Maria Butina

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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Thu Dec 13, 2018 12:44 pm

Accused Russian agent Butina expected to plead guilty in Washington

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A woman accused of acting as a Russian agent to infiltrate the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group and influence U.S. policy toward Moscow is expected to plead guilty in federal court on Thursday in a deal that could help prosecutors gain insight into Russian efforts to meddle in American politics.

FILE PHOTO: Maria Butina appears in a police booking photograph released by the Alexandria Sheriff's Office in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. August 18, 2018. Alexandria Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS
Maria Butina, a Russian former graduate student at American University in Washington who has publicly advocated for gun rights, is slated to change her plea from not guilty to guilty during a hearing before Judge Tanya Chutkan in U.S. District Court in Washington. Butina was charged in July with acting as an agent of Russia’s government and conspiracy to take actions on behalf of Moscow.

Citing documents due to be filed in court on Thursday, the Washington Post reported this week that Butina was expected to admit for the first time that her activities were part of a concerted effort, coordinated with a senior Russian official, aimed at establishing unofficial lines of communication with Americans who could influence U.S. politics.

The hearing, which the judge had delayed by a day, is set to begin at 10:30 a.m. EST.

Prosecutors have accused Butina, who was jailed awaiting trial, of working with a Russian official and two U.S. citizens to try to infiltrate the NRA, a group closely aligned with Republican politicians including President Donald Trump, and sway Washington’s policy toward Moscow.

Butina’s lawyers previously identified the Russian official as Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who was targeted with U.S. Treasury Department sanctions in April.

One of the two Americans cited in the prosecution’s criminal complaint was Paul Erickson, a conservative U.S. political activist who was dating Butina.

After she was charged, Russia labeled the case against Butina “fabricated” and called for her release. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about Butina on Tuesday in Moscow, a day after U.S. court filings indicated she would plea guilty in Washington.

“She risks 15 years in jail. For what?” Putin asked . “...I asked all the heads of our intelligence services what is going on. Nobody knows anything about her.”

The prosecutors in the Butina case are not from the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election and whether Trump’s campaign conspired with Moscow to help him win.

Accused spy Butina strikes deal to cooperate: reports
Nevertheless, Butina would become with a guilty plea the first Russian citizen to be convicted of working to shape U.S. policy in the time period spanning the 2016 election campaign. Mueller has brought criminal charges against a series of Russian individuals and entities but those cases are still pending.

The prosecution’s complaint against Butina did not explicitly mention Trump’s campaign. Reuters previously reported that Butina was a Trump supporter who bragged at Washington parties that she could use her political connections to help people get jobs in his administration.

Trump has denied any collusion with Moscow. Russia has denied interfering in American politics.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa- ... SKBN1OC1AI
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Thu Dec 13, 2018 4:11 pm

Maria Butina's plea deal. She successfully infiltrated the NRA and helped establish illegal back channels to the Kremlin for the Trump administration.

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https://mobile.twitter.com/TeaPainUSA


David Hogg

Thoughts and prayers to the NRAs PR team
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Thu Dec 13, 2018 6:45 pm

Renato Mariotti


THREAD: What can we learn from the cooperation deal with Russian spy Maria Butina? (Answer: A lot.)



1/ Today Russian spy Maria Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring to secretly work as a Russian agent within the United States. As part of her plea, Butina and federal prosecutors agreed on the facts that proved her guilt, and they are shocking. See here:




2/ Butina pleaded guilty to working with "U.S. Person 1" (her former paramour, GOP operative Paul Erickson) to secretly act as a Russian agent at the direction of "Russian Official," which @CNN has identified as Alexander Torshin.



3/ Butina admitted that she drafted a proposal in Russian called "Description of the Diplomacy Project" that suggested Russia could use "unofficial channels of communication" to build relations with Political Party #1 (the Republican Party).



4/ In the proposal, she pointed to her attendance at conferences organized by "Gun Rights Organization" (the National Rifle Association or @NRA), which she told the Russian government had influence over the Republican Party.


5/ She told the Russian government that she believed the Republican Party would win the next presidential election and that she "laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration."



6/ In the proposal, Butina also claimed that she had been introduced to Republican Party leaders as "an unofficial representative" of Russian official Alexander Torshin. (It's worth noting that there are photos of Butina with Trump Jr., Santorum, and many others.)



7/ What shocks me most is that Erickson helped write this proposal! His behavior amounts to what most Americans would regard as outright treason. (As I discussed on my latest #OnTopic podcast with @Mimirocah1, our Constitution defines "treason" narrowly.) What was he thinking?




8/ In the joint statement to the court agreed to by the government and Butina, they said Erickson reviewed a Google-translated version of the proposal and gave advice, including information about U.S. political figures and connection with a Russian media commentator.



9/ Butina sent the proposal to the Russian official (Torshin) and asked for $125,000 from a Russian billionaire to attend NRA conferences as well as "separate meetings with interested parties," including the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.



10/ She then traveled to the U.S. in April 2015 to attend a NRA convention. and was introduced to "influential members" of the Republican Party, including Donald Trump. (As @washpost recently noted, she was later able to directly ask Trump a question.)



11/ (The question was about sanctions imposed on Russia after its 2014 invasion of Crimea, and Trump gave an answer--"I don’t think you’d need the sanctions"--the Russian government would have favored.)



12/ Butina and federal prosecutors noted that part of the conspiracy was also inviting NRA leaders to Moscow in December 2015, and using Torshin to set up meetings with high-ranking Russian politicians because doing so would advance Russian interests.



13/ According to Butina and federal prosecutors, Butina sent the following message to Russian official Torshin about the NRA, translated from the original Russian: "We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later."



14/ Butina also hosted "friendship dinners" with individuals who she believed "would have the ear of the next U.S. presidential administration." She told Torshin about one attendee who Erickson connected her with, and then sent an email to that attendee, copying Erickson:



15/ "Torshin is very impressed with you and expresses his great appreciation for what you are doing to restore the relations between the two countries. He also wants you to know the Russians will support the efforts from our side."



16/ Butina then helped organize a Russian delegation to the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast after Trump's election. Butina emailed Erickson that a list of invitees was handpicked by her and Torshin and were "coming to establish a back channel of communication."



17/ Erickson emailed someone (we don't know who), copying Butina, stating "Reaction to the delegation's presence in America will be relayed DIRECTLY" to Putin and the Russian Foreign Minister. As the statement makes clear, Butina did all of this work under Torshin's direction.



18/ So what does today's news mean legally? Now that Butina will testify against him, Erickson faces what appears to be overwhelming evidence of his guilt. Indeed, as @woodruffbets and @ErinBanco reported recently, Erickson received a target letter.



19/ That means that federal prosecutors intend to indict him. One reason why prosecutors send someone a target letter is because they *want* the person to find a criminal defense attorney. I've done that before myself when I was a federal prosecutor.



20/ Why would prosecutors want Erickson to get a good federal criminal defense attorney? Because they hope the attorney will tell Erickson that he faces overwhelming evidence and needs to cooperate.



21/ What did Erickson tell GOP leaders, NRA leaders, GOP operatives and others when he was connecting them with a Russian spy? Those conversations will be of very great interest to federal prosecutors because they might reveal others who also acted as Russian agents.



22/ Even if they didn't act as Russian agents, it is important for the United States to know whether the Russian government can blackmail any powerful American. Securing Erickson's testimony is the logical next step for prosecutors. The big question: Where does he lead them? /end
https://twitter.com/renato_mariotti/sta ... 7746864128



First Russian national to plead guilty

Paul Erickson what have you been up to
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby JackRiddler » Fri Dec 14, 2018 12:47 am

.

Wow, the significance of this stuff is so vastly exaggerated. There's a Russian spy round-up every couple of years, and it's usually this kind of triviality (relatively speaking). I remember Anna Whatserface, she was also a really hot redhead and credited with sexing her way to a Soviet coup d'etat on Wall Street (that was the flavor du saison at the time).

Or some such bullshit.

Five hundred years of espionage and diplomacy and disinformation between the Great Powers, and I think only the most current American corporate propaganda-for-plebes has ever affected to be so ignorant about it.

As if there are no American attempts at penetration on the other side, or as if they weren't wildly successful in the 1990s, basically destroying Russia and engendering the counter-reaction from FSB.

I can guarantee you Butina is peanuts on the Russian org chart. She sounds like a minor freelancer on the make.

I bet there are another two dozen just like her. And they're all worthless to Moscow, because

I bet you the Russians already have high penetration in a whole bunch of U.S. orgs, corps, and agencies.

And you know who the agents are? AMERICANS. OFFICE-HOLDERS. BUREAUCRATS. INTEL AGENTS.

Blackmailed out the wazoo. Paid off up the ass. People with incentives to talk to Moscow handlers.

Sorry, James Jesus Angleton of 2018, you're not going to find most of them!

Possibly you will find none of them.

Maybe you're one of them, Angleton! Ever think that? (Yes, he does. Of course. All the time.)

I bet you it's also the case vice-versa, with U.S. agents. They probably have Putin's inner circle wired for sound.

Otherwise what the fuck are all these "intelligence" agencies for?!

And on goes all this incredible blah-blah-perpetual-blah about Maria on NPR, etc., and she's going to get zero to six months and skedaddle back home. Zero to six months! Ooooh!

Meanwhile, Americans are getting zero to zero coverage about the French yellow vest revolt, the outbreak of revolt against Orban, Theresa May and her losing Brexit deal on the brink, or actually anything genuine going on anywhere in the world, including in Russia and the U.S. And never mind the goddamn Arctic and Antarctic ice melts.

That stuff about capitalism actually ENDING THE FUCKING WORLD is so boring.

For fuck's sake this is like the 99th page of this fucking thread, get a hold of yourself. The "mainstream media" is already doing this shit 24/7, having it on RI adds nothing. Zero.

Zero.

EDIT, correction: This is the third page. Sorry. My mistake. It only feels like 99. It's strictly subjective. To be honest, it is so subjective that no one else feels it except me. This is mainly because no one else has dipped into this thread.

AD doesn't count. You can be certain he didn't read anything, he just threw in his copy-pasta and went his merry way to the next one.

Come on, anyone out there beside AD and SLAD? Give us a census, people! Just curious. Say hello. Anyone reading this thing? Hello? Hello?!

.
Last edited by JackRiddler on Fri Dec 14, 2018 8:22 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby Grizzly » Fri Dec 14, 2018 1:03 am

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If Barthes can forgive me, “What the public wants is the image of passion Justice, not passion Justice itself.”
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Dec 14, 2018 3:00 am

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Read: accused Russian spy Maria Butina’s plea agreement

Butina admitted to making contacts with Republicans and conservative groups at the direction of Russia, and will cooperate with prosecutors.

