Coincidence? Don Jr.'s Trump Tower Meeting Brought People in the Clinton Orbit to NYC

Susan Jones | July 27, 2018 | 12:07pm EDT
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Transcripts released by the Senate Judiciary Committee in May show that the people who met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, crossed paths not only with each other but also with people in the Clinton orbit. They all worked and socialized with each other at various times.

( - Let's take another look at that June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting, where Donald Trump Jr. met with a group of Russians who supposedly had dirt on Hillary Clinton, but never delivered any.

On Friday, press reports said then-candidate Donald Trump apparently knew about the meeting before it happened, according to Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen. "Cohen is willing to make that assertion to special counsel Robert Mueller," sources told CNN.

President Trump tweeted on Friday morning: “NO....I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don jr.” He suggested that Michael Cohen was lying to get himself “out of an unrelated jam.”

Transcripts released by the Senate Judiciary Committee in May show that the people who met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, crossed paths not only with each other but also with people in the Clinton orbit. They all worked and socialized with each other at various times.

And some of them went out of their way to be in New York City on June 9, the day of the meeting.

Another fact: The June 9 meeting happened at a time when the Democrat Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign were paying Fusion GPS (through a law firm) to conduct opposition research on candidate Donald Trump. Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson testified that he started paying for the Steele dossier in “May or June of 2016.”

Judiciary Committee investigators asked Donald Trump Jr. if he was aware that “Mr. Simpson from Fusion GPS had dined with Ms. Veselnitskaya (the Russian lawyer who requested the meeting) the night before your meeting (in N.Y.), had met with her the day of, and dined with her again the night after your meeting (in Washington, D.C.).”

Cast of characters

Rinat Akhmetshin is a Russian-born American lobbyist who attended the Trump Tower meeting at the invitation of Natalia Veselnitskaya. She’s the Russian lawyer who requested the meeting to talk to a puzzled Don Jr. about Russian adoptions and the Magnitsky Act.

Akhmetshin told investigators for the Senate Judiciary Committee that he traveled by train from Washington to New York on the day of the meeting to attend an evening theater production with Ed Lieberman, a tax attorney whose late wife Evelyn worked for Bill Clinton.

Akhmetshin told the committee he knew that the Liebermans both were close friends of Hillary Clinton.

Akhmetshin also described himself as a friend and colleague of Glenn Simpson. Akhmetshin said he met Simpson through Simpson's wife, whom he knew from her days as a reporter in Brussels.

In fact, the day after the Trump Tower meeting in New York, Akhmetshin said he ended up at a “social” dinner in Washington, D.C., with Simpson, Simpson's wife, Russian attorney Veselnitskaya, and Ed Lieberman.

Veselnitskaya told investigators that she also knows Glenn Simpson. Simpson himself testified that he had dinner with Veselnitskaya both the day before and the day after her meeting at Trump Tower, but he did not discuss the meeting with her, he said. And he saw her as part of a court case on the day of the meeting.

Simpson testified that Fusion GPS did not assist Veselnitskaya in any way during her trip to New York. Although he had dinner with Veselnitskaya the night before the Trump Tower meeting, Simpson said the planned meeting did not come up in conversation. Simpson said he didn't know about the meeting until it was reported by the New York Times almost a year later. "I was stunned," he said.

Simpson also said the Trump Tower meeting was not discussed at the social dinner in Washington on June 10. And he said he never discussed the meeting at any time with Akhmetshin.

Veselnitskaya, Akhmetshin and Simpson all know each other from their work on a legal case (called the Prevezon case). And Simpson testified that he met the Clinton’s friend Ed Lieberman “years ago.”

So, lots of paths crossing here.

Shirt shopping – and a meeting invitation

According to transcripts provided by the Judiciary Committee, both Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin told investigators that Akhmetshin just happened to travel to New York on June 9 for an evening theater performance involving one of Akhmetshin's relatives.

"I have a relative who is an actress, theater actress in Russia, and she at that night performed in a theater play," Akhmetshin testified. "And so my sister encouraged me to go to attend that play, and so I purchased tickets for me and Mr. Lieberman a couple days before."

Akhmetshin explained that Lieberman's wife had died months earler, and Lieberman was in New York to discuss an art history scholorship he established in her honor.

"And so we agreed to meet in the evening to attend a play, and while there, I remember Ms. Veselnitskaya called me. I was actually in the store shopping. So I remember I was holding a shirt, and I kind of had to manage the phone and shirt."

Akhmetshin said Veselnitskaya called him and invited him to lunch, "and at lunch she informed me or invited me to attend the (Trump) meeting." He said he was not aware that he would be invited to Trump Tower, and he "wasn't dressed for the meeting. I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and things, so I actually was -- when she invited me, I was slightly hestitant. I said, like, 'You're sure?' kind of thing."

Asked if it was "a significant event" for him to meet Donald Trump, Jr., Akhmetshin said, "No, I was amused, and I'm not a fan of the whole family, so -- I was kind of curious and amused mostly."

Akhmetshin indicated that the meeting ended inconclusively, and he headed off for a drink with someone (he said he doesn't remember who) before going to dinner and the theater with Lieberman.

