The anti-Trump mainstream media is buzzing with news that Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian American lobbyist and veteran of the Soviet military, attended the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger of the Washington Post insist that Akhmetshin’s presence “adds to the potential seriousness of the Trump Tower gathering that is emerging this week as the clearest evidence so far of interactions between Trump campaign officials and Russian interests.” I think they mean the only evidence.
But now does the attendance of this lobbyist add to the “potential seriousness” of the “gathering”? If it was inappropriate for Trump Jr. to meet with one Russian lobbyist with probable Kremlin connections, the attendance of a second doesn’t make the meeting more inappropriate.
I believe there was nothing inappropriate in hearing out a Russian source with probable Kremlin connections who claimed to have information showing collusion between Hillary Clinton and/or the Democratic Party and the Russian government. If I’m right, there was nothing inappropriate about hearing out the Russian source in the presence of Akhmetshin or listening to anything Akhmetshin might have added.
Helderman and Hamburger, as well as a team of four New York Times writers, are simply trying to keep the the “collusion” story on the front page. The fact that Akhmetshin apparently is a colorful guy is an added bonus.
The Post and the Times say, though, that this “new twist” shows lack of transparency on the part of Trump Jr. who, when he disclosed the meeting, didn’t say that other Russians were present.
I agree with the complaint that the White House has not been candid about this meeting. I voiced that complaint here.
However, I’m not convinced that the non-disclosure of Akhmetshin’s presence indicates any additional lack of candor or transparency. As far as the Post and the Times report, Trump Jr. never said that the Russian lawyer attended alone. It has been widely assumed that, at a minimum, a translator was present. Veselnitskya speaks little English.
As for the identities of others who attended, there’s no indication or reason to believe that Trump Jr. remembered them a year after the fact. The most he could be expected to remember was that a translator was present.
Apparently Akhmetshin is quite the man about town in Washington. But to Trump Jr. he probably was just some Russian guy. His presence, though noted at the time, likely would have signified nothing to the president’s son, though it might have meant something to Paul Manafort.
Today, the only significance of Akhmetshin’s presence is that, given the guy’s splashy history, the anti-Trump media can feed off this scrap of a story for a while longer.