Isaac Arnsdorf writes: When Donald Trump Jr., his brother-in-law and his father’s campaign chairman sat down with a Russian lawyer last June expecting to receive incriminating information about Hillary Clinton, the lawyer brought along a chatty Russian-born Washington lobbyist named Rinat Akhmetshin.
Akhmetshin’s presence at the meeting, reported today by the Associated Press, only deepens the mystery surrounding that encounter.
Like Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Kremlin-linked lawyer who showed up at the Trump Tower meeting, Akhmetshin is a colorful character, with a murky personal history and myriad ties to powerful Russian political and business leaders.
When I interviewed Akhmetshin last year, he told me he had served in military intelligence after being drafted as a young man growing up in the former Soviet Union. But he cut a figure unlike any Cold War thriller: a squat man in his late 40s with upright coils of graying hair, he arrived on a bright orange bicycle, wearing trendy glasses, a cardigan sweater and purple loafers. American officials quoted by NBC News said Akhmetshin was a military counterintelligence officer, and may still have links with Russian spy agencies, an assertion he adamantly denied to both NBC and the AP.
This much is clear: Since immigrating to the United States in the 1990s and becoming a dual citizen, Akhmetshin has worked as a lobbyist and public affairs consultant in Washington. Last year, he joined Veselnitskaya in a fight to overturn an American law that imposes financial and travel sanctions against Russians accused of violating human rights.
He is one of a growing number of figures with mysterious links to Russian government and business leaders whose names have surfaced in the sprawling investigations of Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
“In Russia, everything is much more informal, that’s what makes it so hard to pin down,” said Bill Browder, the investor who championed the U.S. law Akhmetshin and Veselnitskaya were attacking. “None of these people are carrying KGB business cards.” [Continue reading…]