Maria Butina

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Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Sun Jul 29, 2018 11:10 am







Watch Samantha Bee on Maria Butina’s ‘Bad Movie’ Plot Arrest

“With her focus on guns, sex and big money, Maria Butina caused every Republican she met to grow that tell-tale wet spot on the front of their pants,” host said

Samantha Bee recapped the "bad movie" plot of Maria Butina, the 29-year-old Russian activist who allegedly infiltrated the GOP and NRA.
After the recent arrest and indictment of Maria Butina, the 29-year-old Russian activist who allegedly infiltrated the GOP and NRA via her gun rights group The Right to Bear Arms, many news outlets compared the story to a “spy triller” or episode of FX’s The Americans. Samantha Bee concurred on Wednesday’s Full Frontal: “If the news is starting to feel like a bad movie,” she said, “it’s because, thanks to Maria Butina, it is!”

Bee recounted the details of Butina’s scandalous story. The other characters in the seemingly made-for-TV drama include her boss, Russian central banker Alexander Torshin, who suspected of funneling money into the NRA to push a pro-Russia agenda, and GOP operative Paul Erickson, with whom Butina allegedly began a romantic relationship. “With her focus on guns, sex and big money, Maria Butina caused every Republican she met to grow that tell-tale wet spot on the front of their pants,” Bee joked.
“This is why Russia hates America,” she continued, before concluding that the Butina story is more The Office than The Americans. “When their spies go to England, they sleep with Daniel Craig and Pierce Brosnan. When they come here, they have to do collusion with Kevin from Dunder-Mifflin.”

Butina attended numerous NRA events and worked with Erickson and Torshin to establish back-channel communications between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin – an activity Bee deemed a “waste of time.” “There’s no need for back-channel communications when they’re doing front-channel communications!” she exclaimed.
The NRA, known for its dramatic, anti-liberal videos, has been abnormally quiet since Butina’s arrest. To fill the silence, Bee decided to respond directly to the group “in a way they can understand.”
“You’re caught associating yourself with one Russian agent and you just disappear,” the host said in a mock video. “What gives? I dare you to make a comment. I challenge you to tell me how it’s American for the NRA to take money from foreign agents who want to see our democracy burn.” ... ot-703738/

Wendy Siegelman
Freelance journalist
Jul 28

‘US Person 2’ in the case of alleged Russian agent Maria Butina is George O’Neill — his daughter interned for Dana Rohrabacher and helped with an anti-Magnitsky event
New research reveals another link between alleged Russian agent Maria Butina and Pro-Russia congressman Dana Rohrabacher.

Photo left courtesy Maria Butina’s Facebook page and Photo right courtesty Gage Skidmore via flickr
Several recent bombshells in the Trump-Russia investigation provide mounting evidence of Russian collusion with US citizens and with members of Trump’s inner circle before and after the 2016 election.

On July 15 Russian national Maria Butina was arrested by the FBI and charged with conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent working at the direction of the Russian government with US persons. Charges include conspiracy to infiltrate organizations active in US politics in an effort to advance the interests of the Russian Federation. News reports have described how Butina was directed by Alexander Torshin, a former politician with close ties to the Kremlin, as she set up joint businesses with Paul Erickson and infiltrated the NRA.

Additional reporting has revealed that Maria Butina met several times with Saul Anuzis, an NRA committee member who set up a super PAC for Robert Mercer and whose son, Matas Anuzis, worked at Cambridge Analytica. Senator Dianne Feinstein sent a letter to Cambridge Analytica in October 2017 requesting communications with several people including Maria Butina, indicating that Butina may have a connection to the scandal-ridden data company.

On the heels of the Maria Butina story, this week news broke that Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen attended a meeting with several people where Donald Trump approved in advance a June 2016 meeting attended by Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, with Russians who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. Trump father and son have both denied that Donald Trump knew about the meeting beforehand.

One person who connects to Maria Butina and to the Russians, Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, who attended the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, is Pro-Russia congressman Dana Rohrabacher. He met Maria Butina several times and he has worked with Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin to help advance their anti-Magnitsky agenda.

New research reveals that George O’Neill Jr. — ‘US Person 2’ in Maria Butina’s court documents who helped her bring together Russians with politically active GOP leaders — is the father of Catharine O’Neill, who interned for Dana Rohrabacher, helped promote an anti-Magnitsky event and was part of the Trump transition State Department team.

George O’Neill and his daughter Catharine provide a new link between the Kremlin-backed work of alleged Russian agent Maria Butina and the Kremlin-supported anti-Magnitsky efforts of Dana Rohrabacher with Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin who attended the meeting in Trump Tower that may have been approved in advance by Donald Trump.

Maria Butina and ‘US Person 2’ George O’Neill

George O’Neill Jr., an heir of the Rockefeller family, has been identified by the Washington Post as ‘US Person 2’ in the Maria Butina case. In February 2017, George O’Neill, who is an outspoken supporter of Russia, hosted a dinner for several Russian officials and US lawmakers before the annual National Prayer breakfast. Ahead of the dinner Butina communicated to O’Neill that:

“a representative of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration had approved ‘building this communications channel.’”

A Time Magazine report on the February 2017 dinner hosted by O’Neill and attended by Maria Butina, Alexander Torshin, Paul Erickson, Dana Rohrabacher and others, described it as an example of how Moscow was cozying up to the Republican right.

George O’Neill Jr.
According to court documents, in addition to organizing the dinner George O’Neill was included on emails with Maria Butina and Paul Erickson. From 2016 to 2017 O’Neill was included in communications regarding Butina’s efforts to arrange a series of dinners in DC and New York City with US persons influential in politics. At one point Butina told O’Neill that Alexander Torshin was “very much impressed by you and expresses his great appreciation for what you are doing to restore relations between the two countries. He also wants you to know that Russians will support the efforts from our side.”

George O’Neill Jr. has suddenly emerged in the spotlight as a key player in the efforts of alleged Russian agent Maria Butina to infiltrate the NRA and other important GOP groups to promote Russia’s interests. It should be noted that George O’Neill has not been accused of any wrongdoing. However, as he was helping an alleged Russian agent grow her network, his daughter was interning for Dana Rohrabacher, arguably the most pro-Russia member of congress, who was actively supporting the Kremlin’s goal of undermining the Magnitsky Act.

Maria Butina and Dana Rohrabacher

In addition to the February 2017 dinner, hosted by George O’Neill Jr., that Dana Rohrabacher attended along with Maria Butina, Rohrabacher had also met Butina two years prior when she arranged a meeting in St. Petersburg for Rohrabacher and her mentor, Alexander Torshin.

Despite the prior meeting in St. Petersburg, according to an ABC story published this past week, Rohrabacher said he did not remember speaking with Butina at the February 2017 dinner:

“‘Her job was arranging chairs at a dinner, a gopher, and I sat at the opposite end of the table,’ Rohrabacher said.”

This description of Butina as a gopher arranging chairs is the exact opposite of the goal Butina described in court documents of being presented in a senior role to maximize her opportunity to meet important US leaders. In one communication to a Russian official Butina described the “need to see me not as the delegation ‘organization committee’ but as your partner and colleague” and with “status as a key figure.”
It seems incredulous that Rohrabacher who has worked so hard to further the interests of Russia, would really consider Butina, who had back channel communications with the Kremlin, like a gopher. Rather his comment seems intended to downplay the importance of his interactions with her and about his involvement with other Russians on multiple fronts.

Rohrabacher’s Kremlin backed anti-Magnitsky work

The same month in June 2016 that Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin met with Donald Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort at Trump Tower, they were also coordinating with Dana Rohrabacher to stage a show trial of anti-Putin campaigner Bill Browder on Capitol Hill.
Nico Hines reported in the Daily Beast that Rohrabacher tried to set up a congressional hearing where Veselnitskaya and another witness would confront Browder with a feature-length pro-Kremlin propaganda movie.

During an April 2016 trip to Moscow the prior year Rohrabacher and his staff director Paul Behrends, received a document from the Prosecutor General’s office that suggested holding a hearing “that would re-examine the sanctions placed on Russia.”

Rohrabacher received a film from the Prosecutor General’s office in Moscow which was run by Yuri Chaika, who was also involved with reviewing the information Natalia Veselnitskaya prepared for the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Viktor Grin, the deputy general prosecutor who had been sanctioned by the US under the Magnitsky Act, helped provide Rohrabacher with the film that undermined Bill Browder and the Magnitsky Act.

When Rohrabacher returned to the US, he appeared to fulfill several of the suggestions made by the Prosecutor General’s office. Despite his ardent pro-Russia views Rohrabacher has served as the chair of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, and he delayed the passage of the Global Magnitsky Act by holding it up in committee. He presented an unsuccessful amendment to remove Magnitsky’s name from the title of the act and referenced points from the document provided by the Russian Prosecutor General’s office.

Rohrabacher then worked with Paul Behrends and Rinat Akhmetshin to organize a committee hearing that included Veselnitskaya as a witness. The hearing was cancelled, but the film that was supposed to be shown there was scheduled instead for a June 13, 2016 screening at the Newseum in Washington DC.

Rohrabacher intern Catharine O’Neill

Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was one of the people promoting the worlwide distribution of the film, received help with the Washington DC screening from Rohrabacher’s office:

“Invitations to attend the movie screening were sent from the subcommittee office by Catharine O’Neill, a Republican intern on Rohrabacher’s committee. Her email promised that the movie would convince viewers that Magnitsky, who was murdered in a Russian prison cell, was no hero.”

However, Rohrabacher’s office would later appear to distance itself from the event. When asked about the invitations, Rohrabacher’s press secretary Ken Grubbs said:

“That invitation was not from our office. O’Neill was an unpaid intern on the committee staff. Paul denies asking her to send the invitations.”

Paul was a reference to staff director Paul Behrends, who had travelled to Moscow with Rohrabacher. It’s not clear why Ken Grubbs denied that Behrends had asked Catharine O’Neill to send out the invitations after all that Rohrabacher had already done to advocate against the Magnitsky Act. And it’s not clear why she would have sent the invitations on her own or who else may have asked her to send them out.

As the staff director, it appears that Paul Behrends was involved with managing Catharine O’Neill’s work. In an interesting coincidence several decades earlier, Paul Behrends managed another intern in Rohrabacher’s office — Erik Prince, who went on to found the private security company Blackwater and later hired Paul Behrends as a lobbyist for Blackwater.
While Catharine O’Neill, who interned in Rohrabacher’s office from June to September 2016, has had none of the notoriety associated with Erik Prince, it has not been previously reported that she is the daughter of George O’Neill, who is US Person 2 in the Maria Butina case, where her father is a key part of one of the most notorious stories in the Trump Russia investigation.

It is important to note that there is no indication that Catharine O’Neill ever met Maria Butina, Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akhmetshin or any of the Russians that George O’Neill or Dana Rohrabacher had met. There is no public documentation of any interactions between Catherine and her father George regarding any matter related to her internship or work experience or of any kind. And as noted earlier, George O’Neill is not accused of any wrongdoing.

Sixth Generation Rockefeller Catherine O’Neill

According to a posting on LittleSis, a free database maintained by the Public Accountability Initiative which details connections between powerful people and organizations as a research tool for journalists, academics, activists, and watchdogs, Catharine O’Neill is listed as the daughter of George D. O’Neill Jr.

LittleSis profile of Catharine O’Neill
A January 2000 Vanity Fair article called Irreconcilable Rockefellers provides an expose of the marriage and divorce of George O’Neill, the great-grandson of oil baron John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his ex-wife Amy Whittlesey, whose mother was Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to Switzerland. The story describes Amy’s “nightmare of infidelity, perversion, and guns that led to her hospitalization for depression.” Another story in the April 2000 Sun Sentinal referenced George and Amy’s four children, including Catharine who was six and a half at the time.
A 2017 profile of Amy Whittlesey’s mother Ambassador Faith Whittlesey who was President Reagan’s Ambassador to Switzerland mentions Catharine: “My granddaughter Catharine O’Neill worked in the transition where everyone had to be very well dressed because the Trump family set a high standard.”
Catharine O’Neill has had an extremely impressive early career according to her LinkedIn profile. After the internship with Rohrabacher on the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, she was a member of Trump’s Presidential Transition Team for the State Department from September 2016 to January 2017. In an overlapping period from December 2016 to November 2017 she was a George C. Marshall Fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Since January 2017 she has been Staff Assistant and Special Assistant in the US State Department, and is listed in a State Department directory as part of the Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights.
As a political appointee, Catharine O’Neill was required to file a public financial disclosure form which lists two Rockefeller-related assets. The ‘Other Assets and Income’ section includes three items, cash between $50,001-$100,000, Rockefeller Intermediate Tax Exempt National Bonds valued at $50,001-$100,000 and Rockefeller Equity Allocation Fund valued at $50,001-$100,000.

A new link from Butina to Rohrabacher: the O’Neill’s

The arrest of Maria Butina for alleged conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent at the direction of the Russian government and with US persons is one of the most significant events in the Trump-Russia investigation.
The June 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Russians said they would deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort is a key part of the Mueller investigation.
One of the few people who has ties to both is Dana Rohrabacher. He attended the dinner party hosted by George O’Neill with Maria Butina who said about the dinner that a “representative of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration had approved ‘building this communications channel.’”
And in a striking coincidence, or perhaps something more, George O’Neill’s daughter Catharine was an unpaid intern for three months on Rohrabacher’s committee and she helped promote the anti-Magnitsky film that had been provided by Russia’s Prosecutor General’s office. Catherine O’Neill has since become a political appointee in the US State Department. ... 569202cf06

Maria Butina is just the tip of the Russia iceberg

by Anne Applebaum

By day, he ran a travel agency. Off hours, Jacob Golos worked for the Soviet Union. Unlike some of his fictional successors, he did not pretend to be a native. But from the time of its founding in 1927 until his death in 1943 , Golos did use the agency — “World Tourists” — as a front for his real activities: funding and enabling the activities of the American Communist Party.

Though he also engaged in activities that were closer to what we usually think of as espionage — recruiting insiders, obtaining documents — much of Golos’s work was more properly defined as political subversion. Golos maintained a huge network inside the Communist Party USA, managed its money transfers from Moscow, seduced an American who became his assistant, used the travel agency to process fake passports and kept in close touch with the party boss, Earl Browder — the grandfather, of course, of Bill. Eventually the FBI grew suspicious. Browder was arrested for passport fraud, and Golos was arrested, fined and closely watched. The U.S.S.R.’s security services changed their tactics and moved on.

With a brief hiatus in the 1990s, they never stopped. Last week, U.S. authorities arrested and charged a 29-year-old Russian whom they allege to be a modern agent of political subversion. Unlike Golos, Maria Butina, who has pleaded not guilty, didn’t run a company. Instead, prosecutors say, she posed as the leader of a Russian pro-gun organization, a group that was no more authentic than Golos’s travel agency: There is no right to bear arms in Russia, and under this regime there never will be. According to court papers, Butina nevertheless convinced some naive members of the National Rifle Association that she was a genuine activist. In doing so, she gained access to their world.

The similarities between Golos and the case against Butina are striking: They were both seeking to assist political movements they believed to be pro-Kremlin (the Communist Party of the 1930s; the pro-gun wing of the Republican Party of the 2010s). They were both backed by Kremlin money, diverted through cutouts (the Communist International, in the former instance; a couple of Russian oligarchs, allegedly, in the latter).

They were also both parts of larger, international operations. Golos was a player in the Soviet Union’s long-term effort to promote an international revolution. But Butina, even if considering only her role as an open, pro-Kremlin activist, also has many counterparts, agents of influence who are openly agitating for Russian interests, now on the far-right edge of Western politics instead of the far-left. Gianluca Savoini, the leader of the enigmatic Lombardy-Russia Cultural Association, seems to perform a similar role in Italian politics, even showing up recently as a member of an official Italian government delegation to Moscow. Bela Kovacs , a Hungarian member of the European Parliament, is on trial in Budapest on a charge of spying on European Union institutions on behalf of Russia.

Along with many others, they too are part of a long-term project, though it’s not a proletarian revolution. Instead, it’s a kleptocratic coup d’état: The modern Kremlin project seeks to undermine Western democracies, break up the E.U. and NATO, and put corrupt relationships rather than the rule of law at the center of international commerce.

Precisely because the analogy is so exact, it’s worth remembering why Golos and his network failed. In large part, it was because the center-left — especially the anti-Soviet wing of the American trade union movement — rejected Soviet-style communism in the United States. It’s also because, in the 1940s and 1950s, the American political establishment, Democratic and Republican, unified around the need to defeat Soviet-style communism in Europe. And it’s because, even in the depths of the Depression, the majority of Americans were never beguiled by the appeal of authoritarianism.