Jen KirbyDec 13, 2018, 12:40pm EST
Alexandria Sheriff’s Office via Getty Images
Accused Russian spy Maria Butina has struck a plea deal with prosecutors and admitted that she acted under the direction of a Russian official in the United States.

Butina will plead guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to violate foreign agent laws, and she will cooperate with prosecutors as part of the agreement, according to court documents released Thursday.

Butina was arrested in July and charged with conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent. She had ingratiated herself with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Republican Party prior to her arrest, frequently attending political events and casting herself as a gun rights activist.

Prosecutors allege she tried to make those contacts in the US at the behest of a “Russian official” and at least one other person. The Russian official is believed to be Russian central bank official Alexander Torshin, a longtime figure in Russian politics and avid gun-rights activist.

She was assisted in her efforts to make political contacts by a US citizen, who is identified in court documents as “US Person 1” and who is believed to be Republican political consultant Paul Erickson, according to NBC News.

Prosecutors say that with US Person 1’s assistance and the direction of the Russian official, Butina “sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence in US politics.”

They add that Butina made those contacts for the “benefit of the Russian Federation, acting through a Russian official.”

Prosecutors in the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia brought the charges, which are not connected to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Read the plea agreement and statement of offense here or below.
https://www.vox.com/2018/12/13/18139191 ... -full-text
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Dec 14, 2018 3:01 am

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Russian agent’s guilty plea intensifies spotlight on relationship with NRA

Michelle Ye Hee Lee
December 13 at 7:04 PM
The guilty plea Thursday of a woman accused of infiltrating the National Rifle Association on behalf of the Russian government has thrust the powerful conservative group into an uncomfortable spotlight as the organization appears to be facing declining donations and signs its fearsome political influence may be waning.

Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of Russia, admitting that she worked for more than two years to forge relationships with conservative activists and leading Republicans in the United States.

One of Butina’s main targets was the NRA — a group she identified in a 2015 memo as an organization that “had influence over” the Republican Party, according to court filings. Her relationships with the group, she wrote, could be used as the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication to the next presidential administration.

Later that year, she helped organize a delegation of top NRA leaders to visit Moscow, arranging for them to meet Russian government officials, and she attended the group’s annual conventions as an honored guest.

Butina and Alexander Torshin, a former Russian government official who helped direct her activities, then used their NRA connections to get access to GOP presidential candidates, according to court filings.

Butina’s case exposed how Russia saw the NRA as a key pathway to influencing American politics to the Kremlin’s benefit. And it has intensified questions about what the gun rights group knew of the Russian effort to shape U.S. policy and whether it faces ongoing legal scrutiny.

The 30-year-old — the first Russian national convicted of seeking to influence U.S. policy as a foreign agent before the 2016 election — agreed to cooperate in a plea deal with U.S. investigators in exchange for less prison time.

“Who at the NRA knew Butina’s agenda, and what did they get in return?” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked in a tweet Thursday.

Wyden, who has sought to learn more about the NRA’s Russia ties as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said the organization has turned over documents related to Butina but has not provided financial records he has requested.

“Everything I have learned about the NRA to date has made me more concerned about its activities leading up to the 2016 election, not less,” Wyden said in a statement to The Washington Post.

On Thursday, Wyden sent letters to three past presidents of the group, asking that they agree to be interviewed by the committee about the group’s interactions with Russia.

NRA officials, who did not return requests for comment Thursday, have repeatedly refused to answer questions about Butina or its interactions with Russian activists.

“I’m just amazed that in today’s world, if you shake hands with a Russian, you must be an agent of the Kremlin,” David Keene, a former NRA president who was a key contact for Butina and Torshin, told the New York Times earlier this year.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladi­mir Putin addressed Butina’s case at a meeting of a Kremlin council on human rights in Moscow, saying: “I asked all the heads of our intelligence services what is happening, ‘Who is she?’ No one knows a thing about her.”

[‘She was like a novelty’: How alleged Russian agent Maria Butina gained access to elite conservative circles]

The NRA’s interactions with Butina and Torshin came as the group embarked on an unprecedented spending spree to help elect Donald Trump president.

NRA spending on the 2016 elections surged in every category, with its political action committee and political nonprofit arm together shelling out $54.4 million. The bulk of the money — $30 million — went to efforts supporting Trump. That is triple the amount the group devoted to electing Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race.

Two years later, the group’s standing appears to have shifted amid robust challenges from student activists, lawmakers and, most recently, an anti-
gun-violence campaign led by medical professionals.

The group’s spending on federal races in 2018 plummeted to roughly $9 million. In a rare move, some Republican candidates running in competitive, suburban House districts returned or did not deposit donations from the NRA.

Election-related spending reflects just one aspect of the NRA’s political influence, and the group remains an active lobbying and grass-roots force.

In 2017, the NRA’s political nonprofit arm, which is separate from its charitable arm and its PAC, spent more money than it took in for the second year in a row, according to tax filings and an independent financial audit obtained by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Contributions from donors to that group declined in 2017, tax records show. That entity also saw a decline in revenue from membership dues in 2017 compared with 2016, the audit shows.

On Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers have questioned whether the group’s spending spike in 2016 was tied to its Russian connections.

The NRA has denied those allegations, saying it followed campaign finance laws that make it illegal for foreign citizens to fund political efforts in the United States.

In a letter to Wyden earlier this year, NRA general counsel John C. Frazer wrote that the group received just about $2,500 in 2015 and 2016 from 25 people with Russian addresses who paid ∞standard membership dues and magazine subscription fees.

“Our review of records has found no foreign donations in connection with a United States election, either directly or through a conduit,” Frazer wrote.

Ann Ravel, a former member of the Federal Election Commission, said the Butina case underscores the risk of foreign actors seeking to influence U.S. elections through politically active groups whose finances are difficult to trace.

“They’ve got so many varied ways to give that money circuitously,” said Ravel, a Democrat. “You can’t know the derivation of the money, so it is extremely easy for foreign actors, foreign governments, foreign entities — like Butina and others — to give money.”

Butina cultivated ties with NRA leaders at a time when the conservative movement broadly was growing increasingly intrigued by Russia.

Social conservatives admired Russia’s hard-line stance on gay rights. Nationalist conservatives were attracted to Putin’s insistence that Russia’s issues were of little concern to the United States. Foreign policy conservatives saw Putin as a natural ally in the fight against Islamist terrorism.

[Guns and religion: How American conservatives grew closer to Putin’s Russia]

Torshin, who penned a 2010 Russian-language booklet that echoed NRA rhetoric to support the expansion of gun rights in his country, was introduced to Keene at the NRA’s annual meeting that year by a conservative Nashville lawyer named G. Kline Preston IV, who had done business in Russia for years.

Preston said this week that he had no regrets about making the connection and saw nothing wrong with Butina’s activities.

“I don’t know what their goals were, but if the goal was to improve U.S.-Russia relations, I don’t see what the problem is,” said Preston, who said he has not been interviewed by U.S. authorities about the relationship.

He said he always believed Butina was acting as a private citizen. But, he added, “the question becomes, okay, perhaps she was working at the behest of the Russian government. But if it’s a commercial arm of a foreign government that’s trying to expand ties with another country, is that wrong?”

In 2013, Butina and Torshin hosted a small group of gun enthusiasts led by Keene at the annual meeting of a gun rights group Butina founded in Moscow, records about the event show. The following year, Butina arrived in the United States for the first time to attend an NRA meeting in Indianapolis.

The NRA treated Butina and Torshin like important visiting dignitaries, according to the pair’s social media accounts. Butina was welcomed to a special luncheon for women who support the group, as a personal guest of former NRA president Sandra Froman. Butina gushed on Twitter that she was given the “rare privilege” of ringing the NRA’s “Liberty Bell” at an event for donors who had given $1 million or more to the group. Later, she was given a tour of the group’s highly secure headquarters in Fairfax County, according to Butina’s social media posts.

The access gave Butina opportunity to brush shoulders with high-profile Republican politicians who spoke at the NRA’s meetings, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and then-
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

When NRA leaders planned a visit to Moscow in December 2015, Butina and Torshin were eager to show the Americans the same kind of hospitality they were afforded, according to a person familiar with testimony Butina gave to the Senate Intelligence Committee in April.

She and Torshin also discussed “the importance of a political program” as part of the trip, according to Butina’s plea agreement.

[Maria Butina’s proud defense of her homeland drew notice at American University]

Included in the group was Keene, as well as Pete Brownell, the group’s vice president, who would take over as president in 2016, according to documents provided to Congress. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke attended as well, later disclosing in Wisconsin records that his travel had been funded by Butina’s group. Major NRA donors Arnold Goldschlager and Joseph Gregory were in attendance, as well.

The sometimes lavish December 2015 festivities included a visit to the famed Bolshoi Ballet, a Russian gun-manufacturing company and the private offices of the Russian Foreign Ministry for a meeting with the country’s top diplomat, Sergei Lavrov.

The group also met with Dmitry Rogozin, a deputy prime minister who had been hit with sanctions by the United States after Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.

Attendance at the meeting with Lavrov was limited to just seven people, documents provided to Congress show.

In a statement, Lavrov’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, told The Post earlier this year that the meeting came at the request of the Americans, as part of the ministry’s “traditional interaction” with large civic organizations.

“The declared topic of the meeting was aspects of the bilateral relationship and international questions,” she said, noting that Americans are often particularly focused on Middle East policy.

After the Americans left Russia, Butina reiterated to Torshin the goal of the trip: “We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later,” she wrote to him, according to court documents.

Butina and Torshin’s efforts to use the NRA as a springboard to broader influence in the Republican Party was evident in the run-up to the NRA’s 2016 annual meeting in Louisville, where Trump was scheduled to speak.

About 10 days before the event, an American Republican operative named Paul Erickson emailed a campaign aide to Trump. Erickson, who was romantically involved with Butina, wrote that his involvement with the NRA had placed him in a position “to slowly begin cultivating a back channel to President Putin’s Kremlin,” according to a copy of the email read to The Post.

“The Kremlin believes the only possibility of a true reset in this relationship would be a new Republican White House,” he continued. He suggested that during the NRA convention, Trump meet Torshin, whom he described as “President Putin’s emissary on this front,” as a “first contact.” He wrote that Trump could then visit the Kremlin before the election.

“Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump,” Erickson wrote.

Erickson has not been charged with any wrongdoing. His attorney, William Hurd, called him “a good American” who “has never done anything to hurt our country and never would.”

The Trump campaign declined Erickson’s offer. But Butina told the Senate Intelligence Committee that when she and Torshin joined Keene to celebrate his birthday, they discovered they had selected the same restaurant where Trump Jr. was dining with NRA members.

