In early June 2016, Donald Trump had just secured enough deplorable delegates to become the Republican nominee for president. It was a wildly busy time, as the unthinkable began to unfold, and an inexperienced, ragtag campaign team was working around the clock to assemble something resembling a legitimate run for president.
On June 9, 2016, Reince Priebus, then-chairman of the Republican National Committee, made his way to Trump Tower in New York City to kiss the gold-plated ring in the first joint finance meeting between the Trump campaign and the RNC. In short, this is truly the day that the general election began.
On that same day, a day when everyone at Trump Tower must’ve been scrambling to get into general election mode, the very top echelon of Trump’s campaign staff gathered in Donald Trump Jr.’s office for a meeting with a woman whom none of the attendees had ever met before. This was a meeting that Team Trump would not reveal when questions began to arise about Trump’s Russian connections. Who was so important that Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort would all make time in their busy schedules to meet with her that day? It was Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who Don Junior believed would be bringing along dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Veselnitskaya would later be shown to have Kremlin ties and was eventually indicted by U.S. prosecutors on an obstruction-of-justice charge related to a separate Russian money laundering case. But before all that, she attended the Trump Tower meeting with Rob Goldstone, the British conduit between Trump and Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop star, and son of Aras Agalarov, a billionaire Azerbaijani-Russian real estate developer.
In addition to Goldstone, Veselnitskaya also brought along Agalarov associate Ike Kaveladze and Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist who just happens to be a former Soviet counterintelligence officer, and who coincidentally is connected to a series of political hacks. The New York Times would later describe Akhmetshin as a “master of dark arts.” Here’s how it described Akhmetshin’s techniques, which included a rule for clients about never using email to send secret information.
The practice [of finding information to use against opponents] was rooted in the Soviet techniques of “kompromat,” the collection of compromising information by the K.G.B. against foes of the Communist Party, but reached its full flowering after the 1991 collapse of Communism and the privatization of the dark arts formerly dominated by the K.G.B.
Instead of simply examining old media reports, court records and other public documents to try to dig up dirt or embarrassing gossip, Russian-style “chyorny P.R.” has often focused on pilfering private information through hacking and physical intrusion into offices and filing cabinets.
In his own investigations over the years, Mr. Akhmetshin has acquired a reputation for obtaining email records, information from spyware and other data that appeared to be drawn from Russian hackers.
Interestingly, it was only two days prior that Donald Trump had promised his supporters new information about Hillary Clinton’s hacked email—information he thought would be released on the very day of this then-secret meeting in Trump Tower with a man who has been accused of orchestrating sophisticated hacks. Akhmetshin has since denied any involvement in corporate or political hacking, and denies acting on behalf of the Russian government, even going so far as to file a defamation suit against Bill Browder, a U.S. investor who was instrumental in getting the Magnitsky Act passed, after Browder made several public statements saying Akhmetshin was a Russian operative.
Now, nearly three years after that meeting, a team at BuzzFeed News has some curious new details about Akhmetshin. Most notably, he received a series of “suspicious” payments immediately before—and after—the Trump Tower meeting, totaling around $500,000.
Documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News show that Rinat Akhmetshin, a Soviet military officer turned Washington lobbyist, deposited large, round-number amounts of cash in the months preceding and following the meeting, where a Russian lawyer offered senior Trump campaign officials dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The lobbyist also received a large payment that bank investigators deemed suspicious from Denis Katsyv, whose company Prevezon Holdings was accused by the US Justice Department of laundering the proceeds of a $230 million Russian tax fraud.
Denis Katsyv was also a client of Natalia Veselnitskaya, and both were intent on lobbying American politicians to overturn the Magnitsky Act and lift Russian sanctions. The sanctions were financially hurting Katsyv and his father, Pyotr, a former minister of transportation for the Moscow Region, as well as other Putin-linked Russian oligarchs.
More from BuzzFeed:
In the months before and after the meeting with the Trump campaign, documents show that Akhmetshin made unexplained cash deposits totaling $40,000, and received a wire transfer of $100,000 directly from Katsyv along with $52,000 from a foundation funded by Katsyv and other wealthy Russians to try to undermine that law. Bankers examining the lobbyist’s accounts flagged these transactions for a variety of reasons, including the inability to explain them, their overseas origin, and a suspicion that they showed Akhmetshin had violated federal lobbying law.
It just gets curiouser and curiouser. Also of interest to the Mueller investigation are around a half-million dollars in payments to the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation, an Akhmetshin-linked non-profit, which is currently under investigation by special counsel investigators. But, as they say in late-night infomercials, there’s more!
Beyond his work with Katsyv and Veselnitskaya, investigators discovered that Akhmetshin had received large, mostly unexplained wire transfers from companies in Latvia and Panama, and payments from longtime American political insiders, one of whom is a veteran Republican operator with ties to the Trump campaign.
Akhmetshin and his lawyers did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Reached on his doorstep, the lobbyist told BuzzFeed News, “Get the f*ck out of here, okay?”
And so it appears that the net continues to tighten around that specific Trump Tower meeting. No wonder the Trump camp wanted to conceal those meetings and emails back in June 2016. They might’ve been kicking off far more than a general-election campaign.