NEW YORK — In recently released testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a key participant at the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with President Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. admits to being present at the same security conference in Canada where Sen. John McCain was reportedly first informed about the anti-Trump dossier.
Russian-born Washington lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin says he might have spoken to McCain and the senator’s assistant David J. Kramer at the Halifax International Security Forum in 2016. However, Akhmetshin claimed that he did not discuss the dossier with McCain or Kramer, and that he didn’t know about the existence of the controversial dossier.
The information raises immediate questions about the possibility of dirty tricks in arranging the infamous Trump Tower meeting. This considering a recent Breitbart News report that email transcripts and other information disclosed in Akhmetshin’s testimony reveal a significant relationship between the lobbyist and the controversial Fusion GPS firm that produced the infamous, largely discredited anti-Trump dossier.
It was at the security conference in Canada in November 2016 that McCain says he was approached by Sir Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Moscow and friend of ex-British spy Christopher Steele, the author of the dossier.
Wood briefed McCain and Kramer, a former State Department official and longtime McCain associate who agreed to meet Steele in London for a fuller briefing on the dossier contents.
The Washington Post reported in February that after meeting with Steele, Kramer went to Washington and received the dossier document directly from Fusion GPS. McCain then passed the dossier to FBI Director James Comey.
In a New York Times oped in January, GPS co-founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritch wrote that they helped McCain share their anti-Trump dossier with the Obama-era intelligence community via an unnamed “emissary.”
In testimony reviewed in full by this reporter, Akhmetsin describes attending the Halifax security conference in 2016, but claimed he played no role in the contact where Wood connected with McCain and Kramer to inform them of the dossier’s existence. Ahmetshin also claimed he was not aware of the dossier at the time.
Akhmetshin said he “might” have “said hi” to McCain but could not say for sure. In other words, Akhmetshin is claiming he is not certain whether he spoke to one of the most famous American politicians, something that would seemingly be quite memorable to most people.
The Russian lobbyist also said he “might have spoken with” Kramer but would not give a definitive answer.
Here is the section of the transcript in which Akhmetshin discusses his possible interactions with McCain and Kramer at the same conference where McCain was briefed on the dossier claims:
Q. Did you have any contact with Sir Andrew Wood during the 2016 Halifax International?
A. I did not talk to him.
Q. What about Senator McCain?
A. I might have said hi to him. I know him personally.
Q. You know him personally?
Q. What about David Kramer?
A. I also know him well. I might have spoken with him.
Q. Did you discuss the dossier with Senator McCain or David Kramer?
A. I wasn’t aware of existence of dossier.
Q. You weren’t aware of –
A. I was not aware of the existence of the dossier at that time
Later in the testimony, Akhmetshin briefly elaborates on his stated previous relationship with McCain.
“I knew Senator McCain when he was running years ago because I had friends who were — did advance work for him,” Akmetshin said, referring to McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Akhmetshin was one of the participants at the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with President Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. and other campaign officials.
The meeting has been the subject of much news media coverage related to unsubstantiated and collapsing claims of collusion with Russia. All meeting participants generally agree the confab focused largely on the Magnitsky Act, which sanctions Russian officials accused of involvement in the death of a Russian tax accountant, as well as talk about a Russian tax evasion scheme and alleged connections to the Democratic National Committee.
Trump Jr. previously explained that he took the meeting thinking it was about “opposition research” on Hillary Clinton and was disappointed that it wasn’t.
The Russia collusion conspiracy was sparked by the dossier produced by Fusion GPS, which was paid for its anti-Trump work by Trump’s primary political opponents, namely Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) via the Perkins Coie law firm.
Besides evidencing a larger relationship with Fusion GPS and the controversial firm’s co-founder, Glenn Simpson, Breitbart News also reported that in the same testimony, Akhmetshin said that he “knows” Hillary Clinton and has a personal relationship with her that dates back to the late-1990s. Akhmetshin further testified that he “knew some people who worked on” Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Akhmetshin related a personal connection to Clinton via attorney Ed Lieberman, whose late wife Evelyn previously served as Clinton’s chief of staff when she was First Lady. Evelyn Lieberman also served as Bill Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, and famously transferred Monica Lewinsky out of the White House to the Defense Department.
In his testimony, Akhmetshin described taking an Acela train to New York the day of the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting and says that Lieberman “may” have been with him on the train.
After the meeting at Trump Tower, Akhmetshin says he went to dinner and a play with Lieberman, and the subject of the meeting that same day did not come up in his conversations at dinner or during the play. Akhmetshin also stated in the testimony that he was not asked to keep the meeting confidential.
Akhmetshin is claiming that he attended a meeting at the campaign headquarters of Clinton’s presidential challenger with that challenger’s son and other top Trump staffers, and that same night Akhmetshin did not mention the meeting to his friend Lieberman, a Clinton associate.
Akhmetshin says that while he was in New York, he had lunch with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who opposed the Magnitsky Act along with Akhmetshin. There, he claims Veselnitskaya told him about the scheduled meeting that day at Trump Tower, but she didn’t say anything about him attending.
He claims that after he had lunch with Veselnitskaya, she called him and asked him to attend the Trump Tower meeting, but she didn’t suggest any role he would play at the meeting or why he should attend.
The meeting with Trump Jr., meanwhile, was reportedly set up by publicist Rob Goldstone, who claimed in an email to Trump Jr. that Veselnitskaya had opposition dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Veselnitskaya told the Wall Street Journal that she approached Russian real estate magnate Aras Agalarov, whom she was representing, to help set up a meeting with the Trump campaign as part of her efforts opposing the Magnitsky Act.
Agalarov organized the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow when the pageant was partially owned by Donald Trump.
Agalarov’s son Emin, a Russian singer who also knows the Trumps, reached out to Goldstone, his publicist, to contact the Trump campaign on behalf of Veselnitskaya, according to the Journal report.
Speaking to Fox News, Trump Jr. previously explained that he took the meeting thinking it was about “opposition research” on Clinton and was disappointed that it wasn’t.
“For me this was opposition research,” Trump Jr. said. “They had something, you know, maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I’d been hearing about … so I think I wanted to hear it out. But really it went nowhere and it was apparent that wasn’t what the meeting was about.”
Trump Jr. spoke about the contents of the meeting: “It was this, ‘Hey, some DNC donors may have done something in Russia and they didn’t pay taxes.’ I was like, ‘What does this have to do with anything?’”
Trump Jr. told Fox News that Goldstone apologized for wasting the campaign’s time with the meeting.
“I think what happened [is] he sort of goosed up, he built up, there was some puffery to the email, perhaps to get the meeting, to make it happen,” Trump Jr. said. “In the end, there was probably some bait-and-switch about what it was really supposed to be about.”
Speaking to the Journal, Veselnitskaya indicated there was a mix-up about the intent of the meeting: “My expectation before the meeting was he read my letter of information, he got interested and he was going to help me. His expectations were totally different, as I can understand now.”
“By the time I stepped into the meeting room to talk with Donald Trump Jr., all I knew was that I approached the elder Mr. Agalarov with a request to help,” Veselnitskaya said. “And I knew his son Emin communicated with Donald Trump Jr.”
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
Written with research by Joshua Klein.