According to a person familiar with her testimony, the Russian agent spoke briefly with the candidate’s son, discussing hunting in Russia. Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee that their conversation was “brief, a few minutes.”

Asked what they discussed, Trump Jr. said simply of Torshin, “I believe he’s a gun enthusiast.”

Alice Crites, Spencer S. Hsu, Tom Jackman and Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics ... ee890865ec
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Dec 14, 2018 3:04 am

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Maria Butina Pleads Guilty In Foreign Agent Case, Admits Clandestine Influence Scheme

Philip EwingDecember 13, 201812:13 PM ET

Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina pleaded guilty to serving as an unregistered foreign agent. She had sought to build back-channel links to the Russian government with the Trump campaign.

AP
Updated at 3:22 p.m. ET

A Russian woman who schemed to build back-channel ties between the Russian government and the Trump campaign pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday to conspiring to act as a clandestine foreign agent.

Maria Butina also sought to connect Moscow unofficially with other parts of the conservative establishment, including the National Rifle Association and the National Prayer Breakfast.

She was arrested over the summer after having been monitored by the FBI, including in meetings in Washington, D.C., with Russian officials. Butina also had materials that suggested she was in contact with Russia's domestic intelligence service, the FSB, prosecutors said.

Butina appeared in court Thursday wearing a green jail uniform, her red hair in a long braid running down her back. She answered the judge's questions in a clear voice and without a Russian language interpreter.

District Judge Tanya Chutkan scheduled a status conference for Feb. 12 to assess the cooperation that Butina has given the government.

"The diplomacy project"

Butina worked in concert with her boyfriend, GOP fundraiser Paul Erickson, and a Russian handler, Alexander Torshin, who also cultivated his own relationships with important conservatives in the United States.

A lawyer for Erickson issued a statement after the hearing on Thursday.

"Paul Erickson is a good American," it said. "He has done nothing to harm our country and never would."

Torshin was a Russian government official who is reportedly retiring from his latest role as a deputy governor of the central bank.

Butina laid out her plans in a document called "Description of the Diplomacy Project," according to court documents; she wrote that she believed Russia could not reinvigorate ties with the United States through official institutions.

Instead, she argued, Moscow should expand its "unofficial channels of communication," of which she could be one.

The course she chose was via gun rights, building off Butina's history of shooting and gun ownership inside of Russia. So Butina, Erickson and Torshin sought to strengthen their relationships with the politically powerful NRA.

Butina and Torshin moved in gun rights circles in the United States and, according to court documents, she and other Russians also arranged to host NRA members in Moscow in late 2015.

"During the trip, the gun rights organization members met with high-level Russian government officials as arranged by" Torshin, according to court documents in the Butina case.

After the visit, Butina wrote to Torshin that "we should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later," prosecutors wrote in the court papers.

It isn't clear whether "pressure" actually might have been applied to the NRA, by whom or to what end, but its role in Russia's "active measures" has been the focus of scrutiny by members of Congress.


The back channel

Butina's work with her compatriots, meanwhile, continued.

Erickson, for example, sent an email to the office of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, working as a Trump campaign booster, offering to use his NRA connections to establish a back channel between the Trumps and the Russian government.

He wrote this:

"I'm now writing to you and Sen. Sessions in your roles as Trump foreign policy experts / advisors. [...] Happenstance and the (sometimes) international reach of the NRA placed me in a position a couple of years ago to slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin's Kremlin. Russia is quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S. that isn't forthcoming under the current administration. And for reasons that we can discuss in person or on the phone, the Kremlin believes that the only possibility of a true re-set in this relationship would be with a new Republican White House."

House intelligence committee Democrats quoted that message in their response to the GOP majority's report that said the contacts between people in the Trump camp and Russians in 2016 were "ill-advised" but not evidence of conspiracy.

President Trump himself told Reuters on Tuesday that contacts between his aides and Russians in 2016 were "peanut stuff." Those contacts also, so far as the public evidence shows, did not yield a high-level meeting.

Although Torshin later met Donald Trump Jr. at an event during an NRA convention, Butina and her colleagues were not able to broker a conference between then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The work ran through Election Day 2016 and into the following year, when Torshin instructed Butina about which Russian attendees to arrange to become part of a delegation to the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 2, 2017.

Later, Erickson said in an email message on which Butina was cc'd:

"Reaction to the delegation's presence in America will be relayed DIRECTLY [emphasis in original] to the Russian President and Foreign Minister."

Butina is likely to face only up to six months in prison when she is sentenced in 2019. But prosecutors Erik Kenerson and Thomas Saunders left open the possibility they would write a letter seeking leniency for Butina depending on the extent of her cooperation.

Butina told the judge that she understands she is likely to be deported back to Russia after serving any prison sentence.
https://www.npr.org/2018/12/13/67640608 ... nce-scheme
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Dec 14, 2018 3:07 am

Ron Wyden

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Maria Butina has pleaded guilty to being part of a conspiracy to infiltrate and manipulate American democracy. Butina admitted today she was a Russian agent who used the NRA. Americans need to know: Who at the NRA knew Butina’s agenda, and what did they get in return?
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Former FBI special agent explains the one big reason Marina Butina’s conservative contacts should be very worried


Image via screengrab (Fox News)
Russian spy Maria Butina, who has been in jail since July, entered a guilty plea on Thursday after federal prosecutors say the 30-year-old Butina infiltrated the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Republican Party on behalf of the Russian government, reporting to Russian politician Alexander Torshin (a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin). And, according to attorney and former FBI Special Agent Asha Rangappa, any Republicans Butina was in contact with should be concerned.

During a December 13 appearance on CNN, Rangappa noted that Butina lacks diplomatic immunity.

“Most spies are here under diplomatic cover, precisely so that if they get caught, they have diplomatic immunity,” Rangappa explained. “Maria Butina was here without diplomatic cover. So now, she is caught in the cross hairs of criminal prosecution.”

Rangappa continued, “If the government has evidence that she was acting at the direction and control of Russia, that makes her an agent of a foreign power—which means that she would have been a legitimate target for FISA surveillance. And anyone who was talking to her during the time, if they were surveilling her, would be captured on that as well….There could be many other people who should be concerned at this point.”

One of the Republicans Butina has stayed in touch with is her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, who has been visiting her in jail. Erickson is a veteran GOP strategist who worked on various presidential campaigns—including Patrick Buchanan’s unsuccessful primary challenge to President George H.W. Bush in 1992 and Mitt Romney’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

The FBI has alleged that Butina used Erickson’s connections to infiltrate the NRA and the GOP, and Erickson recently received a letter from federal law enforcement telling him that he could be charged with acting as a foreign agent.

The CNN segment with Rangappa also included CNN legal analyst Jack Quinn
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Dec 14, 2018 3:12 am

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How South Dakota's Paul Erickson is tied to Maria Butina's guilty plea

Jonathan EllisUpdated 1:42 p.m. CT Dec. 13, 2018
Maria Butina, who was indicted on a charge of conspiracy to influence American politics, pleaded guilty and is working with prosecutors. USA TODAY

A Russian woman who pled guilty Thursday to conspiracy to act as a foreign agent conspired with a longtime South Dakota political operative to influence U.S. political figures on behalf of Russia, court documents say.

Maria Butina and a person identified as “Person 1” “agreed and conspired” with a high-level Russian official for Butina to act in the United States on behalf of the Russian government, according to the statement of offense in Butina’s guilty plea. Butina did not register with the U.S. Attorney General’s office as a foreign agent.

“Person 1” has been identified as Paul Erickson, a 57-year-old South Dakota native who lives in both Sioux Falls and the Washington, D.C. area. Butina was indicted earlier this year by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

In her guilty plea, Butina admitted that she drafted a proposal called “Description of the Diplomacy Project” in March 2015 in which she suggested using unofficial channels to influence U.S. foreign policy to Russia.

“The ‘Description of the Diplomacy Project’ was drafted by Butina with U.S. Person 1’s assistance,” the guilty plea says. “U.S. Person 1 assisted with the proposal by providing Butina with information about prominent U.S. political figures and a forecast of the upcoming presidential election.”

With the financial backing of a Russian billionaire, Butina traveled to the United States to meet with Republican Party and National Rifle Association officials. She also invited NRA members to Moscow in 2015, where they met with “high-level government officials.”

“Before they arrived,” the guilty plea says, “U.S. Person 1 provided Butina with background information on the invitees, including his assessment on their degree of political influence in the United States.”

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Gun rights activist Maria Butina accused of being a Russian agent

More: Maria Butina pleads guilty to conspiracy as agent of Russia in USA

Erickson also helped Butina establish “back channel” relations between visiting Russian officials and U.S. officials during the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast. Erickson emailed an unidentified person and Butina that reaction to the Russian delegation’s presence would be “relayed DIRECTLY” to the Russian president and foreign minister.

Previous court documents described Butina, 30, and Erickson as a couple.

Erickson has been active in both local and national Republican Party politics. He’s been a GOP delegate from South Dakota to at least two national conventions, and in 1992 he helped manage Pat Buchanan’s presidential challenge to George H.W. Bush. Although unsuccessful, the primary showed that Bush was vulnerable, and he ended up losing re-election.

https://www.argusleader.com/story/news/ ... 302199002/


Prosecutors: Butina gained access to U.S. officials through Erickson's 'extensive network'

Dana Ferguson and Jonathan Ellis, Sioux Falls Argus Leader
A woman who has been charged as a Russian agent predicted more than a year and a half before the 2016 election that political control of the U.S. government would change.

Maria Butina, 29, hatched a plan with the help of a South Dakota man who has been identified as Paul Erickson to influence a major political party and gun rights organization and to create a back channel between U.S. officials and the Kremlin, according to court documents.

An arrest affidavit prepared by the FBI identifies the political party as "Political Party 1" and the gun organization as "Gun Rights Organization" and does not specifically identify them. However, the two groups are closely linked, according to the affidavit, and the gun rights organization is a sponsor of the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual political event for conservative Republicans.

A 2006 photo of Paul Erickson
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A 2006 photo of Paul Erickson (Photo: Argus Leader archives)
Erickson, 56, is a longtime Republican operative, and both he and Butina were linked to the National Rifle Association in speeches and social media posts.

The arrest affidavit shows that the person listed as "U.S. Person 1," who has been identified by multiple media outlets as Erickson, opened a door for Butina to have access to political and business leaders ahead of the 2016 election and knew about Butina's ties to Russian officials from the start.

The court documents foreshadow and hint at efforts by Russian officials to influence the 2016 election, an effort that sparked federal investigations and denunciations by U.S. politicians about Russian meddling.

