In case you were curiously perusing the list of people and entities who recently received document requests from the House Judiciary Committee, you may have come across the name of Rinat Akhmetshin, and you may have wondered how he fits into the picture of Donald Trump’s far-flung scandals that are currently under investigation.
Rinat Akhmetshin is a Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet counterintelligence officer. He’s been accused of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence, though he denies it. Akhmetshin is also a known associate of Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who had baited Don Junior into accepting the mysterious Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, with an offer of providing dirt on Hillary Clinton. According to Donald Trump Jr.’s initial public statement about the meeting, it was about Russian adoptions.
Don Junior’s statement was not factually untrue, it was just far from complete. The meeting indeed turned out to be about Russian adoptions. It was also about lifting or weakening the sanctions high-level Russians had been under since the passing of the Magnitsky Act in 2012, which is in fact one of Vladimir Putin’s top priority foreign policy goals. The issues of U.S. sanctions and Russian adoptions are inextricably linked.
Here is how: The Magnitsky Act froze the assets of Russians implicated in human rights abuses and denied them visas to enter the United States. It was named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died under suspicious circumstances in a Russian prison after uncovering a tax fraud scheme that involved high-ranking Russian officials. In a retaliatory move, Vladimir Putin stopped allowing American citizens to adopt Russian children.
Just as an aside: This was an exceptionally cruel and callous move on Putin’s part, both with regard to American couples hoping to adopt and – perhaps even more so – with regard to the children who qualified for foreign adoption. A considerable number of the children who were adopted by Americans prior to the Magnitsky Act were orphans who had medical conditions and needed care that they were not really receiving in the orphanages, but that their new American parents were happy to provide. When Putin decided to use them as pawns to exert political pressure on the United States, these children were doomed to remain in Russian orphanages.
It is not clear whether at the time of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, Don Junior was aware of the fact that “Russian adoptions” was essentially code for sanction relief. But the fact is that he – the son of presidential hopeful Donald Trump – was being lobbied by surrogates of the Russian government with a view to the sanctions against Russian oligarchs being weakened or lifted in the event that the New York real estate mogul should become the next American president.
According to Trump Jr., “there was no follow up” but this statement doesn’t seem to be true. The question of Russian adoptions apparently did come up again, this time in an unofficial conversation that was directly between President Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany in July 2017 with only a Russian translator present. “Actually, it was very interesting,” Trump himself said when asked about the conversation. “We talked about adoption.”
In the absence of any reliable documentation, it will be difficult to determine what exactly was said during this unofficial conversation. But it is very likely that we will hear more about adoptions and the question of sanction relief as the investigation of Donald Trump’s Russian ties continues to take its course.