Meet the ex-Soviet intel officer at Don Jr.'s Trump Tower meeting - Axios
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Meet the ex-Soviet intel officer at Don Jr.'s Trump Tower meeting

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Rinat Akhmetshin, the former Soviet intelligence officer who attended a June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, is a superlative Washington political operator who over the last two decades has repeatedly been at the center of cases involving corruption, dictators and sometimes war.

Akhmetshin was apparently hired to work with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the lawyer who met with Trump on June 9, 2016, in a lobbying effort against the Magnitsky Act, a congressional measure that sanctions Russia and Russian figures. He confirmed to the AP on Friday morning that he was in that meeting, saying: "I never thought this would be such a big deal to be honest."

I met Akhmetshin in 1998 in the Kazakhstan city of Almaty, where I was writing for The New York Times and he was representing the country's opposition leader in a quixotic effort to oust President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Over the subsequent months, Akhmetshin leaked me a trove of documents that linked Nazarbayev to millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts — payments from international oil companies working in the Central Asian republic. The result was a scoop in the paper, a high-profile investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, and, later, a thick section of a book I wrote about those years on the Caspian Sea.

How he made his mark: At that time and over the subsequent years, Akhmetshin proved again and again to be surprisingly adept at influencing politics in Washington, DC, not his homeland. A profane and fast talker who likes to dress well, a quick study who understands the world of geopolitics, local politics and technology, he managed to ingratiate himself with important members of Congress, and through them and his contacts with reporters single-handedly tarnished Nazarbayev's and Kazakhstan's reputation. If today the Kazakh leader and his country have reputations for chronic corruption, a primary reason is Akhmetshin.

Akhmetshin openly described his years as a military counter-intelligence officer, serving in Afghanistan. He ultimately took American citizenship. As we met again and again over the years, he represented opposition figures in Ukraine and Afghanistan, too. I never found him having cultivated the man in power anywhere. In a world in which no one is clean, Akhmetshin was someone you could trust.

The original NBC News reports suggested that Akhmetshin's intelligence past somehow has rolled forward until now, putting Russian spies in the same room with Donald Trump, Jr. Nothing I picked up in numerous intense reporting experiences with Akhmetshin over the years — in the former U.S.S.R. and the U.S. — suggested any current such relationships.

Last year, Akhmetshin took on clients attempting to tarnish Bill Browder, the former high-rolling American investor in Moscow and defender of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who only turned on the Russian president when he kicked him out of the country. Browder has since become one of Putin's fiercest critics, driven by the murder of his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, in a Moscow prison.

Four days after the Trump Tower meeting, Akhmetshin was responsible for arranging the high-profile showing of a revisionist anti-Magnitsky film at Washington, DC's Newseum.

Akhmetshin, reached by cell phone in Europe where he said he is surfing with family, said "there was nothing really" to the meeting. He said he was just going to dinner and preferred not to talk further about the incident. I asked how it was that he was yet again at the center of events. "Just lucky, I guess," he said.

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Ex-FCC chair: Move against AT&T is "chilling"

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Former FCC chairman Julius Genakowski, now a partner with The Carlyle Group, is troubled by the U.S. Department of Justice's efforts to block AT&T from buying Time Warner. He tells Axios that yesterday's lawsuit creates "unprecedented uncertainty for media companies" and that AT&T may be coerced into a divestiture that would be "unfair and potentially chilling."

Why it matters: Genakowski led the FCC when Comcast acquired NBC Universal, a merger that both the Department of Justice and AT&T are using to justify their current positions.

Genakowski's full statement:

"This lawsuit creates unprecedented uncertainty for media companies trying to scale in this new media world where cord-cutting is pressuring revenue and they're competing now with multiple, much larger tech companies. And it could be a bad sign for the tech companies as well, though it's hard to point to a time where we've had as many strong and innovative companies competing against each other.

Hard to know what's underneath this lawsuit. Could be the belief that DoJ should impose only structural remedies, though hard to unsee the President's comments on the deal; and confusing that the FCC is moving in the opposite direction, removing structural remedies on media ownership.

The story isn't over - I don't see the government winning this lawsuit based on precedent and facts, including Comcast/NBCu, approved with conditions while I chaired the FCC. But even the unlikely can happen in court. A tough question is whether AT&T would consider a divestiture to put the matter behind them. Possible, though unfair and potentially chilling."

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CBS and PBS fire Charlie Rose

Photo: Carolyn Kaster / AP

Both CBS and PBS fired Charlie Rose today after several women accused him of sexual harassment, per AP. He was quickly suspended by the networks, as well as Bloomberg, following the Washington Post's report. CBS News President David Rhodes said in a statement, "Despite Charlie's important journalistic contribution to our news division, there is absolutely nothing more important, in this or any organization, than ensuring a safe, professional workplace."

Go deeper: Read about the allegations against Rose and the full list of men in media who have been accused of sexual misconduct.

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Trump pardons turkey: "Drumstick is going to be very happy"

President Trump pardons Drumstick at the National Thanksgiving Turkey pardoning ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

In keeping with tradition, Donald Trump granted a presidential pardon to a turkey Tuesday, smiling broadly and cracking jokes as he did so. "We have not seen any guests quite like the visitor we have today," said Trump. "Drumstick, I think, is going to be very happy."