'Person 1' had 'best' list of political contacts

The affidavit includes emails between Butina and "U.S. Person 1" that establish his role in helping her make her way into U.S. political circles.

In an email from March 2015, Maria Butina explained her plan to make inroads in U.S. politics ahead of the 2016 election, when a political party with close ties to a major gun rights organization would take over the government, she said.

According to the federal application for criminal complaint filed Saturday, Butina on March 24, 2015, emailed "U.S. Person 1" a project proposal with the subject line “The Second Pozner.”

In a reply email later that month, "Person 1" indicated that he could help her have off-the-record meetings with members of the media and with political and business leaders.

“[T] here is NO limit as to how many American companies that you can meet — at the highest levels — if you are able to represent that you are a potential line of communication into future Russian Federation governments,” U.S. Person 1 wrote.

The email went on to list potential media, business and political contacts, according to court documents.

In another email that month, U.S. Person 1 touted the contact list he sent Butina.

“If you were to sit down with your special friends and make a list of ALL the most important contacts you could find in America for a time when the political situation between the U.S. and Russia will change, you could NOT do better than the list that I just emailed you," Person 1 wrote. "NO one — certainly not the 'official' Russian Federation public relations representative in New York — could build you a better list. And for a variety of current political reasons, the current Russian ambassadors to the United States and United Nations do not even try."

All she needed to make the connections with the people listed was more money from her “friends,” Person 1 wrote.

“I and your friends in America can’t make it any easier for you than that,” Person 1 wrote.

Next Slide
13 Photos

Gun rights activist Maria Butina accused of being a Russian agent

How the National Prayer Breakfast facilitated a line to the Kremlin

In 2015, a person listed as "Russian Official" in the affidavit asked Butina to write up a summary of the political events she'd attended and people she'd met in the United States.

Butina, in her summary, said she'd spoken with a political candidate on the night of a political announcement and met with that candidate at the 2015 NRA member meeting. She also helped the official plan to attend the National Prayer Breakfast and offered the person biographies of U.S. politicians and NRA executives set to attend the event.

In the months that followed, Butina and the Russian official attended the 2016 National Prayer Breakfast. And in emails with an associate organizer of the 2017 breakfast, Butina thanked the person for taking meetings with her and the Russian official in Moscow.

She also said in the email that she'd suggested to President Vladimir Putin that he attend the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast and "Pres. Putin did not say 'no'!"

In communications with Person 1 and another unnamed individual, Butina organized Russian-American "friendship and dialogue dinners" in D.C. ahead of the election, the affidavit says.

Maria Butina attending a meeting of expert group at
Maria Butina attending a meeting of expert group at the Russian Government in Moscow, Russia. (Photo: PRESS SERVICE OF CIVIC CHAMBER OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION VIA EPA-EFE)

On October 4, 2016, 'Person 1' emailed an acquaintance about a back channel to Russia he was working to establish.

"Unrelated to specific presidential campaigns, I've been involved in setting up a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key 'Political Party 1' leaders through, of all conduits, the [GUN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION].”

The next day, Butina exchanged direct messages on Twitter with the Russian official.

"Time will tell. We made our bet," Butina wrote. "I am following our game."

She went on to tell the Russian official that she could not manage without the official's help.

"No! This is a mistake," the Russian official replied. "Your political star has risen in the sky. Now it is important to rise to the zenith and not burn out (fall) prematurely."

The official later said, "This is hard to teach. Patience and cold blood + faith in yourself. And everything else will definitely turn out."

'Back channel of communication' continued after 2016 election

Following the 2016 election, Butina kept in contact with Person 1 and let him know about Russian delegates set to attend the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast.

“They are coming to establish a back channel of communication,” she wrote in a November 30, 2016 email.

Ahead of the prayer breakfast, Person 1 helped set up hotel rooms in Washington, D.C. for the Russian delegates, according to per emails.

By then, Butina had established herself in the United States using a student visa. Court documents say she had a close relationship with a businessman in the Russian oligarchy "with deep ties to the Russian Presidential Administration." The businessman, worth more than $1.2 billion, was funding Butina's activities, including her first trip to the United States in 2014.

While attending classes at American University in Washington, Person 1 routinely helped her with assignments by editing papers and answering exam questions. Still, she complained about living with the 56-year-old in papers obtained by the FBI.

In a motion for pretrial detention filed Wednesday, federal prosecutors said Butina’s closest connection was to Person 1, but “she appears to treat that relationship as simply a necessary aspect of her activities.”

While prosecutors said Butina lived with Person 1, she seemed not to enjoy it and offered to have sex with another person in exchange for a position in a special interest group.

Butina's relationship with 'Person 1' made her a flight risk

Days before she was arrested, Butina and U.S Person 1 inquired about a U-Haul truck in Washington and bought moving boxes. They then sent an international wire transfer of $3,500 to a Russian account.

U.S. Person 1 “ was instrumental in aiding her covert influence operation, despite knowing its connections to the Russian Official,” prosecutors wrote.

Federal officials asked that she be detained rather than released before trial because of her ties to the wealthy Russian businessman and because her relationship with Person 1 was "duplicitous," making her a flight risk.

"The defendant is a foreign agent who loyally acted on behalf of the Russian government," prosecutors argued. "Based on the nature of the charges and the weight of the proffered evidence against the defendant, no condition or combination will reasonably assure the appearance of the defendant at trial."

Meanwhile, court documents also indicate an active investigation by the U.S. attorney's office in South Dakota. Ace Crawford, a spokeswoman, deferred questions to a Washington office.

Erickson did not answer the intercom at his Sioux Falls apartment Wednesday. A message on his cell phone was not returned.
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Dec 14, 2018 10:12 am

Documents Reveal How Russian Official Courted Conservatives In U.S. Since 2009

Tim MakMay 11, 20185:00 AM ET

Russian official Alexander Torshin, appearing in Moscow in 2016, was sanctioned by the U.S. government in April, suspending years of travel back to 2009 during which he cultivated ties with American conservatives.

Alexander Shalgin/Alexander Shalgin/TASS
Updated at 10:55 a.m.

Kremlin-linked Russian politician Alexander Torshin traveled frequently between Moscow and various destinations in the United States to build relationships with figures on the American right starting as early as 2009, beyond his previously known contacts with the National Rifle Association.

Documents newly obtained by NPR show how he traveled throughout the United States to cultivate ties in ways well beyond his formal role as a member of the Russian legislature and later as a top official at the Russian central bank. These are steps a former top CIA official believes Torshin took in order to advance Moscow's long-term objectives in the United States, in part by establishing common political interests with American conservatives.

"Putin and probably the Russian intelligence services saw [Torshin's connections] as something that they could leverage in the United States," said Steve Hall, a retired CIA chief of Russian operations. "They reach to reach out to guy like Torshin and say, 'Hey, can you make contact with the NRA and some other conservatives... so that we can have connectivity from Moscow into those conservative parts of American politics should we need them?' And that's basically just wiring the United States for sound, if you will, in preparation for whatever they might need down the road."

Torshin's trips took him to Alaska, where he requested a visit with former Gov. Sarah Palin; to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.; to Nashville, where he was an election observer for the 2012 presidential race; and to every NRA convention, in various American cities, between 2012 and 2016.

But the jig is up. Last month, Torshin was designated for sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department.

"We can conclude that the administration thought he was acting to advance Putin's malign agenda, but what precisely [he did] they did not make clear," said Daniel Fried, a former State Department coordinator for sanctions policy who helped craft the sanctions authorities that ultimately were employed against Torshin.

Arriving At Sarah Palin's Doorstep
Image
Torshin's outreach to the United States started well before Russia's now-public campaign of electoral interference during the 2016 elections. And it appears to be a cultivated effort to reach out to conservatives, even in its earliest stages.

"I really do think the Russians are looking at being able to reach out to the right... to say, 'Hey, you know Russians actually share a lot of the same values,'" said Hall, whose 30-year career in the CIA concluded in 2015.

Hall said their message was: "You know, we don't like LGBT causes anymore than you conservatives on the right in the United States do, we are interested in engaging the NRA... the church plays an important role in Russia just as it should in the United States."

Torshin's earliest known visit to the United States was in 2009, when he requested a meeting with former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin — a request that has never before been reported.

An email from the former Alaska governor's archives, released due to a public records request from activist Andree McLeod and posted online en masse by then-Alaska Dispatch News reporter Richard Mauer, shows how Torshin made the approach through the Russian ambassador to the U.S., who was then Amb. Sergey Kislyak.

An aide wrote to Palin in May of 2009: "You had received a request to call the Russian Ambassador regarding a proposed visit by Mr. Alexander Torshin... Torshin will be visiting Alaska on June 6, 2009 and we have asked the Lt. Governor to meet with him." Neither the Russian embassy nor Palin responded to a request for comment.

2009 request to then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (p. 1)
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The Lieutenant Governor at the time was Sean Parnell, who would go on later to become the governor of Alaska. Parnell told NPR he doesn't recall meeting with Mr. Torshin, nor did the name ring a bell — but he said it wouldn't be odd for him to take such a meeting.

"It wouldn't be unusual for Alaska's Lt. Governor to take a meeting with a visiting foreign dignitary, especially if the Governor's Office had been approached first by the visitor/visiting delegation to schedule a meeting and the governor had declined," Parnell said in an email.

Torshin's travels in the United States continued with a strange trip to Tennessee. Public records requests made by NPR shed light on how Torshin managed to become an election observer in Nashville during the 2012 presidential elections.

"The interesting thing about election monitoring is it does get foreign officials out and about in places that they perhaps might not usually go," said Hall, the former CIA chief of Russian operations. "It wouldn't be uncommon for either somebody like Mr. Torshin, or a diplomat, or a Russian intelligence officer to appear in places like Washington or New York... But a place like Nashville, or other locations in the United States, provide sort of an insight about what's really going on in the heartland."

A memo left for Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett on Oct. 11, 2012, shows that local lawyer Kline Preston, known for his support of Putin, made the application for election observer status on behalf of Torshin.

"Russian Senator Alexander Torshin would like to observe our Presidential election. Polling stations," the 2012 message reads.
Image
2012 phone message for Tenn. Secretary of State (p. 2)
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An email from Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins shows that Torshin requested visits to the Davidson County Election Commission and the Williamson County Election Commission. And a sign-in sheet showed that he visited the polling station at Grassland Middle School in Williamson County, Tenn.
Image
2012 Tennessee Poll Watcher Sign In (p. 1)
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According to these documents, Torshin was accompanied by a Russian diplomat named Igor Matveev. Matveev had postings in Syria and the United States, and is fluent in Arabic and English. Hall said that Matveev, who did not respond to a request for comment from NPR, fit the profile of a professional diplomat rather than an intelligence operative due to his background, "but basically the Russian intelligence services can and do oftentimes co-opt standard diplomats to do their bidding for them."
Image
Email from 2012 Tennessee Coordinator of Elections (p. 3)
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Torshin made no secret of his visit to Tennessee, and posted it on Twitter, like he has about many of his visits to America. He even posted a photo of himself in line at a Nashville-area polling place.