It’s not at all clear that we are in the same situation now. A wing of the Republican Party is preparing to double down and support the Russian autocracy, which it believes, mistakenly, is “Christian.” While the Pentagon and parts of the bureaucracy — the State Department, the FBI — certainly understand the need to push back in Europe, the White House certainly does not. Which side the Republican Party will end up on is anybody’s guess. Authoritarian tactics, from pressure on the media to pressure on the courts, clearly appeal to the party’s base.

This matters because Butina is at most the tip of the iceberg, one of the sillier, more junior players in a broader game. Far more important are Russian oligarchs bearing bribes or Russian hackers probing vulnerabilities in our political system as well as our electrical grid. To push back against them, as well as their equivalents from the rest of the autocratic world, we will need not only to catch the odd agent but also to make our political funding systems more transparent, to write new laws banning shell companies and money laundering, and to end the manipulation of social media. It took more than a generation for Americans to reject the temptations of communist authoritarianism; it will take more than a generation before we have defeated kleptocratic authoritarianism too — if we still can. ... 9279050fd7

Alleged Spy Maria Butina Working With Fraud Investigators, Attorney Says

By David Brennan On 7/28/18 at 6:55 AM
Accused Russian agent Maria Butina speaks to camera at 2015 FreedomFest conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on July 11, 2015. FreedomFest/via REUTERS
Maria Butina, the alleged Russian agent who spied on the U.S., is cooperating with investigators in a fraud probe, according to her attorney.

Lawyer Robert Driscoll said the 29 year old gun rights lobbyist was working with the U.S. Justice Department in its investigation, which is likely to involve a Republican activist, Mother Jones has reported.

According to prosecutors, the case involves the man with whom Butina was living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Though he has not been named in court documents, the Russian was living with Republican operative Paul Erickson, 56, at the time of her arrest.

RTX6C94L Accused Russian agent Maria Butina speaks to camera at 2015 FreedomFest conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on July 11, 2015. FreedomFest/via REUTERS

Erickson supposedly attempted to establish a back channel between President Donald Trump’s election campaign and the Russian government, the New York Times has said. Though the exact nature of the fraud allegations is unclear, Erickson has previously lost lawsuits over unpaid debts and other fraudulent activities.

Driscoll believes his client should be released on bail on account of her cooperation and has told the court Butina is not a flight risk. A letter written by the South Dakota attorney general before Butina was indicted notes the accused spy “may be willing to make a proffer of possible information and testimony regarding her knowledge of the illegal activities of others.” Though the letter includes a space for Driscoll and Butina to sign in agreement of her cooperation, it is unclear if they did so. Thus far, the court has decided Butina should remain in custody.

Butina is accused of attempting to influence U.S. political bodies on behalf of the Russian government. She was involved with high-level members of the National Rifle Association (NRA), and her activities were funded by Russian billionaire Alexander Torshin, prosecutors believe. Torshin is the former deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank.

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Erickson is believed to be the man referred to as “U.S. Person 1” in the indictment against Butina. U.S. Person 1 helped the Russian choose to apply for a student visa as cover for her lobbying activities, lived with her and arranged access to politically-connected Americans. Investigators believe Butina’s relationship with U.S. Person 1 was “simply a necessary aspect of her activities.”

Driscoll has claimed his client was only networking, and denies the charges that she was infiltrating the NRA in an effort to gain access to Trump campaign officials. One of the two warrants used by the FBI to search Butina’s Washington, D.C., apartment were “related to matters in South Dakota,” the court transcript said.

According to prosecutors, Butina “engaged in a years-long conspiracy to work covertly in the United States as an undeclared agent of the Russian Federation in order to advance the interests of her home country.”

Russia has denied the spying accusations, and demanded Butina's immediate release. In a phone call with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Butina was detained "on the basis of fabricated charges' and stressed "the need for her early release." ... ys-1046444

Accused Russian Agent Maria Butina Met With 2 Senior U.S. Officials In 2015: Reuters

The meetings involved officials at the U.S. Federal Reserve and Treasury Department.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Maria Butina, accused in the United States of spying for Russia, had wider high-level contacts in Washington than previously known, taking part in 2015 meetings between a visiting Russian official and two senior U.S. officials.

The meetings, disclosed by several people familiar with the sessions and a report prepared by a Washington think tank that arranged them, involved Stanley Fischer, then Federal Reserve vice chairman, and Nathan Sheets, then Treasury undersecretary for international affairs.

Butina traveled to the United States in April 2015 with Alexander Torshin, then the Russian Central Bank deputy governor, and they took part in separate meetings with Fischer and Sheets to discuss U.S.-Russian economic relations during Democratic former President Barack Obama’s administration.

The two meetings, which have not been previously reported, reveal a wider circle of high-powered connections that Butina sought with American political leaders and special interest groups.

Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, did not have any details about her participation in meetings with Treasury and Federal Reserve officials when asked about them on Friday.

Torshin did not answer calls to his cellphone on Monday. A spokeswoman for the Russian central bank said Torshin declined to comment on the subject.

The meetings with Fischer and Sheets were arranged by the Center for the National Interest, a Washington foreign policy think tank that is supportive of efforts to improve U.S.-Russia relations. Paul Saunders, its executive director, in December 2016 urged then President-elect Donald Trump to ease tensions with Russia. In articles in its magazine, The National Interest, members of the think tank have also warned of the costs to the United States of confronting Russia or getting involved in Eurasian conflicts.

The meetings were documented in a Center for the National Interest report seen by Reuters that outlined its Russia-related activities from 2013 to 2015. The report described the meetings as helping bring together “leading figures from the financial institutions of the United States and Russia.”

A judge last week ordered Butina, 29, jailed until her trial after U.S. prosecutors argued she has ties to Russian intelligence and could flee the United States. Butina has pleaded not guilty to charges she acted as a foreign agent for Russia. She is scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday for a status conference in her case.

Russia’s foreign minister told the U.S. Secretary of State on Saturday that Butina had been detained on “fabricated charges” and should be released.
Butina worked for Torshin, who has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and served as his interpreter at various Washington events.

Fischer, an in email to Reuters, confirmed he met with Torshin and his interpreter. While he could not recall details or whether the interpreter was Butina, Fischer said the conversation involved “the state of the Russian economy” and Torshin’s new role as deputy central bank governor.

Another person familiar with the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it occurred on April 7, 2015, and confirmed Butina attended.

Saunders, the think tank’s executive director, said Torshin spoke at an April 2015 event about the Russian banking system and Butina attended as Torshin’s interpreter. Saunders said people at the organization cannot recall details of Torshin’s presentation.

“We were unaware of any charges or suspicions of illegal or inappropriate conduct or of any connections to Russian intelligence services,” Saunders said in an email.

Federal prosecutors have accused Butina of conspiring with two American citizens and a top Russian official to influence U.S. policy toward Russia and infiltrate a gun rights group believed to be the National Rifle Association. The NRA is an influential pro-gun lobby with close ties to Republican politicians including President Donald Trump.

The description of the top Russian official mentioned in the indictment matches Torshin. The indictment said that beginning in about 2015 Butina and the official conspired to “advance the interests of the Russian Federation.” Torshin could not be reached for comment on this article.

“I recall Mr. Torshin mentioning, as an aside, that he planned to attend a meeting of the National Rifle Association, a fact that I considered irrelevant to our conversation,” Fischer wrote to Reuters.

Sheets declined to comment through Ted Smith, a spokesman for asset management firm PGIM, where Sheets currently works.

Fischer and Sheets met with many international banking officials as part of their official duties.

The Treasury Department in April imposed sanctions on Torshin and a number of other Russian businessmen and government officials in Putin’s inner circle.
The think tank’s magazine hosted Trump at an event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington in April 2016 also attended by Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to Washington at the time.

The April 2015 visit by Butina and Torshin came about a year after Obama’s administration imposed sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Two months earlier, in February 2015, the magazine’s Russian-born publisher and the center’s primary Russia expert, Dimitri Simes, traveled to Moscow, where he met with Putin and other Russian officials, the organization’s report showed.

During the same April 2015 trip, Torshin and Butina also participated in a private “off the record” discussion at the center about the “Russian financial situation and its impact on Russian politics,” according to people familiar with the meeting and the think tank’s report. That event was moderated by the group’s chairman emeritus, former AIG CEO Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the report showed. Greenberg did not return calls for comment.

Among the think tank’s board members is David Keene, a former NRA president and former chairman of the American Conservative Union. Keene has previously been photographed alongside Butina at events. Reuters was unable to reach him for comment.

Prosecutors said the think tank’s magazine published an article by Butina in June 2015 in which she said “certain U.S. politicians and Russians share many common interests.”

Randy Weber, a Republican U.S. congressman from Texas, also met with Torshin during the April trip, according to the think tank’s documents. A spokeswoman for Weber did not respond to multiple calls or emails seeking comment. ... 86f48dda4f

Accused Spy Maria Butina Is Cooperating In Fraud Probe: Attorney

The Russian was living with Republican operative Paul Erickson when she was arrested.

Mary Papenfuss
Accused Russian agent Maria Butina is cooperating with U.S. federal investigators in a fraud probe likely involving a Republican operative, according to her attorney.

Butina’s lawyer Robert Driscoll noted her cooperation last week during a detention hearing and has released a letter concerning a cooperation request from the U.S. Justice Department.

Driscoll argued July 18 that she be released on bail, pointing out that his client was not a flight risk and was cooperating in a federal fraud probe in South Dakota, Mother Jones reported.

The prosecutor said in court that the fraud investigation concerned Butina’s romantic partner from Sioux Falls. Though the court case against Butina, 29, doesn’t identify the man by name, at the time of her arrest she was living with GOP conservative activist Paul Erickson, 56, of South Dakota. Federal officials said Erickson reached out to Trump campaign leaders in a bid to establish a “back channel” between the campaign and the Kremlin, The New York Times reported.

Butina was indicted earlier this month on charges of conspiring to influence American politics while covertly serving as an agent of the Russian government. She cultivated political contacts through the National Rifle Association and appeared to be at least partially bankrolled by controversial Russian billionaire Alexander Torshin, former deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank, according to the case against her.

It’s not clear what fraud is being investigated by federal authorities. But Erickson has lost lawsuits for unpaid debts and fraudulent behavior, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

The Rapid City Journal also obtained a letter from Driscoll’s law firm written in May, before Butina was indicted, from the U.S. attorney in South Dakota seeking an agreement on her cooperation in the investigation. The letter sought Butina’s help in providing “information and possible testimony regarding her knowledge of the illegal activities of others.” The letter included statements with room for signatures agreeing to cooperate, though it’s not known if the papers were signed by Butina and her attorney.

Driscoll entered the letter as an exhibit the day he argued that Butina be released on bail, according to the Rapid City newspaper. The judge ruled after the hearing that Butina should remain in custody.

According to the hearing transcript, one of two warrants the FBI used to search Butina’s Washington, D.C., apartment in April was “related to matters in South Dakota.”

The man believed to be Erickson is called “U.S. Person 1” in the indictment against Butina. According to the court documents, U.S. Person 1 helped Butina choose a student visa as her cover in the U.S., lived with her and provided access to politically influential Americans.

Driscoll has said his client is innocent of any criminal activities and that she was simply “networking” in the U.S. ... 86f4953587

Alleged Russian Spy Maria Butina Has Offered to Cooperate in Fraud Case

It appears to target her conservative-activist boyfriend Paul Erickson.

Dan FriedmanJul. 26, 2018 1:14 PM

A courtroom sketch depicts Maria Butina, in orange suit, a 29-year-old gun-rights activist suspected of being a covert Russian agent, listening to her lawyer Driscoll, during a hearing at the federal courthouse in Washington, Wednesday, July 18, 2018.Dana Verkouteren/AP

Maria Butina, the alleged Russian spy, offered to cooperate in a fraud investigation being mounted by federal prosecutors in South Dakota that appears to target Paul Erickson, the conservative activist with whom she was romantically linked, according to a letter released by her lawyer and court testimony in her case.

On July 17, Butina was indicted on charges of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government. Her involvement in the South Dakota case first came to light last week, during a detention hearing in her case. Arguing that his client was not a flight risk, Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, noted that she had offered to cooperate in the South Dakota matter. A federal prosecutor pointed out that the case related to allegations of fraud against Butina’s romantic partner, a 56-year-old Sioux Falls, South Dakota, resident. Though he is not named in court filings, that man has been identified in media reports as Erickson.

This week, Driscoll released a copy of a so-called proffer letter from the US attorney in South Dakota, spelling out the terms of Butina’s potential cooperation. The May 29 letter, first reported by the Rapid City Journal, states that Butina “may be willing to make a proffer of possible information and testimony regarding her knowledge of the illegal activities of others.” It’s not clear if Butina signed the agreement. Erickson and Driscoll did not respond to requests for comment.

Erickson helped Butina and Alexander Torshin, a senior Russian banking official from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s party, who worked closely with Butina, gain access to top officials in the NRA and the Trump campaign. Prosecutors have asserted that Butina used Erickson to open doors to conservative players, treating their “relationship as simply a necessary aspect of her activities.”

Federal prosecutors in Washington presumably hope to compel Butina to cooperate in their investigation into Russian influence. During a status conference in the case on Wednesday, Assistant US Attorney Thomas Saunders said prosecutors needed a protective order barring defense lawyers from publicly releasing evidence from the case. “Our concerns are about protecting the integrity of potential ongoing investigations,” Saunders explained. He didn’t elaborate, but court filings in Butina’s case show that prosecutors are looking into Butina and Torshin’s efforts to influence the NRA and the GOP. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), citing reporting by McClatchy, has asked the NRA if it received Russian money intended to support Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Butina, who faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, has been jailed without bond while awaiting trial. During the status conference, US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan repeatedly sided with prosecutors, who were sparring with Driscoll over an agreement governing the evidence turned over to defense lawyers.

Driscoll argued that he should be allowed to disclose publicly certain evidence in order to combat prosecutors’ allegation that Butina was a Russian agent. “Ms. Butina is the subject of national incorrect media reporting that I am trying to push back on,” he argued.

Driscoll said he was particularly concerned by the government’s claim in a detention memo that Butina offered sex in exchange for a position at a “special interest organization.” Driscoll said he wants prosecutors to turn over any evidence supporting that allegation on an expedited basis: “We have no idea what the government is talking about. We don’t believe it’s true.”

But Chutkan suggested Driscoll should wait for the trial to defend Butina. She chided Driscoll for making cable news appearances and suggested she might consider imposing a gag order in the case. She waved off Driscoll’s request. The defense is not “entitled to individual pieces of evidence to rebut media reports,” she said. ... raud-case/

Who Whitewashed the Wiki of Alleged Russian Spy Maria Butina?

Someone at accused spy Maria Butina’s D.C. alma mater has been tampering with her Wikipedia page.

Anonymous Wikipedia users engaged in a lengthy campaign this year to alter and whitewash the online biographies of two people at the center of an alleged Russian plot to infiltrate prominent conservative groups in America.

Starting in early spring 2018, the users, one of which maintained an account on Wikipedia’s Russian-language site, made a series of edits to bios for Maria Butina, a Russian national accused of conspiracy and illegal foreign influence, and Paul Erickson, a Republican political activist whom Butina allegedly roped into her espionage campaign and with whom she allegedly traded sex for political access as a “necessary aspect of her activities.”

The edits sought to discredit reporting on the FBI investigation into one of Butina’s alleged co-conspirators, and to scrub details of Erickson’s and Butina’s business history. It also downplayed attempts by Erickson to arrange a meeting between Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, allegations of fraud against Erickson, and Butina’s ties to a Russian political figure instrumental in her efforts to ingratiate herself with prominent political groups including the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The identities of the people behind the Wikipedia editing campaign are not known. But other users on the site—including a veteran editor who says his mission is to “combat promotional editing”—publicly speculated that the accounts were part of a coordinated “sockpuppet” editing campaign. Sockpuppets are online identities created by a single person to covertly manipulate information.

Details gleaned through a review of Wikipedia’s edit logs link two of the accounts to the Washington D.C. university where Butina studied before she was arrested last week. The edits suggest that months before her life blew up, someone close to, or allied with, Butina knew what investigations into her and her associates might uncover and launched a clandestine campaign to expunge the record or at least downplay it.

The edit campaign began in March when an anonymous Wikipedia user made a series of five edits to Butina’s page. The edits included adding details of her biography and noting the Russian spelling of Right to Bear Arms (Право на оружие), the non-profit gun rights group she founded in 2011 to “improve weapons culture” and provide gun owners with access to free legal advice.

The account’s only identifying information was an IP address traced to web servers at American University, the school where Butina studied from mid-2016 through the spring of 2018, and which federal prosecutors say she used to obtain a U.S. student visa. In April, another Wikipedia account sprouted up and made four edits to Butina’s page. That account also used an IP address associated with AU.

