WASHINGTON — A former veteran of the Soviet army, who has long been part of a pro-Kremlin lobbying effort in Washington, said he also attended a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who had offered to help get his father elected president.
The presence of the Russian-American lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, adds another twist to the evolving story about the meeting, which Donald Trump Jr. set up after learning that the lawyer had damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Akhmetshin, a US citizen who lives in Washington, is well known in congressional circles and worked with the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, as part of an effort to undermine a US law that sanctions Russians for human rights abuses. The law infuriated President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
Akhmetshin said in a brief interview Friday that he took part in the meeting at the request of Veselnitskaya. He described his time in the military as routine, serving from 1986 to 1988, like “millions of other Soviet boys.” He left the military as a sergeant and said he did not have any ties to Russian intelligence.
NBC News first reported Akhmetshin’s role in the meeting but did not identify him. He confirmed to the Associated Press that he attended.
The meeting, at Trump Tower in New York, was billed as part of a Russian government effort to help the Republican’s White House campaign.
The disclosure has increased questions about whether Trump’s associates coordinated with Russia to meddle in the presidential election — to help him and thwart Clinton — and whether they have been forthcoming about their foreign contacts.
Justice Department and congressional investigators are conducting several inquiries on possible connections between the campaign and Moscow.
Also Friday, The Washington Post reported that President Trump has chosen a new lawyer to take the lead on issues related to the ongoing investigations. Ty Cobb, a former prosecutor and defense lawyer, will seek to play the role of crisis manager and disciplinarian in the White House.
Akhmetshin said reports that he had ties to Russian intelligence were part of a ‘‘smear campaign.’’ He has lobbied for Russian interests trying to undermine the allegations of a lawyer who died in a Russian prison and is the namesake of a US sanctions law.
Akhmetshin told the AP that he served in the Soviet military in a unit that was part of counterintelligence but he was never formally trained as a spy.
Alan S. Futerfas, Donald Trump Jr.’s attorney, said, “We do acknowledge there was one person and perhaps a second” person who accompanied Veselnitskaya to the meeting. That could have been Akhmetshin and a translator, he said, but no one now recalls the individuals’ names.
In e-mails posted by Trump Jr. earlier this week, a music publicist said he arranged the meeting because a Russian lawyer wanted to pass on negative information about Democrat Clinton.
The go-between stated that the discussion was part of a Russian government effort to help the GOP candidate.
While Trump Jr. has confirmed that Veselnitskaya was in the meeting, he has not disclosed Akhmetshin’s presence. He also said he did not receive the information he was promised.
Trump Jr. also invited Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a campaign adviser, to the meeting with Veselnitskaya, as well as Paul Manafort, who at the time was the campaign chairman.
In a statement Sunday, Trump Jr. said the attorney had said she had information that people tied to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Clinton, a description that Akhmetshin backed up in his interview with the AP.
In his first public interview about the meeting, Akhmetshin said he accompanied Veselnitskaya to Trump Tower where they met an interpreter. He said he had learned about the meeting only that day when Veselnitskaya asked him to attend, and showed up in jeans and a T-shirt.
Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democrats, Akhmetshin said.
Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to the Trump associates and suggested that making the information public could help the campaign, he said.
‘‘This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money,’’ Akhmetshin recalled her saying.
Trump Jr. asked the attorney if she had sufficient evidence to back up her claims, including whether she could demonstrate the flow of the money. But Veselnitskaya said the Trump campaign would need to research it more. After that, Trump Jr. lost interest, according to Akhmetshin.
Akhmetshin said he does not know if Veselnitskaya’s documents were provided by the Russian government. He said he thinks she left the materials with the Trump associates.
Akhmetshin said he recognized Kushner and Trump Jr. He also said he recognized Manafort because they worked in ‘‘adjacent political circles,’’ though never together.
He said there were others in the room but he didn’t know them. Publicist Rob Goldstone, who arranged the meeting via an e-mail to Trump Jr., also attended.
Veselnitskaya has denied having any ties to the Russian government, and has declined to comment on the meeting.
Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Friday that he wants Akhmetshin to appear before the committee to provide ‘‘any relevant documents and information.’’
Schiff said Trump Jr.’s omission of Akhmetshin’s role in his public account of the meeting and the president’s son’s shifting explanations ‘‘paint a portrait of consistent dissembling and deceit.’’