Translation: "Standing in line to the voting station. Like an average American. 6.45 am."

Russia has a long history of politicizing the use of election monitors — for example using Western, pro-Putin observers to vouch for the validity of its contested elections.

Preston, who arranged for Torshin's 2012 election observation status in his hometown of Nashville, recently went to Crimea. In a trip reported by a Russian state operated news agency, Preston declared that the election process in Crimea, which Russian annexed in 2014, were open, honest and trustworthy. He did not respond to a list of questions provided by NPR.

There were very few international doubts about the fairness of America's 2012 presidential elections, which makes Torshin's visit to Nashville for this ostensible purpose all the more perplexing.

And while there have been election monitors in the United States in the past, it usually involves an international organization like the OSCE, which during the 2012 elections sent 44 observers throughout the U.S. to monitor the elections.

"There are of course no real elections in Russia that Vladimir Putin doesn't approve of and essentially run himself," Hall said. "So the idea that any Russian entity would go to be an election monitor anywhere in the world is of course on its face ridiculous. It's sort of like sending an alcoholic to the distillery to make sure that everything is going okay."

More Frequent Visits Leading Up To 2016 Campaign

From 2012 to 2016, Torshin began making regular visits to the United States that suggested Russians were trying to find common cause on issues like religion and guns. Torshin attended every National Rifle Association convention during this time and met high-ranking NRA officials.

These trips took him all across the American heartland, with stops in St. Louis, Houston, Indianapolis, Nashville and Louisville. Last month, the NRA acknowledged Torshin was a life member of the NRA and has been since 2012, but insisted he only ever paid his membership dues to the organization. The gun rights group said it had received $2,500 from about 23 Russia-linked contributors since 2015.

"Based on Mr. Torshin's listing as a specially designated national as of April 6, we are currently reviewing our responsibilities with respect to him," NRA general counsel John Frazer wrote to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., last month. The NRA has denied wrongdoing and says that it does not accept funds from foreign persons "in connection with United States elections."

Over a similar time period, Torshin also reportedly made repeated trips to Washington, D.C., to attend the National Prayer Breakfast — Yahoo reported that he even had a meeting scheduled with newly-inaugurated President Donald Trump during the breakfast in 2017, but that the president pulled out at the last minute when an aide figured out who Torshin was. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Further, Torshin facilitated reciprocal trips during these years in which he brought Americans to Russia. In 2013 and 2015, he hosted gun rights advocates in Russia, including former NRA president David Keene, whom he developed a close relationship with.

His visits to America sometimes puzzled those who saw him there, as he appeared to have no serious expertise in the field he was purportedly representing. A speech Torshin gave in Washington, D.C. in March 2015, as deputy governor of the Bank of Russia, left some in the audience perplexed.

"For anyone at the lunch who's remotely familiar with finance or the world of central banking, Torshin demonstrated no significant expertise in either realm," said a former U.S. official who was at the event. "Torshin's performance was all the more surprising, given the big questions circulating at that time about the fate of the Russian economy, sanctions, Western diplomatic isolation, and the like."

In fact, for those observing Torshin, what he was best known for was not central banking, but allegations of money laundering. In 2013 Spanish authorities alleged that Torshin helped a Russian mob syndicate in Moscow launder money through banks and properties in Spain, according to a report by Bloomberg News.

"It is extraordinary and outrageous that a man caught in international money laundering was appointed... to become deputy chair of the Russian Central Bank," said Anders Aslund, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center.

Torshin's travels to the United States continued through to perhaps his most infamous trip: The NRA convention in 2016, where he attempted to get a meeting with then-candidate Trump.

According to a report written by Democrats on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Torshin used a Republican strategist named Paul Erickson as an intermediary to set up a meeting with Trump himself.

"Happenstance and the (sometimes) international reach of the NRA placed me in a position a couple of years ago to slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin's Kremlin," Erickson wrote to Rick Dearborn, a senior campaign official and a longtime advisor to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

That meeting never occurred — though Torshin did meet Donald Trump, Jr., at an event during the convention. Trump Jr. claims they did not discuss the election.

Sanctions Mean The Jig Is Up

On April 6, the U.S. Treasury Department specifically designated Torshin as a target of U.S. sanctions — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the agency targeted "those who benefit from the Putin regime and play a key role in advancing Russia's malign activities."

The sanctions mean that any assets Torshin has in the United States could be seized, and the travel to America that punctuated his life for years will end.

"He's, for lack of a better term, become radioactive, certainly to the United States, but really the global financial institutions, that are unlikely to be willing to do any business with him for fear of secondary sanctions from the U.S. Treasury Department," said Boris Zilberman, who works on the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance.

He also reportedly faces scrutiny from congressional investigators probing the 2016 election and the FBI. McClatchy has reported that the FBI is investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign. The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.

Hall said it also probably reflected intelligence gathered on Torshin's intentions over years of travel to the United States.

"The fact that Torshin has now been personally sanctioned... is an indication that the administration... has seen, probably, intelligence reporting on Torshin and his background, and perhaps what the plans and intentions of the Russian government vis-a-vis Mr. Torshin," Hall told NPR. "It shows that our system... is doing its job in informing policymakers about the dangers of somebody like Torshin."

For years, Torshin built relationships with governors, NRA bigwigs and conservative activists — making a point of traveling to the United States repeatedly to expand those ties. But with Torshin's designation as a target of U.S. sanctions last month, that door has been closed.

Torshin did not respond to a list of questions provided by NPR.

WPLN's Chas Sisk and NPR's Audrey McNamara contributed to this report.
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Dec 14, 2018 10:14 am

MinM » Sun Apr 02, 2017 11:53 am wrote:Image
Flynn dismissal linked to meeting with Cambridge graduate "Crazy Miss Cokehead"
http://dailym.ai/2ol6A98 via @MailOnline

Doesn't really belong in this thread (or does it?)
but I wanted to give this thread a bump...

One other off-topic:
The Spanish connection with Trump’s Russia scandal
Image

Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia and investigated in Spain for money laundering, has infiltrated the US president’s circle

On February 1, Alexander Torshin, 63, a Russian politician and banker who is close to Vladimir Putin and whom the Spanish anti-corruption prosecutor and the Civil Guard define in their reports as a godfather from a notorious Russian mafia organization, had in his diary for the next day an appointment to meet in Washington with the world’s most powerful man: Donald Trump. The encounter was due to take place before an official and well-attended breakfast meeting, which Torshin attended as the head of a Russian delegation. The meeting was canceled that very night, according to sources from the White House, given the wave of criticism in the US press related to the influence of determined Russian circles in President Trump’s power teams. But the information reveals the heights to which this person, who has been investigated by the Spanish authorities, had reached in his rise to the upper echelons of the American leader’s circle.

Torshin, who is currently the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia, has met with one of the children of the US president, has close links with the organization that provided the most money for Trump’s election campaign, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and attended the aforementioned breakfast that Donald Trump presided over in the White House in February.

The high-ranking official from the Central Bank of Russia has long been on the radar of the Spanish public prosecutor and the Civil Guard. He was on the brink of being arrested in Palma de Mallorca in the summer of 2013 during a meeting with a mafioso – who has just been sentenced in Spain – but he didn’t turn up to the meeting. A unit consisting of 12 officers was awaiting him at the airport and in a hotel, where he was expected to arrive accompanied by other people being investigated in a money-laundering ring. The Russian Federation’s Prosecutor General, which was aware that Torshin was being investigated, requested information about the case on at least two occasions, but received no response from the Spanish authorities given that the investigation was sealed.

His case constitutes another element to lay the foundation for the FBI investigation currently being conducted into the influence of the Russian government in the outcome of the US presidential elections last year. The political offensive by Torshin appears to form part of a strategy by the Kremlin aimed at influencing the internal policies of the United States. One of the most spectacular results of this apparent strategy was the mass hack of the internal communications of the campaign for Hillary Clinton, Trump’s rival, which was made public by WikiLeaks, according to the US intelligence services. Over the last year a number of trusted allies of Trump have been forced to resign given their shady contacts with Russia. The most recent was his national security advisor, Michael Flynn, on February 13.

The difference in the case of Torshin is that for the first time, a Russian mafia boss – at least one identified as such by the Spanish anti-corruption prosecutor – is within the circle of support to the new president of the United States.

As well as being a powerful banker, a leader of President Putin’s political party (United Russia) and his trusted ally, and a senator between 2001 and 2015 (as well as being chairman of the upper house of the Russian parliament between May 19 and September 21, 2011), he is, according to the investigation carried out by the Spanish security forces, a boss of a notorious criminal organization known as Taganskaya.

The relationship between Torshin and Alexander Romanov, a Russian mafioso established in Palma de Mallorca, is the key. An investigation carried out between 2012 and 2013 by a Palma court and the anti-corruption prosecutors José Grinda and Juan Carrau into Romanov concluded that Torshin was the boss of a Taganskaya criminal operation to launder money by buying up hotels in Mallorca. A total of 33 telephone conversations between Torshin and Romanov, to which EL PAÍS has had access, reveal that their relationship is not “purely social,” as Torshin claims, but rather based on business.

An internal document from the Civil Guard Information Service, dated July 2013, explains Torshin’s central role in the criminal plot. “As a consequence of the phone tapping carried out in the aforementioned inquiries it has been ratified that, above Romanov, on a higher hierarchical level, is Alexander Torshin. In the numerous phone conversations and with different contact persons, Alexander Romanov himself recognized his subordination before someone who he describes as ‘the Godfather’ or ‘the boss’ ... which in itself is telling when it comes to situating their relationship.”

The Spanish police followed Torshin, but he managed to slip away: three judicial and police sources from the investigation have confirmed that Torshin decided not to attend Romanov’s birthday party on August 21, 2013 as planned, because, they believe, he was warned by the Russian prosecutor that if he stepped onto Spanish soil he would be arrested. “The liaison from the Russian Interior Ministry in Madrid had written a report about the Taganskaya and we believe that in Russia they put the screws on him. We suspect that it was him who warned that Torshin was being investigated in Spain and that was why he didn’t come,” a judicial source explains. “The case had not been completed and we could not give out that information,” explains another judicial source. “Russia also discovered that we were investigating Torshin because Romanov’s lawyers told the Russian prosecutor as much in writing and they complained saying that they were being persecuted in Spain.”