A spokesman for American University confirmed that the IP addresses were associated with the school's network, but declined to comment further, citing student privacy concerns.

Neither Erickson nor an attorney for Butina responded to requests for comment on the Wikipedia editing campaign.

The first anonymous Wikipedia user made its final edit at 9:36 PM on the evening of March 23. Six minutes later, a new account with the handle Caroline456 was created—with a sister account on Wikipedia’s Russian language site—and picked up right where the AU account left off.

Caroline456 eventually made nearly 50 edits to Butina’s and Erickson’s Wikipedia pages—and no others. Among the changes were attempts to expunge Butina’s page of potentially incriminating information about her ties to Alexander Torshin, a Russian central bank official on whose behalf Butina was allegedly attempting to influence and infiltrate U.S. political organizations. In early 2016, Torshin and Butina boasted that Trump’s famously gun-friendly son, Don Jr., was “ready for cooperation with Russia.”

The edits also attempted to downplay news of a federal investigation into Torshin, his involvement in efforts to arrange a back-channel meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in the early days of the Trump campaign, and whether Russian money had found its way into American elections by way of the NRA. Caroline456 focused particular attention on citations of a January story by McClatchy, which first reported on that FBI investigation.

Caroline456 edited Butina’s page to say that the McClatchy story had been “debunked by the Wall Street Journal,” as evidenced by a Kim Strassel column that dubbed McClatchy’s reporting “fake news.” Caroline456 also wrote that the McClatchy story was “retracted,” which was inaccurate as the headline of the piece was changed but the story was not taken back.

Additional Caroline456 edits attempted to minimize links between Butina and Erickson, with one late-March edit attempting to downplay Butina’s involvement in a South Dakota company Erickson allegedly set up to fund her studies. Erickson’s bio on Wikipedia originally stated that he and Butina had jointly incorporated that company, Bridges LLC, a claim supported by a 2017 annual report which listed Butina as a beneficial owner.

“Incorrect information,” wrote Caroline456. “Erickson is an agent of Bridges, LLC. It has nothing to do with partnership or ownership with Butina.”

Caroline456 also uploaded a pair of photos of Butina, and indicated in licensing information that they were originals. But when another Wikipedia edtori questioned their ownership, Caroline456 walked back those initial claims and asked for both of them to be deleted.

The editing campaign raised red flags in the eyes of Bill Beutler, the president of digital consulting firm Beutler Ink. “Caroline456 seems very likely to be a paid agent, most likely of Erickson, and while it’s impossible to tell, I’d say they are not quite as wiki-savvy as they imagine themselves to be,” Beutler, a longtime Wikipedia contributor who edits the site The Wikipedian, told The Daily Beast. “They made no efforts to cover their tracks. The account edited basically three pages: Erickson’s, Butina’s, and their own talk page defending their actions.”

Throughout its dozens of edits, Caroline456 denied any personal connection with Butina or Erickson. “I do not have any close relations with any of this characters,” the user wrote in response to an inquisitive Wikipedia editor who questioned the user’s impartiality.

On April 6, the same day that Torshin was sanctioned for attempts to “subvert Western democracies, and malicious cyber activities,” among other offenses, the same editor pointed to discrepancies in language and writing styles in Caroline456’s edits, and wondered whether Caroline456 was in fact “two people editing under one username.” The editor also questioned whether Caroline456 was a native English speaker.

Caroline456 acknowledged he or she was not. “What’s the problem if I can ask a native English speaker friend to edit my English? You know, it’s kind of uncomrortable (sic) to use her every time for doing that. Are you going to prosecute me for that, too?”

The tirade ended on a strange note. “As I see there are a couple of guys loving BDSM stuff, right?” Caroline456 wrote. “Hey, guys, may be you should drop a bit this great conspiracy theories.” ... ria-butina

Indicted Russian national Maria Butina once reportedly tried to quiz a left-leaning civil rights group about its cyber vulnerabilities

Sonam Sheth

Maria Butina, the Russian gun rights activist charged with being a Russian agent, reportedly tried to interview a left-leaning civil rights group in 2017 about its cyber vulnerabilities.

Russia mounted an elaborate campaign to interfere in the 2016 US election that involved, among other things, hacking into the Democratic National Committee and disseminating stolen information.
Butina's reported outreach to the group could be indicative of Russia's ongoing efforts to infiltrate US politics.

Maria Butina, the 29-year-old Russian gun rights activist whom the US has accused of being a spy for the Russian government, apparently did not limit her outreach in US political circles to right-wing groups.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Butina tried to interview a left-leaning civil rights group about its cyber vulnerabilities last year. She is said to have told the group that she wanted to set up the interview as part of a school project when she was studying as a graduate student at American University. Her attempt was unsuccessful, a person familiar with her outreach told The Post.

Butina was indicted Tuesday on two counts related to conspiracy and acting as an agent of the Russian government. The indictment says Butina and a high-ranking Russian official worked to create a "back channel" between Russia and the US, using the National Rifle Association as a conduit. A hearing for her case is scheduled on Wednesday in Washington, DC.

Robert Driscoll, an attorney for Butina, said she is not a Russian agent but merely a student with an interest in politics and a desire to network with Americans.

"She intends to defend her rights vigorously and looks forward to clearing her name," he said in a statement to The Post.

Butina's reported outreach to the unnamed civil rights group came after Russia mounted an elaborate and multi-faceted campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

That effort involved, among other things, hacking into the servers of the Democratic National Committee and disseminating stolen information through third party groups including WikiLeaks.

Last week, the special counsel Robert Mueller charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with counts related to hacking, conspiracy, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering.

The same day, Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, said "the warning lights are blinking red again" on potential cyberattacks against the US.

"Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack," Coats said.

Comparing the threat level facing the US now to the weeks before the September 11, 2001, attacks, Coats added that Russia is the "most aggressive foreign actor, no question. And they continue their efforts to undermine our democracy."

However, the White House has not given the National Security Agency and US Cyber Command any official guidance on how to guard the 2018 midterms and future elections against foreign interference.

Last week, NSA director Paul Nakasone announced that he had directed the two organizations to act independently of the White House to counter Russia's aggression. They are also working with the FBI, the CIA, and the Department of Homeland Security on the initiative.

"Nakasone, and the heads of the other three-letter agencies, are doing what they can in their own lanes, absent an overall approach directed by the president," former NSA director Michael Hayden told The Post . But "as good as it is, it's not good enough. This is not a narrowly defined cyber threat. This is one of the most significant strategic national security threats facing the United States since 9/11." ... oup-2018-7

The Kremlin and GOP Have a New Friend—and Boy, Does She Love Guns

Depending on who’s asking, Maria Butina is either a Russian central bank staffer, a gun rights advocate, or a connection between D.C. Republicans and Russia.

Just a few years ago, Maria Butina owned a furniture store in Siberia. Now she’s wheeling and dealing with D.C. think-tankers, Republican strategists, and a Russian bank chief with alleged mob connections.

Depending on the audience, Butina has presented herself as a Russian central bank staffer, a leading gun rights advocate, a “representative of the Russian Federation,” a Washington, D.C., graduate student, a journalist, and a connection between Team Trump and Russia. She used each role to help her gain more high-level contacts in the nation’s capital.

It’s another chapter in what’s becoming a familiar story in Washington: Kremlin-connected operators building bridges to the GOP.

Ever since U.S. intelligence services concluded that Russia was meddling in the American presidential elections, Team Trump’s ties to Russia have been highly scrutinized. The president’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned because he misled his bosses about his contacts with the Russian government; and his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, also resigned due to questions about his relationship with Russia.

Butina’s relationships, formed with Washington’s conservative society through her fierce advocacy for firearms—one conference described her as the “public face of gun rights in the Russian Federation”—provide a previously unreported link between the Russian government and the Republican Party.

Two of Butina’s friendships in particular have raised eyebrows. She started a business with Paul Erickson, a decades-long Republican Party activist. And she served as a special assistant to the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin, a former Russian senator belonging to Vladimir Putin’s political party with alleged ties to the Russian mob world.

On Nov. 12, 2016, shortly after the election of President Donald Trump, Butina held a birthday party at Cafe Deluxe near American University, where she attends graduate school classes.

The event was a costume party attended by Trump campaign aides and Erickson, who told guests that he was on the Trump presidential transition team. She dressed as Russian Empress Alexandra while Erickson was dressed as Rasputin.

As chilled vodka flowed through an ice sculpture—a bottle imprinted with the Soviet hammer and sickle—she took some time to brag. She brazenly claimed that she had been part of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia, two individuals who were present said. On other occasions, in one of her graduate classes, she repeated this claim.

“She said so in my class. And she said so several times in the last semester,” Svetlana Savranskaya, Butina’s former American University professor and a staffer at the National Security Archive, told The Daily Beast. “She is a former journalist, so she keeps up her connections in Russia. And she also works and [claims to] keep connections with a member of the Russian Duma.”

Erickson and Butina have been seen in public frequently, at the invitation-only Freedom Ball after Trump’s inauguration; and holding court at Russia House, a Russian-themed bar in Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle. At one such gathering in the fall of 2016 Erickson bragged that he was advising the Trump transition team, according to two sources who were present; he is also said to have told a story about introducing Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47, to former NRA president David Keene. (Kalashnikov allegedly inspired the creation of “The Right to Bear Arms,” Butina’s gun rights group.)

The two appear to have gotten close: Erickson formed a limited liability corporation with Butina in February 2016, according to the South Dakota secretary of state. It is unclear what this organization, Bridges, LLC, actually does. (Despite living in Washington, D.C., Butina has a cellphone number with a South Dakota area code.)

As a former board member of the American Conservative Union—an influential conservative group that puts on the annual Conservative Political Action Conference—Erickson has a formidable network of contacts on the right. For example, he served on the American Conservative Union board with Becky Norton Dunlop, a senior Trump transition team official.

The White House did not comment on whether Erickson served on or advised the Trump transition team.

Erickson has been active within Republican and conservatives circles for decades, first appearing on the national stage as treasurer of the College Republicans in 1984. A 1992 Los Angeles Times report identifies him as the national political director for Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign, while a more recent report gives him a more senior title.

“Erickson had participated in every GOP presidential primary campaign since 1980 and was Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign manager in 1992,” an article in Forbes in December 2016 reads. “He is a sort of ‘secret master of the political universe’ known almost exclusively to the cognoscenti.”

Erickson was an adviser to the Mitt Romney campaign, a former board member of the ACU, a 2012 Mitt Romney delegate, and an attendee at the Trump inaugural address. He’s also identified in a USA Today obituary as a “friend and ally” of the late Breitbart News founder Andrew Breitbart.

During this time, Butina was building a reputation as a gun rights champion in Russia. She helped create “The Right to Bear Arms," her group advocating for Russian gun owners, in 2011.

“We protect gun rights in Russia, and people who are gun owners and in a situation of self-defense,” Butina told Townhall, a conservative news site, in May 2014, after she attended the annual NRA Women’s Leadership Luncheon in Indianapolis.

That fall, Butina’s group hosted Erickson at its Moscow headquarters. The event advertised Erickson as a veteran of six presidential campaigns who had worked in the Reagan White House.

But Erickson isn’t Butina’s only well-connected friend. She is also close with Torshin, a former Russian lawmaker. Torshin was the deputy speaker of Russia’s parliament for more than a decade, and spent time on Russia’s powerful National Anti-Terrorism Committee, a state body that includes the director of the FSB and the ministers of defense, interior, and foreign affairs.

When Torshin was a deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Butina served as his aide, according to an archived version of her personal website, which went offline around the time she moved to Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2016. The former Russian senator has tweeted about her frequently, posting photos of her on the social media network.

Torshin and Butina are both passionate defenders of gun owners’ rights. Both are lifetime members of the NRA (the only two Russians he knew to be lifetime members, Torshin once tweeted). The two attended the NRA’s annual meeting in 2014 as a special guests of then-NRA president David Keene.

“We are a young organization. We are three years old. And we invited David Keene. He made a speech at our annual meeting. And so it’s like an answer from one side,” Butina told Townhall. “The next side is the life member of our organization. He is our Russian senator. His name is Senator Alexander Torshin. He is a life member of NRA too, and he’s usually a participant of such events, and every annual meeting of NRA. But now the situation between (our) two countries is very difficult. And we have to go here together with Senator Torshin. He is a great gun lover, he supports our organization and he’s a friend of the NRA.”

As Butina mentioned, 2014 was a difficult time for U.S.-Russian relations. After the takeover of Crimea and the invasion of eastern Ukraine, the Obama administration slapped sanctions on Russian banks and Putin’s inner circle.

It was also a period of recovery for Torshin. The year before, in 2013, Spanish authorities completed a three-year probe into Russian mob activity in their country. In their confidential report they alleged that Torshin helped a Russian mob syndicate in Moscow launder money through banks and properties in Spain. This accusation is based in part on recordings of phone conversations Torshin had with an alleged Russian mobster in 2012 and 2013. Bloomberg News broke news of this confidential report in 2016, although Torshin denied the allegations. Torshin did not respond to a list of questions from The Daily Beast.

Torshin’s assets have skyrocketed over the last few years, according to Transparency International, a watchdog organization that tracks the net worth of Russian officials.

“One of Torshin’s superiors at the bank between 1995 and 1998, former First Deputy Governor Sergey Aleksashenko, said Torshin may have returned to his old post at the behest of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, with which he appears to have longstanding ties,” Bloomberg reported. “Aleksashenko, a former head of Merrill Lynch in Moscow, is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.”

Despite his ties to Russia, Torshin is still welcome in conservative circles. In May 2016, he returned to the NRA’s annual convention and shared a dinner table with Donald Trump Jr., according to the same Bloomberg report.

Neither Erickson nor Butina responded to multiple Daily Beast requests for comment through emails, texts, and phone calls. Neither responded to a list of detailed questions regarding this article.

But ultimately, the Torshin-Butina-Erickson link serves as another set of relationships between influential Russian figures and Washington power players—just as the FBI and several Senate committees examine Moscow’s impact on the American political scene. Just this week, The New York Times reported on a back-channel proposal that described a way to lift sanctions against Russia while ending the conflict in Ukraine, delivered to the White House through Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen.

One thing that’s clear: Trump himself is beginning to back away, at least in public, from any perceived connections to Russia.

On July 11, 2015—more than a year before she began her studies at American University—Butina was in Las Vegas at an early rally for Trump’s embryonic presidential campaign. During a question-and-answer session, she asked Trump about Russian sanctions.

“I’m from Russia. My question will be about foreign politics,” Butina said, glancing at prepared notes. “If you will be elected as president, what will be your foreign politics especially in the relationships with my country? Do you want to continue the policy of sanctions that are damaging [to] both economies? Or [do you] have any other ideas?”

“I know Putin, and I’ll tell you what, we’ll get along with Putin,” Trump said in his response to Butina. “I would get along very nicely with Putin, I mean, where we have the strength. I don’t think you’d need the sanctions. I think we would get along very, very well.”

These days, with revelations about Russia’s interference in the American presidential elections mounting, Trump gives a very different answer. “I don’t know Putin,” he tweeted earlier this month.

“I have nothing to do with Russia,” Trump added in a Feb. 16 press conference. “Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don’t speak to people from Russia. Not that I wouldn’t. I just have nobody to speak to.” ... -love-guns

Did I mention she is sitting in jail ...denied bail? .......she is sitting in jail and denied bail

The NRA The Russia Connection

Mazars and Deutsche Bank could have ended this nightmare before it started.
They could still get him out of office.
But instead, they want mass death.
Don’t forget that.
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Tue Jul 31, 2018 8:26 pm

Russian "Agent" And A GOP Operator Left A Trail Of Cash, Documents Reveal
Federal investigators say some of the money went to Maria Butina’s campaign to help Russia infiltrate American politics.
By Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier
Posted on July 31, 2018, at 5:49 p.m. ET

Paul Erickson, a Republican consultant, and Maria Butina, who has been charged with secretly acting as a Russian agent.

A $45,000 payment to an undisclosed law firm. A cash withdrawal for $14,000. Almost $90,000 sent to or from a Russian bank. These and other bank transactions totaling nearly $300,000, none of which have been made public, offer the first detailed look at how an accused foreign agent and a Republican operative financed what prosecutors say was a Russian campaign to influence American politics.

Anti-fraud investigators at Wells Fargo flagged the transactions — by Paul Erickson, a conservative consultant from South Dakota, and Maria Butina, who is in jail awaiting trial on charges of secretly acting as a Russian agent — as “suspicious,” noting in some cases that they could find no “apparent economic, business, or lawful purpose” to explain them. Now counterintelligence officers say the duo’s banking activity could provide a road map of back channels to powerful American entities such as the National Rifle Association, and information about the Kremlin’s attempt to sway the 2016 US presidential election.