Asked if he spoke with friends and colleagues about the meeting when it was over, Akhmetshin said yes: "I told a couple of my friends about it, journalist friends, because I thought it was amusing. That's the only, like, people -- I might have mentioned to -- I did mention to my wife. She was amused, too."

Akhmetshin said he had dinner with Ed Lieberman, but he did not mention the Trump Tower meeting with him.

"You never thought to say something to Ed, 'This is what I've been doing all day'?" the investigator asked. "I mean, it seems like it would be a fairly significant event that you met Donald Trump Jr., no?"

"You know, I try to be discreet," Akhmetshin said (after having just admitted he told his journalist friends). "And I understand it wasn't my meeting. It was her meeting. I was invited there, and you know, you don't go and run your mouth about it."

"And do you know if Ed Lieberman had a relationship with Hillary Clinton or just his wife?" the investigator asked.

"Oh, he knew her well, I'm sure," Akhmetshin said,

"And so knowing that, it never occurred to you to say, 'Hey, I just had a meeting where Hillary Clinton's name came up'?"

"Again, I try to be discreet," he responded.

Investigators for the Judiciary Committee pressed Akhmetshin on his conversation with his journalist friends. “And do you recall what you said to them?”

“I said like, you know, I -- you know, guess what? Something funny. I was in a meeting. It was like such bullshit, and that kind of -- but -- and they said, ‘Can we write about this?’ Of course, journalists are always interested. I said, ‘Absolutely not. It' s not my secret, and you cannot write about this.’”

The investigator asked Akhmetshin, “And you thought it was okay to tell the journalists about something you found amusing, but you didn't think to discuss this with Ed Lieberman? You thought you needed to maintain that discretion?”

“At some point I might have mentioned it to him, but not like right away,” Akhmetshin said.

“Not at the dinner?” the investigator asked.

“Not at dinner…At some point I might have -- he also serves as a legal counsel to me so -- on a number of issues. So, you know, I'm almost certain at some point he knew about it, but not immediately.”

Akhmetshin said as far as he remembers, nothing discussed at the Trump Tower meeting could be construed as “collusion” between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

He told the committee investigators he returned to Washington, D.C., the day after the meeting, but he’s “not sure” if he traveled back to D.C. with Lieberman or Veselnitskaya.

Akhmetshin did, however, remember attending a “social” dinner on June 10 or 11 with Veselnitskaya, Glenn Simpson, Simpson’s wife, and Ed Lieberman.

Russian lawyer expected private meeting with Don Jr.

Veselnitskaya, in her written responses to the Judiciary Committee, said she does not know Christopher Steele, the "dossier" author, and she said she did not work with Fusion GPS, although she does know Glenn Simpson.

She said she was not aware that Simpson had hired Christopher Steele to investigate Donald Trump's alleged ties to the Russian government.

She wrote that her June 9 meeting at Trump Tower "was not a 'meeting with the Trump campaign.'" She said she expected it to be "a private meeting with Donald Trump, Jr.," who knows the son of Veselnitskaya's good friend in Russia. It was the good friend’s son who helped to arrange the meeting, she said.

Veselnitskaya said she wanted Trump Jr. to inform Congress about "how terribly misled" they had been by William Browder, a man convicted of tax fraud in Russia. Browder lobbied for passage of the Magnitsky Act, which has so infuriated the Putin regime.

Veselnitskaya said she expected that Don Jr., as a businessman, "was sure to have some acquaintances among Congress people."

Both sides agreed that nothing of substance came from the meeting. Akhmetshin said Veselnitskaya seemed disappointed afterward because the Trump people "really had no interest" in what was being said. Both sides also agreed that the meeting produced no exchanges that could be considered “collusion.”

Don Jr. Not Aware of Simpson-Akhmetshin-Veselnitskaya connections

Donald Trump Jr. told the Judiciary Committee under oath that he agreed to the meeting with Veselnitskaya because he was told that "someone had official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary Clinton and her dealings with Russia and that the information would be very useful to the campaign."

He said the meeting provided "no meaningful information and turned out to be not about what was represented."

Don Jr. testified that he did not inform his father about the meeting or the offer of the meeting before it happened.

The following exchange between Don Jr. and the staff attorney for the Judiciary Committee is enlightening.

Q. You've stated you have no recollection of Mr. Akhmetshin attending the meeting. Were you aware at the time that Mr. Akhmetshin and Ms. Veselnitskaya were working with Fusion GPS?

A. I was not aware of that.

Q. Were you aware that Mr. Akhmetshin had a long relationship with Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS?

A. I had never heard of Glenn Simpson or Fusion GPS. I was not aware of it.

Q. So I assume, then, were you aware that employees and subcontractors of Fusion GPS were also working on opposition research on your father at the time?

A. I've read that since, but I was not aware at the time.

Q. Were you aware that Fusion GPS was behind information presented to you regarding Bill Browder and the Magnitsky Act?

A. I was not.

Q. Were you aware that Mr. Simpson from Fusion GPS had dined with Ms. Veselnitskaya the night before your meeting, had met with her the day of, and dined with her again the night after your meeting?

A. I was not.

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