The confidential report, which is not to be found in the legal case, points to the connection between the Russian state and the Russian mafia. “The criminal organizations from the countries of the East have as their main characteristics the penetration of different state powers, such as politics, which is represented in this case by the figure of the First Vicechairman of the Federation Council of Russia of the Federal Assembly of Russia of the Russian Federation, Alexander Porfirievich Torshin.” The five-page document, entitled Alexander Porfirievich Torshin in Operation Dirieba, was produced so that the Anti-Corruption Public Prosecutor could decide whether or not to charge Torshin with the laundering of more than €14 million in the purchase of a hotel in Mallorca, and concludes that both the money and the hotel belonged to the Russian ex-politician. It even claims that the hotel forms part of the inheritance that Torshin wants to leave to his two daughters.

Why was Torshin not prosecuted? “It made no sense to charge Torshin because Russia does not process letters rogatory [requests for legal assistance from abroad] that we file with that country and there would have been no practical purpose: it would have delayed the investigation, it would have slowed it down,” explains a clearly irritated judicial source. “Calling on Russia to arrest him would have been useless because Russia does not cooperate. This summer there will be a trial in Spain in the Troika case – against the Russian mafia in Spain. There are a number of fugitives in Russia and they won’t hand them over to us. We don’t have the support of the Russian authorities.”

The formidable and powerful Taganskaya organization of which Torshin is allegedly part is recognized by the US and the EU information and intelligence services (Europol, the FBI…), according to the dossier about Torshin from the Spanish Civil Guard. Its activities include the appropriation of companies using violent or fraudulent methods, bank scams, extortion and the carrying out of contract killings.

The point of entry for Torshin to the upper echelons of US politics was the National Rifle Association (NRA), which is perhaps the most powerful lobby in the United States. The NRA invested more than $21 million in Trump’s election campaign, more than any other organization. According to the group’s official magazine, the NRA proclaimed itself to be “the key” to the Trump victory.

Torshin has managed to become a “life member” of the NRA. He is also linked to the Russian group The Right to Bear Arms, which was created in 2012 and copies the objectives of the NRA. It is presided over by Maria Butina, a young admirer of Putin who has had a meteoric career by Torshin’s side, and who now resides in Washington. Butina celebrated her birthday with a costume party in the US capital on November 12 last year, four days after the presidential elections. According to the press in Washington, the main reason for the celebration was the election victory of Donald Trump. Among the guests were a number of the new president’s campaign consultants.

The first direct contact between Torshin, an “honorary member” of the Russian pro-arms group, and the NRA took place in May 2013. Torshin traveled to the annual NRA convention in Houston. He himself wrote about this in an article published eight months later in the Washington Times, a pro-Trump daily, whose Opinion section editor, David Keene, was president of the NRA and is a friend of Torshin.

At that time, Torshin was a Russian senator. But his political career was on the rise. In January 2015 he was named deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia. And one of his first measures was to designate Butina “personal executive assistant.” Some months later, on December 11, 2015, the pro-arms group presided over by Butina invited a delegation from the NRA, nearly all Trump acolytes, to an event in Moscow. Torshin gave the welcome speech.

In May 2016, in the midst of the US electoral campaign, Torshin traveled once more to the NRA convention, which was celebrated this time in Louisville, Kentucky. Trump, who was by that point the de facto Republican candidate to the presidency, attended the annual event run by his main benefactors. There Torshin had fleeting contact with the future president, who only went so far as to shake his hand. With his son, Donald Trump Jr., things went further: he sat by his side during a private dinner in a restaurant in Kentucky.

The rise of Torshin in the upper circles of the United States continued to progress. When Trump, a self-declared admirer of Putin, reached the presidency, Torshin was invited to an official breakfast at the White House scheduled for February 2, along with other guests. The event was later to be remembered thanks to Trump’s jibes aimed at Arnold Schwarzenegger. Torshin traveled there as the head of a Russian delegation. Together with the invitation, Torshin received a proposal for a meeting with the president just before the breakfast, according to Yahoo News, which contributed to this article. This meeting was suddenly cancelled. The reason, according to sources from the White House, were the rumors and suspicions about which all of Washington is now talking: the links between Trump’s political team and Moscow. The White House gave no official explanation for the cancellation. Maria Butina, who attended gala dinners to celebrate Trump’s inauguration, confirmed to Yahoo News in an email that the notification of the cancellation of the meeting between her boss and the president arrived the night before the breakfast.

During that visit to Washington, Torshin did have dinner with two Republican congressmen. The date was February 1 in a French restaurant, according to an article published in Time magazine two weeks ago, and at which Maria Butina and a close friend of Trump White House strategist Stephen Bannon were also present.

The apparent mission by Torshin to infiltrate the highest spheres of power worked. And the Russian connection continues to create intrigue in Washington. As the veteran columnist Thomas Friedman wrote last month in the New York Times: “[...] the biggest national security question staring us in the face today: What is going on between Donald Trump and the Russians?” After the investigations by the Spanish judicial authorities and the police into the banker, politician and mafia godfather Alexander Torshin there are more unanswered questions today, and more scandals in Washington to be investigated.

http://elpais.com/elpais/2017/03/31/ine ... 09827.html

Aside from the NRA, other "strange" organizations supported financially by the Russian Putin and his Mafia:

- Give Alaska back to Russia
- California secession (Calexit) Movement
- Taliban
- Assad
- Eastern Ukrainian rebels
- Marine Le Pen (right wing French Presidential Candidate
- Right Wing German Populists
- Hackers of progressive group

:backtotopic:
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Dec 14, 2018 10:16 am

White House pulled out of meet and greet with ‘conservatives’ favorite Russian’ over suspected mob ties


Michael Isikoff
Chief Investigative Correspondent
Yahoo NewsApril 2, 2017

The White House abruptly canceled a scheduled meeting in February between President Trump and a high-level Russian central banker after a national security aide discovered the official had been named by Spanish police as a suspected “godfather” of an organized crime and money-laundering ring, according to an administration official and four other sources familiar with the event.

The event had been planned as a meet and greet with President Trump and Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Bank of Russia and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, in a waiting room at the Washington Hilton before the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 2. Torshin, a top official in his country’s central bank, headed a Russian delegation to the annual event and was among a small number of guests who had been invited by Prayer Breakfast leaders to meet with Trump before it began.

But while reviewing the list of guests, a White House national security aide responsible for European affairs noticed Torshin’s name and flagged him as a figure who had “baggage,” a reference to his suspected ties to organized crime, an administration official told Yahoo News. Around the same time, a former campaign adviser alerted the White House that the meeting could exacerbate the political controversy over contacts between Trump associates and the Kremlin, another source familiar with the matter said.

The sources were unable to say who inside the White House canceled the scheduled meeting, or precisely when the decision was made. The administration official who spoke to Yahoo News said that White House officials were already planning to scrap the meeting when the National Security Council staffer raised concerns about it. But it was not until the night before the Prayer Breakfast that Torshin was informed, without explanation, that his meeting with the president had been scrapped.

“Late the night before, we were told that all meet and greets were off,” said Maria Butina, a special assistant to Torshin, in an email to Yahoo News, confirming that Torshin had expected to meet Trump at the event. “There were no specific questions or statements that Mr. Torshin had in mind during what we assumed to be a five-second handshake. We all hope for better relations between our two countries. I’m sure there will be other opportunities to express this hope.”

The disclosure of the canceled meeting comes as new details are emerging about a Spanish law enforcement investigation that targeted Torshin. The Spanish newspaper El País, which collaborated with Yahoo News on this story, is reporting Sunday that Spanish national police had mounted an elaborate operation to arrest Torshin at the Mallorca airport in the summer of 2013 when he was expected to fly in to attend the birthday party of an accused leader of a Russian organized crime syndicate.

But Torshin failed to show, leading police to conclude he had likely been tipped off by Russian officials, according to the El País report, which cites four judicial and police sources.

Torshin has strongly denied having ties to organized crime figures, and Butina, in her email, called the allegations against him “baseless,” adding: “Mr. Torshin has been repeatedly cleared of all allegations by multiple investigative services.”

While the near-meeting averted what could have been, at a minimum, a political embarrassment for the White House, Torshin’s trip to Washington illustrates what some U.S. intelligence sources say appears to be an aggressive Kremlin effort to forge alliances with conservative Republican Party leaders and activists, including figures close to the White House. They describe this as one element in the broader Russian “influence campaign” that included the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 presidential election marked by cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee and the email account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

Torshin, once a leader of Putin’s United Russia Party and a senator in the Duma before being named deputy governor of the Bank of Russia in 2015, is a key figure in the Kremlin’s outreach to the conservative movement in the United States. In addition to his appearance at the Prayer Breakfast — an event he has been attending for the past several years — Torshin is also a “life member” of the National Rifle Association — an organization that spent more than $30 million in support of President Trump’s campaign. Torshin has regularly shown up at the gun lobby’s annual conventions, even engaging in target-shooting contests in the exhibit halls with Republican strategists. His assistant, Butina, is the founding chair of a Russian gun rights group, the Right to Bear Arms, which has been described as a Russian version of the NRA. While attending last year’s NRA convention in Louisville, Ky., Torshin was introduced to Donald Trump Jr. at a private dinner at a Louisville restaurant, according to three sources familiar with the encounter.

“He’s sort of the conservatives’ favorite Russian,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who together with Rep. Tom Massie, R-Ky., had dinner with Torshin and other members of the Russian delegation to the Prayer Breakfast at a Washington restaurant. “He’s someone who understands our system. His approach is, ‘I agree with you Americans: People should have a right to own guns. There should be religious freedom. The whole problem is with radical Muslims. We were able to have a very good exchange.”

But even while forging ties with Rohrabacher and other conservative Republicans, such as former NRA president David Keene and veteran GOP consultant and Trump transition adviser Paul Erickson, Torshin has been on the radar of international law enforcement officials as a result of a long-running Spanish police investigation into a Russian organized crime syndicate known as the Taganskaya. The group has been accused of laundering profits from racketeering, extortion and other criminal activities through real estate and hotel investments on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Spanish police have made several arrests in connection with the investigation, and an alleged leader of the group, a Russian businessman named Alexander Romanov, pleaded guilty to money-laundering charges in the case last year.