Cash withdrawals, most of them from Erickson’s personal and business accounts, make up $107,000 of the financial transactions now being investigated. The largest of those withdrawals — $14,000 — occurred in December 2015, when Erickson reportedly traveled to Moscow as part of an NRA delegation. The visit was sponsored by a Russian gun rights organization started by Butina, federal authorities say.

The duo also deposited about $90,000 in cash in their accounts, which has made it difficult for investigators to determine the source or purpose of the funds.

Bank documents indicate Wells Fargo’s anti–money laundering team began checking Butina’s and Erickson’s bank activity in early 2017, after receiving a referral from the FBI. In a report the bank prepared and shared with the bureau and the US Department of the Treasury's financial crimes division, Wells Fargo officials expressed suspicion about the “significant control” Erickson had over Butina’s account. He had access, Wells Fargo found, to her personal checking account, which she opened in 2014. He frequently made payments on her behalf; the recipients have not been identified. He sometimes appeared to write checks that Butina signed. The bank closed the duo’s personal and business accounts in late 2017.

Erickson did not return a message left on his cellphone or detailed emails seeking comment. He has not been charged with wrongdoing.

Bank officials could find no “apparent economic, business, or lawful purpose” for the transactions.
Among the suspicious transactions cited by the bank and federal investigators:

• About $89,000 passed between Erickson’s US accounts and one held by Butina at Russia’s Alfa Bank. In 2014, Erickson received $8,000 from Butina’s Alfa account. Between June 2016 and March 2017, Erickson sent a dozen wires to her Alfa account totaling $27,000.

• About $93,000 was sent or received during a single four-month period — from May to August 2017, after Butina had arrived in the US and was attending graduate school at American University in Washington, DC. Bank officials discovered wires, checks, transfers, and cash deposits totaling that amount, including checks made out to cash, between the duo’s accounts last year.

• In June and July 2017, Erickson wired $45,000 to an unidentified law firm in Washington on Butina’s behalf. It is not known why Butina retained an attorney at that point, and her current lawyer, Robert Driscoll, told BuzzFeed News that his firm was not the recipient of the money.

• Last summer, Erickson sent two wires for $15,000 to a California company established by the son and brother of Jack Abramoff, a disgraced former lobbyist who is Erickson’s longtime friend, political ally, and business partner. The company, Landfair Capital Consulting, was incorporated in March 2017. Abramoff’s son, Alex, a recent college graduate, is the CEO and sole director; Abramoff’s brother, Robert, is the registered agent. Because the company was newly established and based out of the home of Alex Abramoff, who does not list it on his public profiles, bank investigators flagged it as a possible shell company established to hide Jack Abramoff’s interests.

Abramoff has not been accused of wrongdoing and neither he, his son, nor his brother returned messages from BuzzFeed News.

Investigators from Wells Fargo flagged dozens of other suspicious transactions involving Butina and Erickson for FBI agents and the Treasury Department’s financial crimes division. Bank investigators told Treasury officials they were suspicious about where the money came from and that they could find no “apparent economic, business, or lawful purpose” for the transactions. The cash withdrawals are of particular interest to federal agents, a source with knowledge of the matter told BuzzFeed News.

Last month, Butina was arrested and indicted on charges of “conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government.” Court documents in the case state that she sought to establish relationships with American political groups, including an unnamed “gun rights organization” believed to be the NRA, as well as US politicians in order to establish a “back channel” line of communication “for representatives of the Government of Russia.” The NRA did not return a message seeking comment. Her attorney, Driscoll, said she is innocent and will fight the charges in court.

In a statement, Driscoll wrote: “The truth is that a review of Ms. Butina’s banking activities will show no illegal, or even remarkable, activity. As she is a Russian national with a Russian bank account, it is hardly surprising that some of her international transactions triggered reports. It is unfortunate that the FBI chose to leak information based on such reports and/or to allow its investigative concerns to become public.”

Getting "the project" off the ground

According to federal prosecutors, Butina began her secret influence campaign in 2014 with the help of an unnamed US political operative. That operative, law enforcement sources told BuzzFeed News, is Erickson.

Court documents say the 29-year-old Butina was romantically involved with Erickson, a 56-year-old political consultant from South Dakota. Bank officials found that he paid her rent, her tuition at American University, and even a monthly furniture bill, and that he received money from individuals described as personal connections. Some of the funds were characterized as “family support.”

But bankers also saw that Erickson was often in dire financial straits. His personal and business accounts were overdrawn by a total of $2,300. He was hit with 77 overdraft fees. He took out payday loans of about $3,000 and had a balance of just $9 in one of his accounts.

Butina, meanwhile, began visiting the US in 2014 and making allies in conservative politics, particularly among guns rights advocates, prosecutors say. In March 2015, according to an email in which the duo discussed what prosecutors describe as a covert influence operation, Erickson told Butina that she would need significant resources to get “the project” off the ground.

She moved to Washington on a student visa in August 2016 and enrolled in a graduate program at American University, a move that was part of her cover story, prosecutors alleged.

But her first known financial transaction with Erickson was much earlier than that. In December 2014, she sent a pair of wires from her Alfa Bank account to Erickson in the US. They totaled $8,000, and Butina noted they were for “grant assistant.” Shortly after the email suggesting that she would need money to get her “special project” off the ground, Erickson sent a dozen wires to her Russian bank account for more than $27,000 and an additional $30,000 to a US account.

The two also appeared to use a company, Bridges LLC, to conduct suspicious transactions. Bank officials said they couldn’t determine the purpose of the company, which was incorporated in South Dakota in February 2016. Butina was listed as the “sole signer” on its checking account, but Erickson wrote and signed checks from it. He told McClatchy that Bridges was formed to help Butina obtain financial assistance for her graduate studies.

Last year their financial activity seemed to escalate.

In summer 2017, the two made about $93,000 in wires, checks, transfers, and cash transactions that were deemed suspicious, including more deposits to Butina’s Russian account. In June and July, Erickson sent two checks labeled “Butina retainer” to a Washington law firm. It appeared to bank examiners that he was filling out checks for her rent and utilities, but she was signing them. She paid a Washington limousine service $5,300.

But during their review, Wells Fargo officials paid close attention to how the duo handled cash. Through March 2017, the two had withdrawn about $107,000 from ATMs, bank branches, and checks made out to cash. Erickson made the vast majority of these withdrawals. Counterintelligence officials said they are trying to learn how the funds were used and whether they played a role in Butina’s suspected operation.

Erickson is also the subject of a federal fraud investigation in South Dakota, and some of the transactions flagged by Wells Fargo pertain to that probe, law enforcement sources told BuzzFeed News. Last week, Driscoll, Butina’s attorney, disclosed a letter from a federal prosecutor offering her a chance to provide any information she has on the “illegal activity of others.”

Erickson has not been charged with a crime.

Torshin’s role

Konstantin Zavrazhin / Getty Images
Alexander Torshin with Vladimir Putin.

In addition to Erickson’s help in the US, Butina, prosecutors say, had a powerful benefactor back in Russia. Her indictment said that she was communicating with Russian intelligence while here and was “acting at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government.”

That person, federal authorities told BuzzFeed News, is Alexander Torshin — Butina’s former boss, once a member of Russia’s upper house of parliament, and a close confidant of President Vladimir Putin.

In 2015, Torshin was appointed deputy governor of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation and Butina was hired as his special assistant. Torshin is believed to have close ties to gun rights activists in the US, and McClatchy reported that the FBI is investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the NRA.

According to her indictment, Butina worked for Torshin until May 2016, and she came to the US on a student visa later that summer. The same month, Spanish authorities reported that Torshin had been laundering money for the Moscow-based Taganskaya crime syndicate.

This year, Torshin was among the Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the US Treasury Department for playing a key role in “advancing Russia’s malign activities.” Law enforcement sources told BuzzFeed News that tens of millions of dollars in his suspicious financial transactions were flagged by Treasury officials working on the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Russian influence.

These transactions included large, round-number wire transfers — a hallmark of money laundering — from Istanbul and Dubai, the sources said. Reports on this suspicious behavior, which do not involve Wells Fargo, were shared with the FBI last year.

BuzzFeed News has also learned that financial dealings by Torshin, Erickson, and Butina were shared with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team and the Senate Intelligence Committee, both of which are investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It is not clear whether Mueller’s team is involved with the Butina case, which was brought by prosecutors in the national security division.

Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee have also requested access to the records of suspicious financial activity by Torshin, Erickson, and Butina.


Jul 31, 2018, 11:26:20 PM GMT
Alfa Bank is not under sanction by the United States. An earlier version of this post said it was. ... ney-russia
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Tue Jul 31, 2018 8:46 pm

Accused Russian Spy Maria Butina Told American CEO: Send Cash to Moscow

‘It’s more evidence that she had a broader agenda, she was doing other work for the Kremlin,’ one observer tells The Daily Beast.

Maria Butina, the accused Russian operative, didn’t just allegedly cultivate the NRA on behalf of the Kremlin. The 29-year-old Russian national also braced one of America’s best-known businessmen, pushing him to increase his investments in his bank in Moscow—a bank that was facing trouble with Kremlin authorities.

The encounter, detailed to The Daily Beast by multiple sources, paints a more detailed picture than previously known of the actions of the alleged foreign agent in the United States. It indicates that courting American politicos wasn’t her only mission. She also took keen interest in contentious, complex matters involving international finance—all while attempting to influence the primary financier of what would become Washington’s most Trump-friendly foreign policy think tank.

Butina, who is currently incarcerated, has pleaded not guilty to charges that she worked as a covert operative for the Kremlin, infiltrating the NRA and American conservative politics through a charm offensive that included, according to U.S. prosecutors, a series of sexual favors.

“I would think it’s even more evidence that she had a broader agenda, she was doing other work for the Kremlin,” said Evelyn Farkas, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and former Pentagon official focused on Russia. “It’s interesting that she was not only seeking to provide ways for the Russian government to put money into the U.S. political system in order to influence our electoral outcome but that she clearly also was interested in luring American money to Russia.”

“Butina was not only seeking to provide ways for the Russian government to put money into the U.S. political system. She clearly also was interested in luring American money to Russia.”

— Evelyn Farkas

The story starts in June 2008, with legendary American businessman Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the one-time CEO of insurance and financial services giant AIG. Greenberg’s Starr Russia Investments III bought 20 percent of Investtorgbank, a Russian bank. reported that the fund Greenberg headed paid about $100 million for its share of the bank. In August of 2009, Starr invested another $8 million in the bank, according to court filings in the state of New York.

The next year, bank chairman Vladimir Gudkov boasted that business was booming. The bank was looking to expand into Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, he told Interfax. He sounded proud that Greenberg’s first foray into investment in the Russian banking sector would be with his bank.

But within a few years, things went south. In December 2014, according to court filings, the Russian Central Bank started auditing the bank’s books. Lawyers for Starr say Gudkov and others in the bank engaged in egregious self-dealing, frittering away tens of millions of dollars. The Russian government auditors concluded that by the end of 2014, the bank was insolvent.

In April of 2015, while that audit was still underway, Butina and Alexander Torshin—a Russian Central Bank official, later accused of money laundering and sanctioned by the U.S. government—attended a private discussion of Russia’s financial situation at the Center for the National Interest, according to Reuters. Greenberg participated in the meeting.

Unlike most Washington foreign policy think tanks, which are generally hawkish, the Center is known for facilitating conversations between Kremlin officials and American foreign policy leaders. It is viewed as a home for the foreign policy restraint that the president himself seems to favor.

The Center’s honorary chairman—former secretary of state and accused war criminal Henry Kissinger—is one of Vladimir Putin’s closest international confidants; the two have met 17 times over the years. Kissinger also advised Donald Trump to move closer to Russia as a way of containing China’s rise on the global stage. Board member Richard Burt is also a lobbyist for Russian old giant Gazprom. Jon Huntsman, Trump’s ambassador to Russia, previously served on the Center’s board. And David Keene, who Butina appears to have cultivated, is also a board member. Butina also wrote for the Center’s magazine.

People close to the Center have risen to prominence in the Trump administration, most notably Alexander Alden, who was a senior fellow at the Center for seven months in 2017, according to his LinkedIn page. Alden then left the Center for the Pentagon. And in May 2018, he became director of defense policy and strategy on the National Security Council, where he currently works.

Trump himself gave the first major foreign policy speech of his presidential campaign at an event the Center hosted, on April 27, 2016 at Washington’s tony Mayflower Hotel. Burt helped craft the talk. Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak attended, seated in the front row.

At a reception before the speech, Kislyak and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions had a conversation. That encounter later caused huge headaches for Sessions, who went on to become Trump’s attorney general: He didn’t mention it when pressed during his confirmation hearing on whether he had ever had spoken with Russian nationals during the campaign. Subsequent reports of the encounter generated heated criticism of the attorney general. Shortly after that criticism emerged, Sessions recused himself from supervising the investigation into possible interference in the 2016 election by the Kremlin. He handed off the reins to his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, who immediately named Robert Mueller as the head of the probe.

Greenberg is a main source of funding for the Center, which arguably has closer relationships with Kremlin officials than any other Washington think tank. From fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2015, its total net revenue was $11.6 million; Greenberg’s $5.6 million in contributions nearly half of its income. Greenberg is chairman emeritus of the Center’s board and received its lifetime achievement award in 2017.

According to multiple sources familiar with her actions, Butina appeared to be aware that the Russian bank in which Greenberg had invested was in trouble.

Sources familiar with Butina’s activity told The Daily Beast that she approached his Starr investment empire and recommended he invest more money in the flailing bank. The move left observers shocked and disturbed—a little-known twenty-something who was closely linked to a top official in the Russian Central Bank appeared to be telling a major American financier how to handle his Russia investments.

These sources said it was unclear if she was acting alone, providing a covert message on behalf of the Russian government, or looking to enrich herself through a potential transaction. The fact that Butina carried business cards claiming she was a Central Bank employee only added to the confusion. (A person familiar with her testimony to the Senate intelligence committee said Butina claimed she never actually worked for the bank, but rather distributed the cards to enhance her status.)

Dimitri Simes, the president of the Center for the National Interest, learned about Butina’s outreach, according to two sources, who said he communicated to her that she needed to drop it.

“Sources said it was unclear if Butina was acting alone, providing a covert message on behalf of the Russian government, or looking to enrich herself through a potential transaction.”

Regardless, Butina’s efforts to influence Greenberg’s investment decisions did not succeed. Reuters reported on August 27, 2015 that the Russian Central Bank seized InvesttorgBank, intended to investigate the bank’s financial health and protect its creditors. The Central Bank concluded the bank was racked by “massive fraud,” according to court filings’ characterization of their assessment.

In January of this year, Tass reported that Gudkov was detained in Monaco over accusations from Russian law enforcement officials that he embezzled 7 billion rubles. Kommersant reported that Monaco refused to extradite him.

Buzzfeed reported earlier on Tuesday that federal investigators are scrutinizing a number of financial transactions linked to her, including a $90,000 transaction with Alfa Bank. Butina’s attorney told Buzzfeed the payments were neither illegal nor remarkable.

Lawyers for Butina and Greenberg—who last year paid a $9.9 million settlement with the New York Attorney General’s office to settle fraud charges—declined to comment for this piece. A spokesperson for Starr Companies did not respond to multiple requests for comment. A spokesman for the Center declined to comment as well.

To Hall, who spent years as the CIA’s chief of Russian operations, the situation sounds awfully familiar.

“The whole description of her reaching out to a rich American businessman and saying, ‘Hey, you guys need to invest more money or the bank’s going to go belly-up and you’re going to lose money’—that’s perfectly consistent with Russian—if you want to refer to them as ‘business practices,’ I guess you could,” he said.

“Trying to milk that last drop of juice out of the lemon before it’s cast aside would not be inconsistent, certainly, with Russian business practices,” he added. ... -to-moscow
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Aug 03, 2018 9:09 pm

Did Alleged Russian Spy Maria Butina Cause a Leadership Shake-up at the NRA?

Weeks after the feds raided Butina’s apartment, the gun group’s president made a hasty exit.

David Corn
Aug. 3, 2018 7:54 AM

On May 7, the National Rifle Association released a curious press release declaring that Oliver North, the key player in the Iran-contra scandal and an NRA board member, was “poised to become” the group’s president. Earlier that day, Peter Brownell, then finishing his first term as NRA president, had announced that he would not seek a second annual term in order to devote more time to his family business, a firearms retail company.

This changing of the guard—and how it happened—was odd. For fifteen years, the NRA leadership had followed a specific pattern: an officer was elected by the board to serve two consecutive annual terms as second vice president, then two as first vice president, and, finally, two as president. But the Brownell-to-North transition broke this orderly process. North at the time was serving in neither vice president position. And his ascension was a surprise—even to North. The day of the move, North told NRATV, “I didn’t expect this to be happening…This was very sudden.” (North also remarked, “A coup is being worked against the president of the United States and every conservative organization on the planet.”)

