U.S. law on behalf of the Kremlin.”
Supportive of son
On Thursday, President Trump defended his eldest son’s attendance at the Trump Tower meeting.
“I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting,” Trump said of his son’s decision to talk with the lawyer after being told by an intermediary that she was a Russian government attorney and would offer him material as part of Moscow’s election support of Trump.
“It’s called opposition research, or even research into your opponent. That’s very standard in politics; politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard where they have information and you take the information,” Trump said as he stood alongside French President Emmanuel Macron at a Paris news conference.
Trump, who has endured months of investigations in the U.S. about his aides’ contacts with Russians during his run to the White House, said, “Nothing happened from the meeting, zero happened from the meeting, and, honestly, I think the press made a very big deal over something that really a lot of people will do.
“As far as my son is concerned, my son is a wonderful young man,” Trump said. “He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer. It was a short meeting, it was a meeting that went very, very quickly; very fast.”
Trump was asked whether he agreed with Christopher Wray, his nominee to head the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that his son should have called FBI investigators when offered the meeting because it was supposedly coming from a foreign adversary, Russia. But Trump deflected the question and simply praised his appointment of Wray.
Seeking Trump Jr.’s testimony
In Washington, Grassley, a key lawmaker investigating Russia’s meddling in the election, sent a letter to the younger Trump asking him to testify about his June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. Trump Jr. has said he is willing to testify voluntarily, but Grassley said he would be subpoenaed if need be.
Grassley said no questions would be off limits as the panel investigates what the U.S. intelligence community has concluded was Moscow’s election interference, personally directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, into the 2016 U.S. election.
Grassley’s committee is one of several congressional panels investigating the Trump campaign’s links with Russia, while Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, is heading a criminal probe into the election interference and whether the president obstructed justice by firing another FBI director, James Comey, while he was heading the Russia probe before Mueller took over.
The leader of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, urged Trump Jr. to honor Grassley’s request that he testify.
“I think any witness who’s been asked to testify in Congress should do that,” Ryan said.