The El País story reports that Spanish national police had wiretapped Romanov and recorded 33 telephone conversations he had with Torshin in which the accused mobster referred to the Russian banker as “el padrino,” or godfather. Alerted that Torshin was planning to attend Romanov’s birthday party on August 23, 2013, the national police prepared to arrest the banker, deploying a dozen officers at the airport and at the Mallorca hotel where the party was to take place. But a Russian official in the Ministry of Interior at the Russian Embassy in Madrid had been informed about the operation. When Torshin failed to show, Spanish police concluded the Interior official had tipped Torshin off. “We suspect that it was he who advised that Torshin was being investigated in Spain and for that reason, he did not come,” a judicial source is quoted as telling El País.

The thwarted plans to arrest Torshin frustrated Spanish law enforcement officials about the level of cooperation they were receiving from the Russian government in their investigations into organized crime. It prompted them to conclude it would be pointless to formally charge Torshin and seek his extradition, especially given his official position, according to the El País report. “it would have delayed the investigation, it would have slowed it,” a judicial source is quoted as saying. “We do not have the support of the Russian authorities.”

Bloomberg News, citing the Spanish National Police dossier prepared under the direction of the country’s best-known prosecutor, Jose Grinda, first reported last year that Torshin was a key suspect in the investigation. Since then, El País has obtained a copy and shared it with Yahoo News as part of a collaborative reporting project for this story.

Citing the intercepted telephone calls between Romanov and Torshin, the dossier states that “above Romanov at a higher hierarchical level is Alexander Torshin. In the numerous telephone conversations and with different interlocutors, Alexander Romanov himself recognizes the subordination that he reveals to what he calls the ‘padrino or ‘the chief’…” — a reference to Torshin.

The report portrays Torshin’s activities as an example of the penetration of the Russian government by Russian and Euro-Asian criminal organizations. It quotes from some of the wiretapped calls in which Romanov tells an associate he was investing in a Mallorca hotel, called Mar y Pins, on Torshin’s behalf. “The Chief instructed him to buy a hotel because he has two daughters and wants one of them to inherit it besides the stock packages,” the report states, summarizing one of Romanov’s phone calls with an associate. He explains in another wiretapped call that he was fronting for Torshin on the hotel purchase because “the padrino cannot buy here … because he is a public official.”

When interviewed last year by Bloomberg in his office in Moscow, where he kept a small bust of Putin, Torshin dismissed the allegations as groundless and characterized his conversations with Romanov as purely social. In an emailed statement to El País, a press spokesman for the Bank of Russia said: “Spanish law enforcement agencies have never brought any charges against Mr. Torshin nor have they made any inquiries. Furthermore, they have never provided either Mr. Torshin or Russian law enforcement agencies with any kind of information about the alleged ties of Mr. Torshin with organized crime. Mr. Torshin was acquainted with Alexander Romanov in 1990s, their contacts were informal in nature and terminated seven years ago. Mr. Torshin has never intended to visit Alexander Romanov. Mr. Torshin has never had any business connections with Alexander Romanov. Mr. Torshin has never owned real estate or business in Spain.”

The spokesman also said that Torshin has “privately attended the Prayer Breakfast” over the past 12 years. “In 2017, he attended the Prayer Breakfast when he was officially on vacation. In addition, President Trump has never proposed a meeting to Mr. Torshin.”
https://www.yahoo.com/news/white-house- ... 26495.html





Donald Trump and Russia: follow the money laundering
By Bill Palmer | April 3, 2017 | 0

So I heard from Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev today through his spokesman. It was a surreal moment considering how much of a ghost-like figure he’s been throughout the Trump-Russia saga, popping up in strange times and places, never speaking. He only wished to cordially emphasize one point to me: that his 9.9% ownership stake in Bank of Cyprus was largely wiped out by the 2013 bailout. I got to thinking about why this point was important to him. And it made me realize that whoever is or is not involved, Trump-Russia is all going to come down to money laundering.

In a legal sense it doesn’t matter if Rybolovlev massively overpaid for Donald Trump’s house, or if he flew halfway around the world to meet up with Trump in various cities during or after the election. Those actions aren’t crimes, unless they’re part of something else. Deutsche Bank was recently caught laundering billions of dollars in Russian money through Bank of Cyprus into the hands of clients in places like New York City (source: CNN). Now that’s a crime. Pair it up with Deutsche Bank’s strange penchant for loaning large amounts of money to New York City resident Donald Trump (source: The Guardian), and you realize that these two things are either a really fascinating coincidence, or this is the most politically relevant money laundering scandal of all time.

No wonder Rybolovlev wants to emphasize that his association with Bank of Cyprus essentially ended four years ago; he’s trying to signal that he had nothing to do with this money laundering mess. The same benefit of the doubt can not be said of Wilbur Ross, who became Vice Chairman of Bank of Cyprus in 2014, and continued to hold that position until he resigned last month (link) – so he could become Donald Trump’s Secretary of Commerce. Ross isn’t going to be easily able to explain this away, and he’s not the only one still holding the Bank of Cyprus hot potato.



Donald Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort was allegedly laundering tens of millions of dollars in payments from a Kremlin intermediary through that same Bank of Cyprus. If that’s provable, then Manafort is in huge legal trouble; he’d have to flip on Trump in order to avoid spending most of the rest of his life in prison. And whether Manafort flips or not, it feels like the shortest path for Trump going down on criminal activity is if it can be proven that the money Deutsche Bank was loaning to him was being laundered from Russia through Bank of Cyprus, and he knew it. That’s the kind of tangible, traceable crime that’s more easily proven than the subjective charge of conspiring with a foreign government to subvert the election process.



Trump will have one heck of a time explaining why he added the then-sitting Vice Chairman of the Bank of Cyprus to his own cabinet, if he had no involvement with Bank of Cyprus of himself. Is it feasible to believe that Wilbur Ross didn’t know about the money laundering going on in his bank? Will Ross have to flip on Trump for leniency? And why did Trump try to meet with alleged Russian mafia money laundering kingpin Alexander Torshin in February? (link). If the FBI can take down Donald Trump for money laundering, it won’t have to definitively prove an election rigging conspiracy to take him down; he’ll already be finished.

http://www.palmerreport.com/opinion/don ... ring/2159/
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Dec 14, 2018 10:39 am

NRA Ties to Russian Operatives Draw Growing Scrutiny From Congress

Plus: We uncovered more photos of Maria Butina’s boss with NRA leaders—including at an NRA fundraiser.

Mark Follman and Dan FriedmanDecember 12, 2018 10:10 AM

Alexander Torshin in Houston in May 2013Unknown

As questions mounted last spring about two Russian operatives with ties to the National Rifle Association who tried to cultivate the Trump presidential campaign, the NRA made a rare public disclosure: The gun group said it had received about $2,500 from Russian sources. That included a single contribution “of less than $1,000” from one of the operatives, Alexander Torshin—a high-level official from Vladimir Putin’s party who federal prosecutors say directed a conspiracy by Russian agent Maria Butina to influence American politics. The NRA said the money was dues for a “life membership” paid by Torshin, who years earlier had forged connections with NRA leaders.

After the United States sanctioned Torshin and other Russian officials in April, the NRA reiterated in response to a Senate inquiry that Torshin had made no other contributions and was “not a member of any major donor program.”

But members of the Senate Intelligence Committee remain highly skeptical of NRA claims that the group did not receive additional funds from Torshin or other Russians. “We don’t believe them,” a Senate source told Mother Jones, noting the NRA gave Torshin the kind of VIP treatment typically reserved for big donors. The intelligence committee is one of two Senate committees with ongoing investigations into the possibility that additional Russian money flowed through the NRA. Two probes into NRA-Russia matters are also ramping up in the House as Democrats prepare to take control of the chamber in January.

Torshin said he and two unidentified companions were hosted by the NRA in 2012 as “guests of the highest level.”
The House Intelligence Committee, soon to be chaired by California Rep. Adam Schiff, plans to scrutinize “two major threads” regarding the NRA, a committee aide said. Those include whether Torshin and Butina were part of efforts to establish a backchannel to the Kremlin, and “whether Russian money was flowing into the NRA for the purpose of supporting Trump’s election.”

Butina, who was charged in July with conspiracy by federal prosecutors, is about to finalize a plea deal and has agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. Investigators on Capitol Hill will be watching closely to see if she shares information contradicting any NRA claims in documents the group has provided to Congress, a second Senate source said.

As Mother Jones previously documented, Torshin cultivated ties with NRA leaders for years, attending six NRA annual conferences between 2011 and 2016. Now, additional photos we uncovered show Torshin hanging out with top NRA leaders both publicly and privately during the group’s annual conference held in Houston, Texas, in May 2013—including during lucrative fundraising events. Torshin posted the photos online around the time of the conference, though it is unclear who took them. They show Torshin at a gathering with NRA leaders in a hotel suite, at an NRA fundraising dinner and auction, and attending a ceremony for elite “Golden Ring of Freedom” donors giving at least $1 million, whose trappings include custom gold jackets and an NRA “liberty bell.”

Image
Torshin with the NRA’s “liberty bell” in Houston in May 2013
Unknown
Among other NRA leaders, Torshin is pictured in Houston with then-outgoing president and current board member David Keene, who traveled to Moscow later that fall and again in 2015 to attend events hosted by Butina’s own fledgling gun group, the Right to Bear Arms. Also appearing with Torshin in the Houston photos are incoming NRA president James W. Porter and then-NRA operations director Kyle Weaver, who worked under NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, as the Trace reported, including overseeing grassroots fundraising. Torshin also hobnobbed with top Ring of Freedom donor Joe Gregory and former Republican House Majority Leader and longtime NRA ally Tom DeLay.

Image
From right: Torshin, DeLay, Keene, and Porter at the NRA conference in May 2013
Unknown
In one photo, Torshin poses with Keene and Weaver in a hotel suite: Torshin is wearing an NRA conference ID badge around his neck and an official 2013 NRA conference pin on his lapel, placed just below a Russian flag pin. He and Keene have an arm around each other.

Image
From right: Torshin with the NRA’s Keene and Weaver in May 2013
Unknown
Keene first became friendly with Torshin in 2011 at the NRA conference in Pittsburgh, and he hosted Torshin at the subsequent 2012 conference in St. Louis, where Torshin said in a tweet that he and two unidentified companions were treated as “guests of the highest level.” When Keene traveled to Moscow in fall 2013, he spoke enthusiastically at Butina’s gathering about the NRA and the Right to Bear Arms “working together,” noting that he had hosted Torshin over the past three years in the United States.

Bolton’s security clearance is on the list of issues the House Oversight Committee expects to investigate next year.
Among the high-profile speakers at that NRA 2013 conference in Houston was future Trump national security adviser John Bolton, who at the time served on the gun group’s international affairs subcommittee. At Keene’s request, Bolton recorded a video address that fall talking up gun rights, which was used by Butina’s group for lobbying in Russia.