This development puzzled NRA watchers. North had not been in the line of succession. He was not prepared for the position and said he would need weeks before he could assume the post. Brownell was the first NRA president in a decade and a half not to seek a second term, and the first vice president, Richard Childress, was passed over. Childress claimed that because of his own commitments he could not even serve as interim president. That job went to the second vice president, Carolyn Meadows. The NRA had been known as an outfit with a strict hierarchy. But now all that was being thrown aside in what North called an “unexpected” and “sudden” action.

What wasn’t publicly known at the time was that on April 25—two weeks before this seemingly hasty NRA leadership makeover—FBI agents in tactical gear raided the apartment of Maria Butina, a 29-year-old Russian who three months later would be charged by federal prosecutors for allegedly serving as a secret agent for the Russian government in the United States. For years, Butina and her mentor, Alexander Torshin, a Russian official tied to Vladimir Putin, had hooked up with the NRA and other conservative groups, allegedly as part of what the Justice Department called a covert influence operation. Butina, who ran a gun rights group in Russia, and Torshin, who has been accused of money laundering (a charge he denies), had attended NRA events and other right-wing get-togethers, and during the 2016 campaign used their NRA contacts to try to arrange a meeting between Putin and Donald Trump. (It didn’t happen.) During this operation, according to prosecutors, Butina relied upon the assistance of conservative consultant Paul Erickson, her romantic partner and an active NRA member.

Did the FBI investigation of Butina lead to Brownell’s quick retreat from the NRA leadership? The NRA did not respond to a request for comment. And neither did Brownell. “He’s not taking calls,” the receptionist at his company says.

Brownell did have history with Butina. In 2015, she organized a trip to Russia for an NRA delegation that included Brownell, top NRA donor Joe Gregory, and David Clarke, then the Milwaukee County sheriff. During that jaunt, the NRAers met with Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister, who had been sanctioned by the Obama administration in 2014 in retaliation for Putin’s intervention in Ukraine. Rogozin led the ultra-right party Rodina, and his government portfolio included a matter of particular interest to this delegation: the arms industry. He had the task of overseeing Russia’s military-industrial complex and rejuvenating the nation’s weapons-making business.

While Brownell, then the NRA’s first vice president, and his NRA colleagues were in Moscow, they visited the headquarters of ORSIS, a private arms manufacturer. Accompanied by Butina, they watched a video extolling the ORSIS T-5000, a highly accurate sniper rifle that had been identified by the Pentagon as a threat to American troops. They toured the company’s manufacturing plant and observed rifles being made. They also test-fired ORSIS rifles at an on-site shooting range. The firm presented the NRA group with watches bearing the company’s logo. Weeks later, the company produced a promotional video showing the NRA delegates gushing over the T-5000. The video was posted on YouTube. That is, Brownell and the others, who had been escorted to the ORSIS offices by Butina, were helping ORSIS sell a rifle that worried US military planners.

During that visit, Brownell and the NRA delegation met Svetlana Nikolaeva, the president of the parent company of ORSIS. (She appears in that promotional video with the NRA crew.) In what was likely not a coincidence, Nikolaeva’s oligarch husband, Konstantin Nikolaev, provided financial support to Butina, according to private testimony Butina gave to Senate investigators this year before she was charged. (One document filed by federal prosecutors maintains that Butina has “ties to the Russian oligarchy.”)

The Butina case has been an embarrassment for the NRA, which has yet to comment on it, and, more important, it has raised questions about interactions between the gun lobby and Russia, including the possibility of Russian sources funneling money to the NRA. (According to a BuzzFeed report, Butina and Erickson engaged in financial transactions totaling nearly $300,000 that were flagged by banking investigators as suspicious.) A previous NRA president, David Keene, who was part of that delegation to Russia, enthusiastically pledged his assistance to Butina and her Russian organization. And Brownell was smack-dab in the middle of the NRA-Butina connection.

If Brownwell’s departure as top gun at the NRA was not related to the Butina case, then the gun lobby was quite fortunate he was gone by the time this scandal exploded. ... the-nra-1/

Trump associate socialized with alleged Russian agent Maria Butina in final weeks of 2016 campaign

by Rosalind S. HeldermanAugust 3 at 7:27 PM

Maria Butina, the Russian gun-rights activist who was charged last month with working as an unregistered agent of the Kremlin, socialized in the weeks before the 2016 election with a former Trump campaign aide who anticipated joining the presidential transition team, emails show, putting her in closer contact with President Trump’s orbit than was previously known.

Butina sought out interactions with J.D. Gordon, who served for six months as the Trump campaign’s director of national security before leaving in August 2016 and being offered a role in the nascent Trump transition effort, according to documents and testimony provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee and described to The Washington Post.

The two exchanged several emails in September and October 2016, culminating in an invitation from Gordon to attend a concert by the rock band Styx in Washington. Gordon also invited Butina to attend his birthday party in late October of that year.

Prosecutors have said Butina, 29, who became a graduate student at American University in 2016, attempted to infiltrate the U.S. political system at the direction of a senior Russian official. Her activities came at the same time that, according to U.S. intelligence officials, Moscow was seeking to interfere in the presidential election to help Trump.

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

During the campaign, Butina asked Trump at a public event in 2015 about his views on Russia and briefly met Donald Trump Jr. at a National Rifle Association meeting in May 2016.

U.S. investigators probing alleged coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia have been examining dozens of contacts between Russians and Trump associates, including Trump Jr., former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as foreign policy advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos.

Gordon, 50, a former naval officer who served as a Pentagon spokesman under President George W. Bush before working on several Republican political campaigns, said his contacts with Butina were innocuous.

“From everything I’ve read since her arrest last month, it seems the Maria Butina saga is basically a sensationalized click bait story meant to smear a steady stream of Republicans and NRA members she reportedly encountered over the past few years,” he said in a statement to The Post, noting that she networked extensively. Gordon provided the same statement and some details of his interactions to the Washington Times, which published his account Friday afternoon after The Post contacted Gordon for comment.

“I wonder which prominent Republican political figures she hasn’t come across?” Gordon asked.

Robert Driscoll, an attorney for Butina, said the email exchanges show that Butina was a student eager to network with Americans who shared her interests and no more. Gordon and Driscoll both said the interactions were not romantic and the two had no additional contact after the birthday party in October 2016.

“A military guy who had been involved would have been a prime target, if that’s what she was about,” Driscoll said. “But the evidence is clear that there wasn’t any significant contact.”

Jay Sekulow, an attorney for Trump, declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Prosecutors say an American identified in court documents as “person 1” helped introduce Butina to people who had “influence in American politics.” The Post has identified that person as Paul Erickson, a GOP operative from South Dakota with whom Butina was in a romantic relationship.

The emails described to The Post show that Butina met Gordon at a party at the Swiss ambassador’s residence on Sept. 29, 2016. Gordon told The Post that he had been invited to the party by Faith Whittlesey, the prominent Republican and former U.S. ambassador to Switzerland who died earlier this year.

Later that night, Erickson wrote an email to Gordon and Butina, offering to “add an electronic bridge” to the pair’s meeting earlier that evening.

Erickson wrote to Butina that Gordon was “playing a crucial role in the Trump transition effort and would be an excellent addition to any of the U.S./Russia friendship dinners to occasionally hold.”

He continued that Gordon’s view on international security was listened to by all the “right” people in the “immediate future of American politics.”

Erickson did not respond to a request for comment.

Erickson explained to Gordon in the email that Butina was living in Washington while she completed a master’s degree at American University. Erickson described Butina as a “special friend” of the NRA and said she was the special assistant to the deputy governor of the Bank of Russia, according to the correspondence described to The Post.

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

Prosecutors have said the central banker, Alexander Torshin, helped direct Butina’s activities in the United States, including an effort to make contacts in the leadership of the NRA. NRA officials have not responded to requests for comment.

The emails show Gordon quickly responded to Erickson, sending Butina and Erickson a clip of a recent appearance he had made on RT, the Russian state-run English language television network. In the RT interview, Gordon said Trump took a “real common-sense approach to Russia.”

“We want to reduce hostility with Russia because, look, we have common interests,” he said.

Butina responded with praise, writing in an email to Gordon that he “looked very good” and had appeared smart and comfortable in the television appearance. She invited Gordon to attend a group dinner at the Army and Navy Club, hosted by George O’Neill Jr., the conservative writer and heir to the Rockefeller fortune, to discuss the relationship between the United States and Russia. Prosecutors cited the dinners organized by O’Neill, described in court documents as “person 2” as part of Butina’s efforts to influence thought leaders.

O’Neill did not respond to requests for comment.

Gordon responded that he could not attend the dinner, but he asked Butina over emails to get together for drinks and the concert. In one email described to The Post, Gordon included a link to a September 2016 Politico story reporting that he was a part of Trump’s growing transition effort. Gordon included a smattering of Russian phrases in his emails, beginning several notes “Privyet Maria,” with a Russian word for “hello.” In one email, he wrote “Kak di la?” The phrase is Russian for “How are you?”

In an emailed statement to The Post, Gordon said that Butina presented herself to “likely thousands of people” as a graduate student and founder of a Russian gun-rights group.

“It appears she sought out countless influential Americans in her steadfast efforts to strengthen relations with Russia. Recognizing that every single president since the Cold War tried to improve relations with Russia, including Pres. Obama, her Russian-American friendship efforts seemed in sync with a decades-old US foreign policy goal,” he said.

The contact was not Erickson’s first attempt to connect Butina and Torshin to the Trump campaign. In May 2016, he emailed Trump adviser Rick Dearborn and urged Dearborn to set up a meeting between Trump and Torshin at an upcoming NRA convention. Erickson described Torshin in the email as “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s emissary” for building warmer ties with the United States.

The campaign declined Erickson’s invitation but Torshin and Butina ultimately encountered the candidate’s son at a private dinner at the NRA convention, and they chatted briefly, Trump Jr. has said.

Gordon, who said he was never paid for his work on the Trump campaign and never performed any duties on the transition team, was assigned in March 2016 to serve as the point person for a newly named advisory group on foreign policy and national security. That committee also included Page, who has drawn interest from investigators for delivering a foreign policy speech in Moscow in July 2016, and Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts and has been cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Gordon attended a March 2016 meeting of the group presided over Trump while he was a presidential candidate, where Papadopoulos introduced himself by announcing he could help arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin.

Page told the House Intelligence Committee in November 2017 that he had informed Gordon before visiting Moscow in July 2016, where he delivered a speech at a Russian university and exchanged brief greetings with Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich.

While in Moscow, Page wrote Gordon and another Trump aide that he had received “incredibly insights and outreach” from a “few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.” Page testified that he exchanged only brief greetings with one Russian official, Dvorkovich, who had attended his speech.

Gordon has described Page and Papadopoulos as “peripheral members of a relatively peripheral advisory committee.”

Gordon has also said he briefly met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican National Convention, in an exchange he has said was innocuous. And he was the Trump campaign’s point person for a Republican platform committee discussion in which he argued against language that would have endorsed having the United States send lethal weapons to Ukraine. The proposed provision, which was not adopted, was perceived as hostile to Russia.

Gordon has said he pushed the platform committee to reject the language, proposed by a Republican delegate, because he had heard Trump talk about his desire to forge better relations with Russia and considered the language to be damaging for that goal.

Because of those contacts, Gordon has said he was asked to testify before all three congressional committees that have investigated Russian interference in the election, as well as investigators working for Mueller.

Gordon said he disclosed his Butina contact in congressional testimony but was not asked about her by Mueller’s team. He said FBI agents in Washington who have been investigating Butina have not asked to speak with him.

Carol D. Leonnig and Shane Harris contributed to this report. ... 696115a84f


August 3, 2018/0 Comments/in 2016 Presidential Election, Mueller Probe /by emptywheel

On top of being the guy who prevented the Republican platform from taking an aggressive stance against Russia, JD Gordon is the Trump associate who spends a lot of time claiming that Jeff Sessions opposed George Papadopoulos’ plans to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin.

Which is why I get such a kick out of the story that Russians NRA spy, Mariia Butina, spent September and October cultivating Gordon, and even went to a Styx concert together.

The two exchanged several emails in September and October 2016, culminating in an invitation from Gordon to attend a concert by the rock band Styx in Washington. Gordon also invited Butina to attend his birthday party in late October of that year.

Which means the Russian NRA spy and the Trump campaign National Security Advisor went to hear a version of the Grand Illusion together.

“I wonder which prominent Republican political figures she hasn’t come across?” Gordon asked. ... -illusion/[/hr]
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Tue Aug 07, 2018 8:00 am

Olga Lautman

It’s unreal that @RandPaul is in Russia but what’s infuriating is that the Russians are lobbying him in help with releasing Russian spy Butina. Apparently @randpaul has priorities and it’s not the protection of America




Posted on Aug 04, 2018

How Maria Butina fooled the Russian opposition

Maria Butina, arrested in the United States on charges of promoting Russia's interests as a "foreign agent" without registration, participated in human rights and opposition projects in Russia before coming to America, and none of the activists who knew her could even imagine that she was working for the government or special services. This was reported by the press secretary of the Russian Bar Association for Human Rights Julia Guseinova in an interview.

"Maria participated in many of our events until 2015. We conducted an excellent study on life expectancy around the world, collected data on the human potential index with a forecast until 2050. I did not notice any "jingoism" on her part. On the contrary, Butina expressed a very sober assessment of what was happening and was strongly opposed to many initiatives of the authorities – very sober and reasonable. She was one of the few speakers who did not need to be told what needs to be said at the events. Also, Masha took a very tough and confident position against sexual harassment," Julia recalls.

According to Yuliya Guseinova, Maria Butina showed particular interest in the topic of space exploration and the gender equality in this field.

"Maria entered the women's space program, very much wanted to fly into space, prepared, trained by herself. She was very purposeful in terms of space exploration, constantly communicated with us about this, always posted information on this topic, carefully followed the developments in this area. This, of course, was very disarming. That's why for us there was no hint that she had a hidden agenda," – summed up Julia.

Maria Butina made a similar impression on the lawyer and human rights activist Maria Bast. On July 16, when information about the Russian woman's arrest became public, Maria Bast wrote on her Facebook page that Butina's eyes sparkled while talking about space.

"She joined our Women's Space Program, spoke out about discrimination against women in the space industry, we filed a protest permit to demonstrate against Roskosmos in defense of women's rights," Bast remembers, although adding that Butina may have been tempted "by money and position to the detriment of her dream."

According to the Russian opposition members living in the US, Maria Butina tried to make contacts with them, but nothing came of it.

"Once she came to meet us when we picketed the Russian embassy in Washington. However, after Maria said that she was involved in the movement to legalize guns in Russia, I immediately realized that this sounds very strange, and something is not right here. We did not maintain any contact after this", one of the initiators of the adoption of the Magnitsky Act, human rights activist Tanja Nyberg told in her comments.

Some other Russian dissidents living in the US also noted the discrepancy between Butina's behavior in America and the image created by her in Russia.

"The Russian authorities are afraid even of unarmed schoolchildren who participate in anti-government rallies. The regime is based on the intimidation of people and the constant use of force. How could anyone seriously believe that a person who promotes such a dangerous and unpopular among authorities idea as the unlimited gun ownership by citizens in a totalitarian country would enjoy such support and favor of the authorities? Of course, Butina's image appealed to elderly American gun lobbyists, but for those who are familiar with Russian realities, her legend seemed to be nonsense," the activists say.

As a reminder, on July 16, the US Justice Department announced the arrest of a Russian woman Maria Butina; she is accused of trying to promote Russian interests in the US without registering as a "foreign agent". The founder of the public organization "The Right to Arms", Butina is thought to be close to the deputy chairman of the Central Bank, former senator Alexander Torshin – judging by the American indictment, he was in charge of her activities in the US.

According to the FBI, Butina met with a Russian diplomat, whom US intelligence officials suspect of intelligence activities, actively made friends with prominent politicians and tried to create a shadow channel of communication between the Kremlin and the administration of Donald Trump. At the same time, she informed her American contacts that the channels she created were approved by the Administration of the President of Russia and personally by Vladimir Putin. ... opposition
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Tue Aug 07, 2018 2:32 pm

Accused Russian Agent's Journey To Washington Began In South Dakota

Maria Butina learned about Americans on a very local level — and found that gun rights would be a winning issue to get close to conservatives.

Vera Bergengruen
06:25 PM - 29 Apr 2014
Facebook; Joe Ahlquist for BuzzFeed News; Getty Images; BuzzFeed News
Map of Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Reporting From

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Posted on August 6, 2018, at 6:31 p.m. ET

Long before she became a fixture at NRA conventions, and years before she allegedly attempted to set up a back channel between the Kremlin and Republican officials, Maria Butina got her foothold in the US in South Dakota.

