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Thursday 27 July 2017

Russian-American lobbyist says he was in Donald Trump Jr meeting

Donald Trump Jr released emails about the meeting earlier this week (AP)
Donald Trump Jr released emails about the meeting earlier this week (AP)
U.S President Donald Trump attends a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Thursday, July 13, 2017. Trump will be the parade's guest of honor to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I. U.S. troops will open the parade Friday as is traditional for the guest of honor. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

A Russian-American lobbyist has said he attended a meeting with Donald Trump's son, marking another shift in the account of a discussion billed as part of an effort by Moscow to help the Republican's White House campaign.

Rinat Akhmetshin confirmed his participation to the Associated Press on Friday.

The meeting in June last year has heightened questions about whether Mr Trump's campaign co-ordinated with the Russian government during the election, which is the focus of federal and congressional investigations.

In emails posted by Donald Trump Jr earlier this week, an associate who arranged the meeting said a Russian lawyer wanted to pass on negative information about Democrat Hillary Clinton and said the discussion was part of a Russian government effort to help Mr Trump.

While Mr Trump Jr has confirmed that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was in the meeting, he did not disclose Mr Akhmetshin's presence.

The president's son has tried to discount the meeting, saying he did not receive the information he was promised.

Mr Akhmetshin said Mr Trump Jr asked the lawyer for evidence of illicit money flowing to the Democratic National Committee, but Ms Veselnitskaya said she did not have that information.

She said the Trump campaign would need to research it more and after that Mr Trump Jr lost interest, according to Mr Akhmetshin.

"They couldn't wait for the meeting to end," he added.

Jared Kushner, Mr Trump's son-in-law and current White House senior adviser, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended the meeting.

Mr Akhmetshin said the lawyer brought a plastic folder with printed documents. He said he was unaware of the content of the papers or whether they were provided by the Russian government, and it was unclear whether she left the materials with the Trump associates.

He said the meeting was "not substantive" and he "actually expected more serious" discussion.

"I never thought this would be such a big deal, to be honest," he told AP.

Asked about Mr Akhmetshin and his possible participation in the meeting, Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, told reporters: "We don't know anything about this person."

In reports this week, Mr Akhmetshin has been identified as a former Russian counter-intelligence officer, although he has denied it. He said he served in the Soviet army from 1986 to 1988 after he was drafted but was not trained in spying.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are renewing calls for a vote on an independent commission to investigate Russia's election meddling and ties to the Trump administration.

Minority leader Nancy Pelosi also said Mr Kushner's security clearance should be revoked.

Ms Pelosi and other senior House Democrats spoke at a news conference insisting they would try to force votes on the issue on the House floor.

She said: "House Democrats are not going to let the Republicans off the hook for their complicity. They have become enablers of the violations of our constitution, the attack on the integrity of our elections."

Elsewhere, the data and digital director for Mr Trump's campaign said he will speak with the House Intelligence Committee later this month as part of its Russia probe.

Brad Parscale said in a statement that he is "unaware of any Russian involvement" in the data and digital operations of Mr Trump's campaign.

He added he is appearing before the panel voluntarily and looks forward to "sharing with them everything I know".

AP

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