Bolton’s security clearance is on the list of issues the House Oversight Committee expects to investigate next year, according to a committee staffer. The committee wants to know whether Bolton disclosed his role in the video used by Butina and any related contacts he might have had with foreign nationals.

Image
Torshin at the 2013 NRA annual conference
Unknown
It is legal for foreign citizens to donate to causes in the United States, but federal law bars them from directly or indirectly contributing money to US political campaigns. That includes a ban on donations to political action committees. According to a report by McClatchy in January, the FBI has been investigating whether Russian money flowed illegally through the NRA into the 2016 Trump campaign, which the NRA backed with at least $30 million.

The NRA did not respond to requests for comment.

According to NRA publications, the organization raised at least $1.7 million during the 2013 conference in Houston, including “a record $500,000” at the banquet and auction attended by Torshin. Soon thereafter, the NRA’s LaPierre hailed the gathering as “the biggest celebration of American values.” Torshin was presented with the gift of a rifle while there, according to a report in Rolling Stone. The Russian operative had also tweeted from Houston that the NRA welcomed him with “thunderous applause.”
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Dec 14, 2018 10:45 am

DOUBLE TAP
Top Trump Ally Met With Putin’s Deputy in Moscow

Before the NRA poured more than $30 million into Trump’s election, it met with a notorious Kremlin hardliner, allegedly to discuss a rifle competition.

Tim Mak

03.07.17 9:00 PM ET
In March 2014, the U.S. government sanctioned Dmitry Rogozin—a hardline deputy to Vladimir Putin, the head of Russia’s defense industry and longtime opponent of American power—in retaliation for the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
Eighteen months later, the National Rifle Association, Donald Trump’s most powerful outside ally during the 2016 election, sent a delegation to Moscow that met with him.
The meeting, which hasn’t been previously reported in the American press, is one strand in a web of connections between the Russian government and Team Trump: Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn both denied speaking with the Russian ambassador, which turned out to be untrue; former campaign manager Paul Manafort supported pro-Russian interests in Ukraine; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson won an “Order of Friendship” from Putin; and then, of course, there’s the hacking campaign that U.S. intelligence agencies say Russian launched to tilt the election in Trump’s favor.
Meeting with Rogozin, a target of U.S. sanctions, is not itself illegal—as long as the two sides did no business together—explained Boris Zilberman, an expert on Russian sanctions at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. But, he noted, it is “frowned upon and raises questions… those targeted for sanctions have been engaged in conduct which is in direct opposition to U.S. national security interests.”
Which raises the question: Why was the NRA meeting with Putin’s deputy in the first place?
The NRA had previously objected to the parts of the U.S. sanctions regime that blocked Russian-made guns from import into the United States. But curiously, David Keene, the former NRA president and current board member who was on the Moscow trip, insisted the meeting with the high-ranking member of the Kremlin government had nothing whatsoever to do with geopolitics.
“Rogozin is chairman of the Russian Shooting Federation and his Board hosted a tour of Federation HQ for us while we were there,” Keene told The Daily Beast. “It was non-political. There were at least 30 in attendance and our interaction consisted of thanking him and his Board for the tour.”

Rogozin tweeted photos of the meetings, writing that they discussed a forthcoming rifle competition in Russia.

But Rogozin is no ordinary Russian official, and his title extends far beyond being merely the chairman of a shooting club. His portfolio as deputy prime minister of Russia includes the defense industry. One issue where Rogozin seems particularly interested is cyberwarfare, which he has heralded for its “first strike” capability. And he’s well-known in Russia for being a radical—often taking a harder line than Putin himself.
Rogozin was the leader of the ultra-right party called Rodina, or Motherland, and famously believes in the restoration of the Russian Empire, including what he calls “Russian America” (i.e., Alaska).
To wrestle control of the party, he turned its course from a party that was occasionally in opposition to Putin to a strictly pro-Putin party. In 2005 Rogozin and his party miscalculated Putin’s anti-immigrant mood and got kicked out of the parliament for a chauvinistic promotion video that said: “Let’s Clean the Garbage!” featuring Central Asian workers eating a watermelon and spitting on the ground.
Still, Rogozin stayed loyal to Putin and soon was appointed Russian ambassador to NATO at the time of the Russia-Georgia War—his main responsibility at the time was to prevent Ukraine and Georgia from joining NATO. Today his Motherland party is back in the parliament, trying to unite right-wing movements in Europe.

“It is disconcerting that they would be meeting [with a Russian official] about anything given their vocal support of the president,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 presidential elections. “Due to the NRA’s opposition to sanctions, it defies credulity that they wouldn’t have discussed sanctions and their extraordinary support for Donald Trump’s campaign.”
“Russia is not America’s friend. And it’s stunning to hear that while they were attacking our democracy, one of the largest organizations supporting Trump was cozying up with a sanctioned Russian in Moscow,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, who is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee panel that oversees the CIA.
Rogozin’s inclusion in U.S. sanctions, prior to his meeting with the NRA delegation, marks him as an American adversary. But if that designation raised red flags to Keene and his compatriots—including board member Pete Brownell, top NRA donor Joe Gregory, and Trump supporter Sheriff David A. Clarke—they didn’t mention them, before or since.
The White House designated Rogozin for sanctions through an executive order in March 2014 after the Russian annexation of Crimea in Ukraine. Perhaps it’s only coincidence, then, that a few months later, the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action protested when the Treasury Department banned the importation of Kalashnikov firearms under authority granted to them from that same executive order.
“These latest sanctions will no doubt engender the idea among some that the Treasury Department is using a geopolitical crisis as a convenient excuse to advance the president’s domestic anti-gun agenda,” the NRA-ILA wrote at the time.
The National Rifle Association’s support for Trump was unprecedented—and it seems to have paid off. The organization backed Trump in May 2016—much earlier than they had endorsed other candidates in previous election cycles, and before he had even been officially named the Republican presidential nominee.
The NRA spent $30.3 million to elect Trump—more than even the top Trump super PAC, which spent just $20.3 million, according to OpenSecrets.
This proved to be an important piece of the puzzle for the president’s eventual victory, giving him bona fides among Democrats from working class families.
“They got behind him early. It tends to be a lot of movement conservatives, a lot of Republicans —but the NRA’s membership is also so powerful in union households,” said Richard Feldman, a former NRA lobbyist who wrote a book, Ricochet, about his experiences. “Union leaderships are very concerned about what the NRA has to say… This year it was a very important. NRA was the first major group to get behind Trump.”
Indeed, there is a solid case to be made that the NRA’s endorsement and support was among the most important of any group this election cycle. The NRA lined up television advertising space early, when rates were lower, and had money to spend when the Access Hollywood scandal struck, reading with a fresh advertising spot to support Trump.
“There are many claimants to the honor of having nudged Donald Trump over the top in the presidential election,” wrote Fred Barnes, executive editor of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, last week. “But the folks with the best case are the National Rifle Association and the consultants who made their TV ads.”
Soon after the election, the Trump administration rescinded an order, issued in the waning days of the Obama administration, that banned lead ammunition in various hunting and fishing areas—the NRA immediately applauded the action.
In retrospect, the second week of December 2015 is notable: In Moscow’s Metropol Hotel, now-disgraced Trump national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn dined with Putin at a dinner held by Russia Today, a state-sponsored propaganda outlet.
The NRA delegation’s 2015 trip to Russia took place the same week, lasting from Dec. 8-13, according to Clarke’s public financial disclosure forms, (PDF), and included not only the people who met with Rogozin but a number of other NRA dignitaries, including donors Dr. Arnold Goldshlager and Hilary Goldschlager, as well as Jim Liberatore, the CEO of the Outdoor Channel.
Various members had various stated reasons for going. At least one was there for business reasons.
“Mr. Liberatore traveled to Russia to discuss our new outdoor lifestyle service MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) and prospects for international distribution,” said Liberatore’s spokesman, Thomas Caraccioli. Liberatore did not meet with Rogozin, he added.
The delegates who were contacted by The Daily Beast did not respond to questions regarding how they paid for their trip. But Clarke, as the sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, was required to fill out public disclosure forms outlining any private money he received for travel (PDF).
The trip was sponsored at least in part by the organization, The Right to Bear Arms, a firearms advocacy organization founded by Russian national Maria Butina, a former Siberian furniture store owner who now lives in Washington, D.C., and serves as a link between Russian political circles and the American capital’s conservative elite.
“A delegation of the world’s largest gun rights civic organization—the National Rifle Association of the US (the NRA) visited Moscow on an official trip and met with supporters of the Right to Bear Arms movement,” wrote Butina in Russian in December 2015, posting a photo of the delegation on her organization’s Facebook page.

Clarke reported that Butina’s organization paid $6,000 for his meals, hotel, transportation, and excursions during his time in Russia. Brownell, the CEO of a prominent firearms company and an NRA board member, paid for the remainder, including his airfare and visas.
It is unclear where Butina’s firearms advocacy organization gets her money—it is a puzzling group, considering that Russia does not have a large grassroots movement for gun rights like the United States does.
Butina does, however, have a close relationship with Alexander Torshin, the former deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who has been accused by Spanish authorities of laundering money for the Russian mob. Neither Butina and Torshin responded to requests for comment.
Both Torshin and Butina pride themselves on their close relationship with the National Rifle Assocation, bragging on social media about their life memberships in the organization and posting photos of themselves with Keene, a former president of the NRA.
They’re not the only ones who posted photos showing links with the NRA: Rogozin posted photos of his meetings with the NRA in 2015. In one photo, the deputy prime minister is standing at what appears to be a shooting range with Gregory, Brownell, and Keene.
In another photo, Rogozin is at a conference table with Clarke and Brownell. Putin ally and former Russian senator Alexander Torshin is also seated with the group, along with a number of other unidentified individuals.
A White House spokesman declined to comment, as did the NRA.
Whatever the NRA’s ultimate reason for sending a delegation to Moscow, the conservative movement in D.C. is starting to slowly shift their views on Russia and Putin.
In May 2014, Keene criticized President Obama for not doing enough to confront Putin.
“The United States under President Obama’s leadership is content to issue rhetorical denunciations, insult Mr. Putin by claiming he runs a second-rate country that doesn’t understand the times in which we live, and deny he and his friends visas to visit the United States [emphasis added],” Keene wrote in the Washington Times, where he is now an editor.
With Trump about to enter office, in January 2017, Keene was singing a different tune.
“We seem prepared to believe any evil of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which has with its second-rate military establishment and failing economy somehow morphed in the minds of many Americans into a greater threat than the old Soviet Union [emphasis added],” he wrote.
Asked why the contradiction, Keene employed some Trumpian logic.
“The two statements aren’t inconsistent,” he told The Daily Beast.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/top-trump ... -in-moscow
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