She was invited to family dinners of buffalo steaks, shot pheasants with local hunters, and established a track record of speaking to American students about gun rights. It would eventually become the blueprint for her outreach efforts to Washington and the NRA, where the FBI says she established connections “based on common views and a system of conservative values.”

Now a growing number of people in this sparsely populated state best known as the home to Mount Rushmore are flabbergasted to find themselves in photos or Facebook friends with an alleged Russian agent. Last month, Butina was arrested and jailed as an unregistered foreign agent for carrying out a years-long campaign to infiltrate US conservative organizations, which prosecutors say was directed by a high-ranking Russian official and funded by a Russian billionaire. She has pleaded not guilty.

“I met a Russian spy 3 years before she was outed,” reads the recently edited caption of an Instagram photo posted in 2015 by Nick Johnson, now an enlisted US Marine, who posed with Butina at a Young Republicans summer camp.

butina2 .tiff

He is part of a growing group — the pilot who took her flying, the restaurant owner who introduced her to the Moscow Mule, the local hunters who counted trophies with her, the congressional candidate who invited her to speak to kids about gun rights — asking the same question: What was Butina doing in South Dakota?

Butina made Sioux Falls, the state’s largest city, her home base in the US for several stays in 2014 and 2015 before moving to Washington on a student visa. It was there that she got her first US cellphone, with a South Dakota area code, and wrote detailed observations of how American institutions worked, from local elections to college campuses. While the FBI has focused on “the groundwork that Butina and the Russian official laid to influence high-level politicians” in 2015, her time in South Dakota was mainly spent with average Americans.

That fits with what former intelligence officers told BuzzFeed News her likely purpose was — to gather information and develop access to influential US figures.

“When she was connecting on a very local level, she was getting information on how our society works and building her backstory,” said Alex Finley, a former CIA operations officer.

In that sense, Butina's time in the US was similar to that of Russians who traveled to several states in 2014 for the Internet Research Agency, a state-sponsored troll farm indicted for trying to meddle in the 2016 election — “she was figuring out how things work, what are the political divisions on the local level, what could you exploit,” Finley said.

Although her subsequent efforts to set up high-level meetings were often clumsy, and not always successful, her time in South Dakota seemed to prove that when it came to the issue of gun rights, Russians had found a valuable access point to US conservatives.

South Dakota, The Rushmore. Это даже более потрясающе, чем я могла представить. Хотя думала, что работа древнее

Maria_Butina / Twitter / Via Twitter: @Maria_Butina

“[Sioux Falls] reminded me of my native Siberia.”

Butina first visited South Dakota in April 2014, accompanied by her US partner and eventual boyfriend, Paul Erickson, a 56-year-old South Dakota Republican political operative and businessman. She’d met him five months earlier in Moscow, where he was part of a group of American gun activists who attended her group's annual meeting. The US delegation was headed by David Keene, a former NRA president whom Erickson had known since 1995.

The first thing she noticed when she got off the plane in Sioux Falls was that it smelled like home — “the frosty air and even the smell of the local flora reminded me of my native Siberia,” she wrote in an article for a Russian magazine in 2016.

The other was the large orange banner — “Welcome Hunters!” — at the airport, which proudly notes it is named for a former governor who served as an NRA president.

It was the perfect entry point in the US for the then–25-year-old gun enthusiast, who in conversations with locals often brought up that she had a lot in common with South Dakota’s culture.

In Washington, she often came off as overly solicitous in her introductions, and her fervent offers to connect made some uncomfortable, people who met her told BuzzFeed News.
Interstate 29, south of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Joe Ahlquist for BuzzFeed News
Interstate 29, south of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

In South Dakota’s largest city — which at 150,000 is still a fraction of the size of her native Barnaul in Siberia — the stakes were lower, and people were friendly. Her stories of fighting for citizens’ access to weapons tapped into the fear — and sympathy — of avid Second Amendment supporters in a state where billboards on the highway read “Eat steak. Wear furs. Keep your guns. The American way.”

On her first visit, touring the state after attending the annual NRA convention in Indianapolis, she hit the main sights, from Mount Rushmore (“I thought the work was more ancient”) to bison (“looks terrifying, right?”)

Half a year later, she was back again, going pheasant hunting with a local outdoor group.

Photos of her posted by Missouri River Outdoors that November refer to her as “our guest hunter, Maria, from Moscow, Russia,” with Erickson never far from her side — rare glimpses of the duo together.

“When we got there, we were told a Russian model was going to join the hunting group,” Kevin Connelly, who lives in Elk Point and was part of the group that day, told BuzzFeed News. In the company of men, Butina often brought up that she had been featured in Russian GQ, posing with guns.

“It was perfect for her mission.”

In the words of local blogger Cory Allen Heidelberger, “Boy, there’s gotta be a promo for South Dakota tourism in here somewhere.”

Heidelberger, who runs the liberal Dakota Free Press, has been crowdsourcing photos to find Butina’s hunting companions and not been surprised to get comments like “no way, that’s my boss!”

“South Dakota doesn’t make the news much, so now there’s so much intrigue because it really does intersect with almost every one of our lives,” he said. “People thought, ‘Here’s a girl who grew up shooting, she’s like my sister,’ and that’s all you needed to get a foot in the door."

Downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Joe Ahlquist for BuzzFeed News
Downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

While the later years of Butina’s work have been in the headlines, described by the FBI as a “calculated, patient” influence operation that left a trail of $300,000 in financial transactions, Erickson’s neighbors have been dissecting the time she spent in South Dakota.

“It’s so freaking crazy and surreal, I feel like there are now almost zero degrees of separation between myself and the most fascinating yet frightening true story of my lifetime,” said Nicole Allen, who said seeing news coverage of an alleged Russian agent living in her complex was “wild af” and that neighbors have been joking about the common areas being bugged. “It’s a rural, gun-loving state so I believe that’s why it was perfect for her mission.”

It was to that Sioux Falls apartment that Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, says she was planning to move with Erickson when she was arrested last month. He told BuzzFeed News the recent American University graduate was planning on starting a business there.

“Maria Butina was incredible”

Erickson used his local connections to give Butina a platform that would build a reputation in US gun activist circles.

Her local speaking engagements over the course of a few months in 2015 show how she used these low-key events, which were carefully documented on social media and written up on her blog, to establish herself.

“Maria Butina was incredible,” the organizer of a weeklong summer camp for teenage Republicans tweeted in July 2015, with a photo that shows Butina speaking, with Erickson standing behind her holding a map. “The kids *loved* her stories of working for freedom in Russia.”

Now that organizer, Dusty Johnson, is the Republican candidate for South Dakota’s lone US House seat and has found himself having to explain to critics how an alleged Russian agent ended up speaking to kids at his event.

“Expecting that people at a summer camp would sniff out a Russian spy as part of a 25-minute speech about freedom is probably expecting more than any rational person could,” he told the Argus Leader newspaper.

Johnson’s defense — that he had looked up Butina online before inviting her, and had been reassured because she had previously spoken at local schools and universities — shows that Butina and Erickson’s strategy of establishing a track record had been successful. Johnson didn't respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.

Earlier that year, in April 2015, Butina had spoken at the University of South Dakota, Erickson’s alma mater in his hometown of Vermillion.

University of South Dakota
A flyer for the event featured a professional headshot of Butina and a biography that portrayed her as the face of Russia’s gun rights movement. She hit all the now-familiar points, according to an outline of her speech posted on her website, telling students that South Dakota reminded her of Siberia, praising US gun laws, and ending with a Bible verse. In a Russian-language blog, she recounted that they had asked good questions and she had not found the stereotype of “dumb” American college students to be true, describing them as “not dumber and not smarter than our guys.”

A USD spokesperson told BuzzFeed News Butina was invited “as an international guest lecturer upon the recommendation of Paul Erickson,” who is listed as a “life executive member” of the W.O. Farber Center for Civic Leadership, a USD program.

Even when the issue was far removed from guns, Butina did not turn down any opportunity to speak in front of an audience. That same summer, she spoke to high school students at an “Academy of Finance” workshop in Sioux Falls about women and entrepreneurship, describing her experience running furniture stores in her hometown. The teacher later posted a thank-you note saying it was “priceless to have a leader like Maria Butina and Paul Erickson in our classroom to role model” for the students.

“There was no political discussion whatsoever” at her event, Sioux Falls School District spokesperson Ben Schumacher told BuzzFeed News.

He confirmed that it was arranged by Erickson, who at the time was a volunteer with the Junior Achievement of South Dakota program.

The Sioux Falls apartment building where Butina stayed with Erickson.
Joe Ahlquist for BuzzFeed News
The Sioux Falls apartment building where Butina stayed with Erickson.

Despite him playing a major role in setting up all of these events, Butina does not seem to mention Erickson once in her more than 4,000 blog entries, as well as thousands more posts and photos on Facebook, Instagram, VK, and Twitter. It appears to be a glaring omission for the live-in “boyfriend” her lawyer said she was moving to South Dakota for after a years-long relationship.

She only mentions him in her gun group’s promotion for an event in Moscow where he was speaking in September 2014, describing him as a “life member” of the NRA, a gun collector, a Christian, and airplane aficionado who had served as a political consultant in six presidential campaigns. The NRA did not respond to BuzzFeed News' repeated requests for comment.

According to the FBI affidavit, Butina’s relationship with Erickson was a cover that she “appears to treat…as simply a necessary aspect of her activities.” Later on, she “expressed disdain” about having to live with him, prosecutors allege.

Erickson’s Sioux Falls apartment, where Butina lived on her visits in 2014 and 2015, lies in a quiet complex centered around an American flag, silent except for the wind chimes on neighbors’ balconies and the muted roar of a nearby highway. Families of deer circle behind a patch of trees by the bike path she used for morning runs and yoga. The listed address for Erickson’s business, Compass Care, is right across the street, in the same complex as the local office for US Sen. John Thune. Last month, it looked abandoned, with boxes of files sitting on the floor of the darkened front office.

It must have been a stark contrast to Butina’s life in Moscow, which, according to friends in Russia and photographs, was often a whirlwind of television appearances, interviews, speeches, and dinners at which she was the center of attention as the face of her organization.

“She is not a private person; she’s a public person,” her lawyer argued in court last month. “She was famous in Russia before she came to the US.”

Living in the Sioux Falls complex with Erickson, neighbors told BuzzFeed News, she was friendly but mainly kept to herself. Often spotted in running clothes, and once with her leg in a cast, she did not appear to make any personal friends and spent a lot of her time online, blogging about her workouts and healthy recipes on her personal account.

However, a number of Butina’s online posts were long, detailed observations about how things worked in the US that showed an unusual interest for a twentysomething who was visiting a rural state. She wrote about local school board elections in Sioux Falls, detailing the process of how IDs and tablets were used to vote and saying she was “fortunate to observe how local self-government is realized here.”

A white-tailed deer fawn along the bike path Maria Butina used in Sioux Falls.
Joe Ahlquist for BuzzFeed News
A white-tailed deer fawn along the bike path Maria Butina used in Sioux Falls.

Her posts for and about her gun rights organization — which experts doubt was a legitimate grassroots organization, but rather a cover for her activities — increasingly incorporated US-centered and NRA talking points.

She often wrote about US crime and gun ownership statistics. She spoke and wrote about the mass shootings at Sandy Hook and Fort Hood, and shared US news stories about non-gun violence, for example, a 2014 story about about 24 people injured at a high school stabbing in Pittsburgh.

Although she almost always posted in Russian, the memes she shared were often in English, so the Americans she met and friended on social media were able to comment on them. They often featured graphic images to make their point — bloody knives, terrified women cowering from an aggressor, a victim shot in the head, and glamour shots of herself with weapons.

Her posts also became more political.

“According to supporters of the US Democratic Party, Russians can not be trusted with weapons,” she says in one of her blog's headlines in 2014. She often referenced NRA posts critical of President Barack Obama’s policies. The following year, when Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy, she shared a post titled “Hillary Equates Gun Owners With Terrorists, Says They Are 'Prone to Violence,'" and later posted the NRA’s anti-Clinton ad.

She also wrote about wanting to get her pilot’s license while she was in South Dakota. In November 2015, she took a discovery flight with Legacy Aviation, a flight school 10 minutes from Erickson’s apartment. She posted several photos taken in the air and posed with her pilot log announcing her “flying classes had started today.”


The co-owner of the school, Mark Isackson, told BuzzFeed News that he had seen Butina in the news and was surprised to recognize one of his flight instructors in half a dozen photos with the alleged Russian spy three years earlier. “Oh…that’s Kurt, all right. That’s Kurt,” he said when a BuzzFeed News reporter showed him the pictures posted by Butina.

Kurt Andersen said he had “no recollection of this short introductory flight whatsoever.”

Butina never registered for formal flying lessons with the school, Isackson said. As a Russian citizen, she would have had to register through the TSA’s Alien Flight Student program, a post-9/11 screening process that requires noncitizens to undergo a "security threat assessment" before being cleared to attend flight school.

“My guess is there were many Butinas out there.”

In the background of all her activities in South Dakota is the presence of Erickson, usually the person taking her photo with the Americans she met. He is rarely pictured with Butina except for a few photos posted by other groups — the Right to Bear Arms convention, the outdoor group’s collection of photos from the pheasant hunt, a USD alumni event in Washington.

Erickson has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but prosecutors said in court filings that he was "instrumental in aiding her covert influence operation, despite knowing its connections to the Russian official." His efforts included helping in efforts to organize a meeting at the May 2016 NRA convention between then-candidate Trump and Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia's central bank and a former Russian senator who was allegedly Butina’s handler in Russia.

Friends and former colleagues who spoke to BuzzFeed News described Erickson as a longtime bachelor, a “wild character,” a “bumbling bullshitter,” a “mystery wrapped in an enigma,” and “a sharp political guy” with a colorful past, known for hyping his connections and driving a bright red 1990s Mustang with the license plate RTWING.

In the small world of South Dakota politics, most people had run across him at some point, they said. His career spanned a bizarre range of work, including being a top staffer in Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign, coproducing the anti-communist action movie Red Scorpion with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and lobbying for an African dictator.

The office building where Paul Erickson has kept an office in Sioux Falls.
Joe Ahlquist for BuzzFeed News
The office building where Paul Erickson has kept an office in Sioux Falls.

In his memoir, Abramoff described Erickson as a “tall, thin raconteur” who “successfully hypnotized most of Washington's official media” when he worked with the College Republicans.

“No one was better to parachute into a crisis than Erickson,” he wrote.

Others describe him as a cash-strapped “con man” who according to South Dakota public records has at least seven court judgments totaling $421,212 against him and his companies since 2003, a fraud with an overblown sense of importance who, like Butina, was a compulsive networker. He kept connections from his time at the University of Virginia and Yale — for example, South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, who was recently surprised to discover he had hosted the alleged Russian agent for Thanksgiving.

“He’s a connector; he’s one of those guys that knows a lot of people, or pretends to, and puts himself in the middle of everything,” a friend of Erickson’s who worked in the same circles told BuzzFeed News. “We’d sit around and wonder what Paul is doing; does he really know the people he claims to know? Does he really own homes in Manhattan Beach and LA? You just don’t know.”

In his messages to Butina, revealed in court filings, he similarly bragged about the lists of influential people he could introduce her to, assuring her, “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…NO ONE could build a better list.”

While details of the years-long relationship among Butina, Erickson and Torshin continue to emerge, former intelligence officials and Russia analysts say theirs was just one of what was likely a large number of similar efforts.

John Sipher, a former member of the CIA clandestine service, said Russians “may well have dispatched a number of folks in different ways” to see what stuck.

Finley, the former CIA operations officer, agreed, saying Butina’s actions can’t be seen as “some giant master plan” but rather a part of Russians' countless low-cost, low-risk operations.

“When they sent her over, they didn’t know she’d infiltrate the NRA and meet high-level people, but as opportunities arose they’d take them. They were casting as wide a net as they could,” she said. “My guess is there were many Butinas out there.” ... -trump-nra
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Aug 10, 2018 9:23 am

Polly Sigh

BUSTED: Kushner failed to turnover emails about WikiLeaks he received in Sep 2016 => “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite”



They're also seeking a "broad tranche of docs" re Kushner’s contacts w/Flynn & communications between Trump aides & Sergei Millian [Oh My!] cc'ed to Kushner.

Letter from Grassley & Feinstein to Kushner's lawyer Abbe Lowell noting missing documents, including communication about Wikileaks & Sergei Millian


^ Recall: Trump business assoc Sergei Millian [in touch w/Papadopoulos during 2016 campaign] was the source of #SteeleDossier's most salacious claim.