Trump joked, "As many as of you know, I have been very active in overturning many actions of my predecessor, but I have been informed by the White House Counsel's Office that Tater and Tot's pardons (made by Obama) cannot under any circumstances be revoked. Tater and Tot, you can rest easy." The Trump family is headed to Mar-a-Lago later this afternoon, where they'll spend Thanksgiving.

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Conyers admits paying settlement, denies allegations

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan. Photo: Charles Dhaparak / AP

Tuesday afternoon, Michigan Rep. John Conyers released a statement again denying the allegations of sexual harassment, but admitting that he paid a settlement made. He clarified, "the resolution was not for millions of dollars, but rather for an amount that equated to a reasonable severance payment," and added that he will fully cooperate with an investigation.

Earlier, the AP reported that Conyers denied the sexual harassment settlements, which BuzzFeed News reported on last night, and that he knew nothing of the claims.

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Pentagon identifies remains recovered in Niger as Sgt. Johnson

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis answers a reporter's question about the ambush of U.S. troops in Niger. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

The Pentagon confirmed in a statement on Tuesday that remains of Sgt. La David T. Johnson were found at the site of the attack in Niger that killed four U.S. service members. The remains were found on November 12, more than a month after the Pentagon initially said Johnson's body was recovered.

Johnson's widow had questioned why she was not allowed to view his body, saying "They won't show me a finger, a hand... I don't know what's in that box. It could be empty for all I know, but I need to see my husband," she said. There are still several unanswered questions surrounding the October ambush, and the Pentagon did not elaborate on how this discovery would affect the ongoing investigation.

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IADB President Luis Moreno on misperceptions of Latin America

Luis Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank, discusses the economic and cultural opportunities in Latin America that are lost due to misperceptions.

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President Robert Mugabe officially resigns

Zimbabwe's president has resigned. Photo: AP

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has officially resigned, per AP, after he refused to do so earlier this week.

The impeachment allegations against Mugabe include that he is "of advanced age" and too incapacitated to serve, and that he "allowed his wife to usurp constitutional power," per AP.

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Tobacco companies will start running anti-tobacco ads

After a protracted legal battle, tobacco companies will begin running court-ordered ads next week about the health risks of smoking. The campaign of "corrective statements," mandated by a federal judge in 2006, includes a year of TV spots and roughly four months of full-page ads in 50 newspapers.

Why now? These ads have been the subject of litigation for nearly 20 years. They're the product of a lawsuit the Justice Department filed in 1999, which was decided in 2006, then appealed, before the ads themselves were finalized earlier this year. And though the spots will run widely, both TV and newspaper advertising have lost a lot of their reach since this all began.

The details: The "corrective statements" tobacco companies must make cover five topics:

  • The U.S. death toll of cigarettes and the diseases they cause
  • The addictiveness of nicotine
  • The fact that "light" and "low tar" cigarettes are not safer
  • That cigarettes are designed to be addictive
  • The adverse health effects of secondhand smoke

Beginning next week, print ads will run in the Sunday editions of 50 daily newspapers. The television spots must run for 52 weeks, in prime time, on the major networks.


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FanDuel CEO leaves for e-sports startup

Nigel Eccles. Photo: Brendan Moran / Getty

FanDuel co-founder Nigel Eccles has stepped down as the fantasy sports company's chairman and CEO, in order to launch an e-sports startup.

Backstory: Eccles actually began planning the e-sports venture when FanDuel was in the midst of merging with DraftKings, after which he would have become chairman of the combined entity (with DraftKings boss Jason Robins serving as CEO). But then federal regulators successfully blocked the merger, leaving Eccles in a tricky position.

So tricky, in fact, that he misled his own internal PR rep about the e-sports effort when Axios inquired last month. He also didn't fully inform his full board, which struck the departure agreement late last week.

  • Next: FanDuel's new CEO is Matt King, a former FanDuel CFO who previously was with FanDuel backer KKR. The new chairman is Carl Vogel (ex-Dish Networks exec) while David Nathanson (ex-21st Century Fox) also joins the board as an independent director.
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Students worked illegal overtime to assemble iPhoneX in China

Staff members work on the production line at the Foxconn complex in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, southern China, in 2012. Photo: Kin Cheung / AP

Students have been working illegal overtime hours to assemble the iPhoneX at Apple's main supplier in Asia, the Financial Times reports. Six high school students told the FT they often work 11-hour days in a Foxconn factory, where they were told they must get "work experience" in order to graduate.

Why it matters: Apple dealt with iPhoneX production issues that delayed its launch. Providing flexible student labor is one of the incentives that China's Henan province offers to keep Foxconn there, the FT said. Foxconn said it offers the internship program in cooperation with local governments and schools.

What the companies said: Apple and Foxconn acknowledged they were aware of cases of interns working overtime and were addressing the issue. The companies said the students were compensated and working voluntarily at the factory, but Apple said the students "should not have been allowed to work overtime."