Trump business assoc Sergei Millian, key source of dossier info, was in touch w/Papadopoulos during campaign ... edirect=on

When accused Russian spy Maria Butina needed money from oligarch Konstantin Nikolaev, she went to Igor Pisarsky, whose clients include Alfa Bank, Vekselberg's Skolkovo, & Rostec – AND whose charity gave an award to Trump associate, SERGEI MILLIAN.



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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Tue Aug 14, 2018 11:25 am

Handler of alleged spy Butina tied to suspicious U.S.-Russia exchange program

Russian politician Alexander Torshin’s meetings with American students, coupled with his role managing alleged covert Russian agent Mariia Butina, suggest he may be a more important Kremlin operative than previously known.

08/14/2018 05:18 AM EDT
Six years before he was exposed for allegedly managing a covert agent on U.S. soil, the Russian politician Alexander Torshin hosted young Americans visiting Moscow as part of two cultural exchange programs, including one that has drawn the FBI’s scrutiny.

The gregarious Torshin regularly hosted U.S. visitors in the ornate chambers of Russia’s parliament, where he gushed about his love of guns, bourbon and America.

“He was friendly, traveled to the U.S. often and enjoyed sharing his experiences of visiting small-town America,” recalls one participant who went on two trips sponsored by the Russian government.

A photo posted on Facebook by one of the exchange programs shows several young visitors, including the student body president of Princeton University, meeting with Torshin over tea and cookies. (The FBI is not known to have investigated that program. None of the students, or Torshin, has been accused of wrongdoing.)

It wasn’t until years later that Torshin would emerge as a major figure in the Trump-Russia saga — a man whom federal prosecutors say oversaw the accused Russian operative Mariia Butina’s efforts to infiltrate Republican Party circles, including the National Rifle Association, to push them toward more pro-Russia policies. Torshin himself has attended annual NRA meetings dating back to at least 2011.

Many of the first-class student exchanges were officially organized by the Russian Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., and included top-flight meals, airfare and hotel accommodations. But the center’s exchange programs abruptly stopped in fall 2013, after FBI counterintelligence agents urgently located dozens of trip participants and told them the program was an elaborate cover for a Washington-based Russian spy recruiting effort.

The agents said the Russians had prepared dossiers on some of the most promising participants, two of the former students told POLITICO. They pressed for every detail of the program, including whom the students met, where they went and what they discussed. They also said that Russian government official who oversaw the program — from a mansion about a mile and a half from the White House — was a suspected spy and would be kicked out of the U.S. soon.

“They said they had a great degree of confidence that the trips were part of an effort to spot and assess future intelligence assets,” the participant, a former student government leader and Russian-language student, said of the three FBI agents who questioned him for more than an hour. “They told us it was standard Russian spycraft.”

The FBI’s interest in that cultural exchange program for young American political and business leaders was reported at the time, including a single, passing reference to Torshin. But the details of his involvement in the exchanges is a new revelation, as is his participation in the second exchange program for student body presidents at American universities dating back to at least 2010.

The new detail fills out the picture of the Russian lawmaker — now deputy governor of his country’s central bank — who is a longtime close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It shows that Torshin’s collaboration with Butina was not his first connection to a Kremlin-linked effort to recruit Americans, and underscores that covert Russian spy operations in the U.S. have been underway for years, well before Trump launched his 2016 presidential bid.

While Torshin is not identified by name in the Butina court filings, several sources close to the investigation told POLITICO he is the Russian official described as directing Butina’s alleged efforts to establish “unofficial lines of communications with U.S. politicians and political organizations" and “to send reports, seek direction, and receive orders in furtherance of the conspiracy” from Moscow.

His name has also shown up in investigations by Congress, the Federal Election Commission and, reportedly, special counsel Robert Mueller, into Russia’s attempts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. Those include examinations of possible attempts to establish a back channel between Trump and Putin, as well as possible efforts to illegally funnel Russian campaign contributions to Trump.

But his meetings with American students earlier in the decade, coupled with the government’s recent allegations in the Butina case, suggest that Torshin may be a more significant Kremlin operative, and for a longer time, than was previously understood.

“All of that needs to be explored now through the lens that Torshin is a handler for Russian intelligence operatives,” said Max Bergmann, a State Department senior international security adviser in the Obama administration. “The suspicion has to be raised, given what is laid out in [the Butina] indictment, that this wasn’t his first rodeo.”

Torshin did not respond to requests for an interview, but has denied any wrongdoing related to the current investigations. The 29-year-old Butina, indicted by federal prosecutors in July, has pleaded not guilty to charges of acting as an illegal foreign agent — including, according to prosecutors, by using sex as a means of influence.

U.S. government Kremlinologists have tracked Torshin, 64, for years, at least since his first known visit to the U.S. in 2004.

As a rising star in Putin’s United Russia Political party, Torshin became an ally of the Russian leader. Putin tapped him that same year to run a sensitive parliamentary investigation investigating the horrific terrorist siege of a school in the Russian town of Beslan; many observers considered the resulting report a whitewash that absolved Russian security forces.

By 2010, Torshin had become a leading United Russia voice in the Russian Duma, a trusted Putin aide on sensitive security issues and, most likely, a go-to ally for important missions that didn’t fall under his official portfolio, according to Bergmann and other former officials.

Later that year, for instance, Torshin helped orchestrate a secret spy swap between the U.S. and Russia after the FBI arrested 10 Russian operatives who had been living undercover in America for years.

Also in 2010, Torshin met with a delegation of 15 student body presidents from American universities as part of an exchange program paid for, and sponsored by, a Russian government agency focused on “youth affairs.” Because the trip was designed to mirror a popular and high-profile congressional exchange program, the students were given a briefing by top White House and congressional Russia hands, including Michael McFaul, then the National Security Council’s director for Russian affairs and later the U.S. ambassador to Russia.

On the conference call, which has not previously been reported, McFaul and others gave the students background about Russia — but also cautioned them to be on guard about unusual overtures, including from their Russian student counterparts, said one participating student who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because they fear the trips risk could taint their professional reputations. McFaul told POLITICO he doesn’t recall the discussion, but his role in the pre-trip briefing was referenced in some university news releases at the time.

Thanks to the briefing, “we went in with our eyes open” about how, in Russia, even a friendly interest in sharing information or establishing long-term relationships, might not be what it seemed, the former student said. He added that the trip went smoothly and nothing appeared suspicious about meetings with Torshin and at least two other Putin allies connected to the current Trump-Russia saga.

The next March, Torshin met with another set of students on an exchange program organized through the same youth affairs agency, in the meeting posted on Facebook.

And the year after that, he met with older groups of young leaders sponsored by the Russian Cultural Center, according to the participant on two trips and another person who went on one exchange.

By the fall of 2013, the FBI was well into an investigation into that exchange program, and had come to believe it was a front for developing young Americans as assets, the two participants said. The D.C. chapter is just one of more than 80 Russian cultural and science centers in various countries that U.S. intelligence officials suspect of being a front for all manner of spy operations.

The cultural center trips were popular among well-connected young Washingtonians interested in spending a week in an exotic foreign country with everything, down to the visa application fee, covered by the sponsor.

But the young former student government leader, who went on two trips in 2012 and 2013, said the organizers also “recruited on their own and made the determination who to select.”

“They had a specific type of person they were looking for,” he said. “Future leaders.”

When the FBI began contacting trip participants in late September and October of 2013, many were shocked at what the agents were telling them. The agents began by reading from a printed card with details of about what they were investigating, including how they believed Russian Cultural Center Director Yury Zaitsev was overseeing the alleged spy recruitment operation, according to the two participants, both of whom shared details of their trips and FBI interviews with POLITICO.

The discussions were “very frank,” according to one of the FBI’s top counterintelligence officials at the time. The official said the agents’ interviews were exhaustive, in part because Russian intelligence operatives excel at being unobtrusive and patiently laying the groundwork for relationships they hope to develop over years or even decades.

In hindsight, the second trip participant said there were indications that the group’s extremely generous Russian hosts might have had ulterior motives.

During his interview, that participant told the FBI agents that he thought it was “unusual” that the group had been granted such high-level meetings, including with top-ranking officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The agents were particularly interested in any details about those meetings, he said, “and why are these kids meeting with these super high-level people.”

“It seemed like they were trying to foster the exchange in a professional and productive way,” the second participant said. But, he added: “If one person out of a group of 20 becomes an asset for them, then I suppose it’s worth it for them to pay the whole group for the trip.”

After hearing from the FBI, some students backed out of the next scheduled trip. The former participant on two trips, who remains active in other efforts to promote U.S.-Russian relations, said he believed the FBI investigation — reported at the time by Mother Jones and the Washington Post — effectively ended the Russian Cultural Center exchange programs.

In all, the FBI believes that at least 125 people went on cultural exchange programs involving Zaitsev and the Russian Cultural Center, including grad students, non-governmental organization staffers, political aides to national and state officials and business executives. The former FBI official declined to comment on whether agents have investigated other cultural exchange programs, such as those sponsored by Moscow’s youth affairs agency, that also included Torshin.

As Butina and Torshin allegedly ramped up their U.S.-based influence operation ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Butina attended numerous events at the Russian Cultural Center. She even met with the organization’s director for a dinner that was caught on camera by FBI officials, as POLITICO recently reported.

That director was a suspected Russian intelligence operative just like his predecessor, Zaitsev, and also left the U.S. following FBI investigations, federal authorities allege in Butina’s case. Both men denied wrongdoing.

Robert Driscoll, Butina’s lawyer, scoffed at the notion that Torshin is a master spy, and said his client’s connections to the Russian Cultural Center were merely social. He added that in his frequent talks with Butina, she has described Torshin as someone who genuinely has come to love America — especially Nashville, where the two attended an Alan Jackson country music concert while there for the NRA convention.

“My impression of him from knowing Mariia is that she viewed him as a mentor and as someone who was helpful to her, with her gun rights group and personally,” Driscoll said. “He helped raise her profile, and she got to travel and attend different events with him.”

The participant on two of the cultural trips said Torshin was especially popular with U.S. visitors, in part because he seemed most interested in small talk and sharing his tales of traveling to the far corners of the United States.

“He was always eager and happy to meet with Americans,” he said. ... hin-776237
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Thu Aug 23, 2018 5:45 pm

Natasha Bertrand

Verified account

38m38 minutes ago
Prosecutors are accusing Maria Butina's attorney of "repeatedly" violating Local Rule 57.7(b) by discussing the case with reporters, and may seek relief from the court in the form of a gag order ... Other.html
Mazars and Deutsche Bank could have ended this nightmare before it started.
They could still get him out of office.
But instead, they want mass death.
Don’t forget that.
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Wed Aug 29, 2018 1:35 pm


Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

Maria Butina: Private Messages Reveal Accused Russian Spy’s True Ties to D.C. Wise Man

The head of the Center for the National Interest said his interaction with Butina was limited, but emails and direct messages show it was closer than previously understood.

When federal prosecutors charged Maria Butina with infiltrating the conservative movement on behalf of the Kremlin, questions began to swirl around a Washington think tank that had published her pro-GOP writing—and hosted then-candidate Donald Trump’s Russia-friendly first foreign-policy speech.

The executive director of the organization, the Center for the National Interest, insisted that its interaction with Butina was “very limited.”

But previously unreported emails and direct messages between Butina and officials at the Center show her relationship with the think tank’s president—former Richard Nixon adviser Dimitri Simes—was closer than previously understood. The two didn’t just make plans to have dinner together. According to emails and Twitter DMs reviewed by The Daily Beast, Simes looked to use his connections with Butina and her associate, Russian Central Bank official Alexandr Torshin, to advance the business interests of one of the Center’s most generous donors.

The Center’s executive director, Paul Saunders, declined to comment on the record for this story, as did Butina’s lawyer. An attorney for the donor—Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the one-time CEO of insurance and financial services giant AIG—said he did nothing inappropriate. Indeed, there’s no evidence that Greenberg requested the outreach or was even aware of it.

“The two didn’t just make plans to have dinner together. According to emails and Twitter messages, Simes looked to use his connections with Butina and Alexandr Torshin to advance the business interests of one of the Center’s most generous donors.”

Butina was arrested in July and charged with illegally operating as a foreign agent. Prosecutors filed court documents saying that she offered sex in exchange for a job in the conservative movement—a claim Butina’s lawyer vehemently denied last week. Butina has pleaded not guilty and is currently in jail in Alexandria, Virginia.

After Butina’s arrest, several reports discussed Butina and Torshin’s contacts with the Center, including a Reuters story reporting that the think tank organized a meeting between Treasury officials and the pair on April 7, 2015.

But the relationship went even further than that, as emails and Twitter direct messages reviewed by The Daily Beast reveal. These communications indicate that Simes tried to connect a top benefactor of his organization and one of the most powerful officials in the Kremlin.

The meeting never happened. But if anyone could have pulled it off, it might have been the Moscow-born Simes. A fixture of the D.C. foreign policy establishment, he worked at some of Washington’s most prestigious institutions—including the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies—before being selected by Richard Nixon to lead the Center for National Interest. Simes is widely viewed as one of the Washingtonians with the closest Kremlin connections. And his think tank argues for foreign policy realism, including warmer relations between Washington and Moscow.

“They believe the U.S. and Russia ought to have a working relationship and they ought to put their differences aside,” said James Carafano, a foreign policy scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “That’s unabashedly what they believe. They’ve consistently argued that.”

The backstory to these exchanges is important. In 2008, Greenberg’s investment company paid about $100 million for 20 percent of a Russian entity called Investtorgbank. By December 2014, Russia’s Central Bank had begun an audit of the firm; the prospect loomed that Greenberg’s investment might be seized by the Russian authorities.

In April 2015, Butina—who federal prosecutors allege broke U.S. law by secretly working as an agent of the Kremlin—reached out to Greenberg’s investment company and suggested he put in even more money in the bank, as The Daily Beast previously reported. Simes learned of her outreach and told her to drop it.

On June 7, 2015, Butina emailed Simes about his efforts to schedule meetings in Moscow between Greenberg and Kremlin officials—meetings that would have come as the Russian Central Bank was auditing the bank in which Greenberg had invested $100 million.

“You and I spoke about how Mr. Greenberg plans to travel to Moscow at the end of June,” she wrote in Russian. (The Daily Beast translated the email.) “Alexander [Torshin] expressed a desire to meet with Greenberg in Moscow, and also to lend assistance in organizing meetings in the Russian capital, if you need our help.”

Simes replied the next day, June 8, 2015, and indicated he was pleased by Butina’s offer to help facilitate his benefactor’s travel plans.

“It is always nice to hear from you,” he wrote. “Please of course also pass my best wishes to Alexander Torshin. We really appreciate his willingness to help with the Hank Greenberg visit to Moscow.”

Simes then added that he tried to set up a meeting for Greenberg with Elvira Nabiullina, the head of the Russian Central Bank “some time ago” but that scheduling conflicts kept it from taking place. And he wrote that once Greenberg’s schedule was clear, he would reach out to Nabiullina’s chief of staff.

“However, of course, any help Mr. Torshin can offer would be most welcome,” he added.

Simes then said that while in Russia, Greenberg identifies himself as “an investor in the Russian economy,” with a controlling share in a Moscow office building and a major investment in Investtorgbank.

On June 10, 2015, Butina wrote back.

“A big thank you for the response and information,” she wrote. “I passed everything on to Alexander Porfiryevich [Torshin]. As soon as we know the exact dates of your arrival, we will absolutely help with your visit and the organization of meetings.”

In other words, Butina and Simes exchanged multiple emails discussing the logistics of what could have been high-level Moscow meetings between an American billionaire and a powerful Kremlin official whom The Wall Street Journal characterizes as a Putin ally.

Multiple sources told The Daily Beast that the discussed meetings never happened. An attorney for Greenberg provided the following statement: “Mr. Greenberg never had a meeting in Moscow with any of the people that you’ve referenced. Nothing that Mr. Greenberg did was ‘inappropriate.’”

But Marcus Owens, an attorney at Loeb & Loeb who formerly worked in the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division, told The Daily Beast it is atypical for a think tank president to go to such lengths to help a board member with his business interests.

“They suggest an unusual degree of attention being paid to a donor who apparently has a business issue,” he said. “The fact that it appears that the head of the charity was willing to travel to Russia to help resolve them, that would be truly extraordinary.”

The Moscow meetings weren’t the only topic of discussion between Simes and Butina.

Simes also paired Butina up with Jacob Heilbrunn, the editor-in-chief of the Center’s magazine, The National Interest.

“I will be mention [sic] to him that he may get a piece from you,” Simes added.

Butina then emailed Heilbrunn on June 10, 2015, writing that she had met Simes at the Center’s Washington office the previous month. She also sent a draft of an article titled “The Bear and the Elephant,” arguing that a Republican president could warm relations between the U.S. and Russia.

“Many thanks for your audacious essay,” Heilbrunn wrote. “I will be delighted to publish it and will edit it tomorrow. We will send you a final copy for your approval but I don’t anticipate any big changes.”

““Audacious’!!!” Erickson replied. “You’re on your way to becoming a notable on-line columnist!!! If Dmitri Simes’ editors are happy, DMITRI is happy - well done, my brilliant Siberian princess!!””

Butina then forwarded Heilbrunn’s email to Paul Erickson, a longtime Republican insider and her American love interest.

“‘Audacious’!!!” Erickson replied. “You’re on your way to becoming a notable on-line columnist!!! If Dmitri Simes’ editors are happy, DMITRI is happy - well done, my brilliant Siberian princess!!!”

The magazine published it two days later. About a week after its publication, Butina sent a thank-you email to Heilbrunn and Simes.

“Thank you very much for publishing my article,” she wrote. “It was translated by RT into Russian and really exploded Russian media. Now there are some political scientists that told that they agree with me. It makes me happy because before no one believed and at least talked that Russian-American relationships could be restored thanks to the future republican president.”

Butina then suggested writing another piece for the magazine about Russian oil projects.

“Dear Maria, I am pleased to hear that your piece had a real impact in Russia,” Simes replied. “I know Jacob was quite pleased to publish it. He is planning to be in touch with you regarding other possibilities. Please convey my regards to Alexandr Torshin. We are always glad to see him in Washington.”

Heilbrunn then emailed Butina and asked if she would write a piece for the magazine about her efforts to legalize guns in Russia. But a second piece never materialized.

In August 2015, Reuters reported that the Central Bank had seized control of Investtorgbank. Not long afterward, friction appears to have emerged between Simes, Butina, and Torshin. In a series of Twitter direct messages sent on Nov. 17, 2015, Torshin complained to Butina, claiming he was receiving lots of phone calls from Simes. The DMs were written in Russian and translated by The Daily Beast.

“Yes, incidentally, Simes is pressuring me about the interests of Greenberg,” Torshin wrote. “I really don't like that. Who knows what they will think in the Central Bank. Today I made it very clear that I am not their helper for these affairs in the Central Bank. I ask that you don't speak with anyone about banking in the Russian Federation. They may try to get you involved as well.”

“I’m not talking about it with anyone,” Butina replied. “You and I know that you are only talking to them because of an old friendship and not personal interests, but from the outside it will look different.”

Torshin then replied: “It’s necessary to know the limits: It’s one thing if Greenberg comes to invite him to lunch, that's fine, but these phone calls need to stop. What, are you their informant or something?! Screw them. The consequences could be very serious.”

“There is one nuance,” Torshin continued. “The chances of improving U.S.-Russia relations are increasing. We don't need a scandal (and Greenberg has a way of that). Scandal cuts down on chances for investment, although after today's latest announcement by Gref about the major banking crisis in Russia it would harm investments even more.”

Butina seemed to share Torshin’s concerns.

“Then it’s absolutely necessary to get permission for negotiations with them from the boss,” she replied. “It’s necessary to cover our rear. Later on no one will bother to try to get to the bottom of what your motives were. Don’t forget, Greenberg for some reason thinks you promised to protect his investments... You promised him NOTHING.”

Torshin then replied, “I stopped communications on this theme with Simes today. And I explained everything to him, the threats it carries to my reputation. There will be no more conversations about this topic. The boss is aware that they are appealing to me.”

“I fully support this approach,” Butina replied. ... c-wise-man
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Aug 31, 2018 9:06 pm

Christopher Wylie

BREAKING: Ex-Cambridge Analytica contractor Sam Patten just charged by FBI after Mueller referral. This guy was responsible for CA operations in the US that involved covertly testing US voter attitudes on Putin's leadership... I know there's more to come...

All the times alleged Russian spy’s lawyer went on Fox News and didn’t say who he was
Robert Driscoll loved appearing on Fox News to talk about Russia, but not about who he was working for.
AUG 29, 2018, 2:51 PM
UPDATED: AUG 30, 2018, 10:14 AM

To Fox News viewers, Robert Driscoll had all the credentials of someone who could comment on the ongoing investigations surrounding Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Often in a bow tie and glasses, the former chief of staff in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division had a certain air of gravitas — especially when he appeared on Fox News multiple times to slam any insinuation that Trump’s campaign may have had help from Moscow.

But as NPR pointed out on Monday, there was another facet of Driscoll’s work that Fox News viewers never knew about: his work as the lawyer for Maria Butina, the alleged Russian agent who infiltrated the National Rifle Association (NRA). Another person Driscoll has helped in the past? Sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who was involved heavily with convicted felon and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort — and who was helped by a lobby group Driscoll worked for during part of the Obama administration.


Driscoll worked with the team lobbying directly for a now-sanctioned Russian oligarch.
For months, Driscoll failed to disclose his ties to Butina to Fox News’ viewers — and he’s still never disclosed his former work with the team lobbying for Deripaska. (Driscoll denied to ThinkProgress that he ever lobbied for Deripaska directly, writing in a statement that he “never met Deripaska, don’t recall what work [the lobbying firm] did for him, and certainly never lobbied for him.”)

Driscoll told NPR that he began working as Butina’s lawyer in February, but that he didn’t bother to disclose that information until July, around the time of Butina’s arrest. (In a recent filing, Driscoll bizarrely claimed that Butina’s decision to set up an LLC in South Dakota — one that appeared to do no real business — was actually meant to show that Butina “intended to deepen her roots” in South Dakota.) Driscoll told NPR that he didn’t disclose his relationship with Butina because “there’s no conflict because she is being prosecuted by the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, not [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller.”

Maria Butina (right), accused by the DOJ of infiltrating the NRA on behalf of Russia, with former NRA head Wayne LaPierre.
Here are all the Republican leaders and conservative activists Maria Butina met
In that time frame, Driscoll made multiple appearances on both Fox News and Fox Business, condemning criticism Trump has faced for his campaign’s interactions with Russian operatives — always as a “former DOJ official,” and never as someone with a personal, professional stake in the ongoing investigations.


NPR uncovered a total of four appearances from Driscoll discussing Russia-related affairs on Fox. But it turns out there were even more appearances Driscoll made on Fox, taking the president’s line and batting back accusations that Russia ever had any designs on interfering in the United States — and calling on Mueller, as recently as June, to get his investigation “wrapped up.”

In May, for instance, Driscoll appeared on Fox Business’s Cavuto Coast to Coast to discuss Mueller. Identifying only as a “former Justice official,” Driscoll — who had by this time been working with Butina for three months — made an appearance to discuss the Mueller investigation.

A few weeks later, “former Justice Department official” Driscoll appeared on Fox News to question the basis for the investigations into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Also in May, Fox News’ Laura Ingraham hosted Driscoll — without the lawyer disclosing his relationship with Butina — to again question the validity of the ongoing investigation and defend Trump.

Ingraham continued to host Driscoll. On June 5, Driscoll discussed the Trump campaign’s links with Russia, and the strained relationship between the FBI and Trump — yet again not bothering to discuss his own ties with Butina.

A few weeks thereafter, Ingraham yet again hosted Driscoll — and once more, the lawyer didn’t share who he was representing.

As Driscoll said in that final appearance, “The damage has been done.” So, too, has the damage to his own credibility — all because he didn’t bother to disclose, time and again, that he was directly representing one of the key figures involved in the investigations into Russian interference in the United States. ... b6f639287/

The federal government says a gag order "is warranted" for the parties in Maria Butina's case. The gov't cites defense counsel's statements to the media. ... 83118.html

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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Sun Sep 02, 2018 6:27 pm

Wife of Former N.R.A. President Tapped Accused Russian Agent in Pursuit of Jet Fuel Payday

Sept. 2, 2018

Maria Butina’s efforts to deal in Russian jet fuel were detailed in hundreds of pages of previously unreported emails.Press Service of Civic Chamber of The Russian Federation/EPA, via Shutterstock
WASHINGTON — For the young Russian gun rights activist studying in the United States, it would have been an unimaginably rich payday: $1 million to help broker the sale of Russian jet fuel to an American middleman. All she had to do was secure the fuel.

So the activist, Maria Butina, whom American prosecutors now accuse of being a covert Russian agent, reached out to contacts in her homeland — and turned on the charm. In a July 2017 email, she told one man that his passport photo was “a handsome one.”

The following month, she told another Russian contact that she had labeled him in her phone as “the lovely Shakhov.” Every time he called, she was notified that “‘the lovely Shakov is calling you,’” Ms. Butina wrote. “Good feelings.”

A year later, Ms. Butina, 29, is in a jail cell outside Washington, awaiting trial. Federal prosecutors have depicted her as a character out of “Red Sparrow,” the spy thriller about a Russian femme fatale. Ms. Butina, supported by Russian intelligence, managed to infiltrate conservative groups and advance Moscow’s interests in the United States, prosecutors say.

In their telling, she used gun rights — Ms. Butina had started a pro-gun group in Russia — to gain a toehold in American conservative circles, and then struck up a romance with a far older Republican operative to open doors further. She has denied the allegations.

Ms. Butina’s efforts to deal in Russian jet fuel, detailed in hundreds of pages of previously unreported emails, were notable not just for their whiff of foreign intrigue but for who they involved: David Keene, a former president of the National Rifle Association and a prominent leader of the conservative movement, who has advised Republican candidates from Ronald Reagan to Mitt Romney. They also involved Mr. Keene’s wife, Donna, a well-connected Washington lobbyist, and Ms. Butina’s boyfriend, Paul Erickson, who ran Patrick J. Buchanan’s 1992 presidential campaign and who moved in rarefied conservative circles despite allegations of fraud in three states.

Their attempt to secure the fuel deal illustrates a reality that investigators have had to navigate in bringing a federal case against Ms. Butina. During her time in the United States, she surrounded herself not only with high-profile American conservatives but also with dubious characters who seemed bent on making a fast buck — and it was not always easy to tell one from the other.

In the emails, and in interviews with people involved in the fuel negotiations, Ms. Butina seems as naïve as she is cunning. She had no experience in the oil business, yet jumped into a scheme that hinged entirely on her securing a supply of huge amounts of jet fuel — nearly double what all of Russia’s refineries export in a month.

The driving force behind the jet fuel negotiations appears to have been Mr. Erickson, 56, a former board member of the American Conservative Union who was accused of defrauding investors in California, South Dakota and Virginia. The other major players were the Keenes, who first raised the idea of brokering a sale of Russian jet fuel and then put Ms. Butina and Mr. Erickson in touch with prospective buyers.

The dealings also involved a pair of Pakistani-American businessmen, an Israeli-American salesman for a Virginia-based lawn care and sprinkler equipment company and a purported international fuel broker with no record of successful deals. Mr. Erickson described this person in an email as a “tough, crotchety, sixty-ish divorcee who has spent his life in various energy transactions but now seems intent on using his small wealth to pursue age-appropriate women of a certain flair.”

Russia has used oil and gas deals to build influence, deploying companies like Gazprom to cut sweetheart deals for pro-Moscow politicians in other countries. But Ms. Butina did not connect with the likes of Gazprom or other major Russian oil companies. Instead, she relied on a Russian coffee bean trader and a public relations consultant with loose ties to the political party of President Vladimir V. Putin.

All of them seemed out of their depth, each projecting confidence and deep knowledge of the jet fuel business while seeming not to grasp the basics. None appeared to have any idea how to pull off the deal they were negotiating — or the money with which to do it.

It did not take an expert to spot serious flaws in the plan.

“I knew they didn’t have any clue, because there’s no port in the world that could hold the amount of oil they were saying they could sell,” said Yoni Wiss, the Israeli-American who briefly met with Ms. Butina and Mr. Erickson in June 2017.

Later that summer, Mr. Erickson seemed to acknowledge the absurdity of it all. “It might be a novel someday,” he wrote to Ms. Keene, the wife of the former N.R.A. president.

Yet he also acted bullish about their prospects. Ms. Butina “has now created a Russian supply side juggernaut that is searching for a buyer,” Mr. Erickson added, assuring Ms. Keene that she and her husband would get a cut of any deal that went forward.

Mr. Erickson did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did the Keenes.

Ms. Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, said the fuel deal was “just further evidence that she wasn’t here on any mission on behalf of the Russian Federation. She was essentially operating on her own account.”

A plant that produces pipes for the Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom. Ms. Butina was unable to connect with Gazprom or other major Russian oil companies.Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters
Before she waded into the fuel trade, Ms. Butina had made a minor splash among American conservatives as an ebullient graduate student at American University with a knack for meeting influential Republicans. She snapped photos with Donald Trump Jr., befriended Grover Norquist, the anti-tax crusader, and accompanied J.D. Gordon, a Trump campaign aide, to see the band Styx. To support herself in the United States, she relied in part on a Rockefeller heir, George O’Neill Jr., who has used his wealth to advocate better relations with Russia.

Government officials have said the charges against Ms. Butina stemmed from a counterintelligence investigation predating the 2016 election. The investigation has in part focused on a Russian official, Aleksandr P. Torshin, who worked closely with Ms. Butina for years. Mr. Torshin, a politician close to Christian conservatives in Russia, has been attending N.R.A. conventions in the United States since 2011.

Ms. Butina worked as an unpaid assistant for Mr. Torshin in Russia. Through him, she met Mr. Erickson, who twice visited Moscow, and leading members of the N.R.A., including the Keenes.

In March 2017, emails show, the couple met a man in Virginia who said he was seeking five million barrels of jet fuel. He offered to pay a finder’s fee of $1 million if they connected him with a Russian refinery.

In a series of terse, businesslike emails, Ms. Keene enlisted Ms. Butina’s help. On April 15, 2017, she pressed the young Russian to secure a “soft corporate offer” from Gazprom for the fuel. “I will NOT reveal the source at this point,” Ms. Keene wrote.

Instead, Ms. Butina responded that she could cobble together needed fuel from a number of smaller refineries. She also pushed for a payment of $25,000 as a “good faith gesture” for potential suppliers.

She did not come up with the idea on her own. Emails show that Mr. Erickson was coaching Ms. Butina through nearly every step, drafting long responses that Ms. Butina would copy and paste before sending them to Ms. Keene as her own.

The insistence on an upfront payment appears to have killed the first deal by April. But less than two months later, Ms. Keene was in touch again, this time offering up a contact with a jet fuel broker in Arlington, Va., named Roger Pol — whom Mr. Erickson would later describe as “crotchety.”

“A LOT of people waste a LOT of time on unexclusive deals, I am not into ‘getting to know’ people to broaden my Rolodex,” Ms. Keene cautioned, “but this sounds worth pursuing.”

She arranged for Mr. Erickson and Ms. Butina to meet Mr. Pol at a restaurant outside Washington in late June and then apparently bowed out of the deal. Mr. Wiss, the Israeli-American who knew Mr. Pol, and another associate joined them.

“After five minutes, I said: ‘I’m done. They don’t know what they’re talking about,’” Mr. Wiss recalled. “It just didn’t smell right.”

Mr. Pol pressed on, but he soon proved to be a source of frustration for Mr. Erickson, who complained in an email that “he seems to lack any operating history in his own name or that of a company he controls.”

As the deal with Mr. Pol was unraveling, Ms. Butina was still working her contacts in Russia — Sergei V. Shakhov, a public relations consultant and fellow gun rights activist, and Aleksandr Y. Nevmitulin, a coffee bean trader who said he had previously worked in the oil and gas industry.

In the emails to the Russians, Ms. Butina takes on a central role, keeping the identities of the Russians and the Americans secret from one another until they signed a nondisclosure agreement and a separate agreement to work exclusively through her.

“I keep the details of all sides,” she wrote.

It was all for naught. Soon it became clear that Mr. Pol, who died of heart problems in February, could not prove that he had ever successfully brokered a fuel deal. Ms. Butina and Mr. Erickson went looking elsewhere.

They had at least one more meeting in mid-August with another set of potential partners. Again, it was Ms. Keene who used her Washington contacts to make the connection.

But a person familiar with the meeting said the potential partners feared it was some kind of scam. Instead of dealing with the couple, they reported them to the F.B.I., which by then was already tracking Ms. Butina’s dealings in the United States. ... n-spy.html
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby SoulsQuiver » Sun Sep 09, 2018 3:32 pm

i was watching a documentary on Lev Laviev, it mentioned his diamond business in Angola.

I remember that Abramoff was involved with the conflict down there in Namibia, his film Red Scorpion was filmed with money form the South Africa defense force, suggesting the movie may have been cover for something else.
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Mon Sep 10, 2018 11:18 am

thank you for that SoulsQuiver

“The U.S. attorney’s office in South Dakota is currently leading a fraud investigation into Erickson’s business dealings, and the FBI is questioning those in his orbit.”

Maria Butina’s Beau Snookered Investors With a Shady Oil Deal

The details behind the deal shed new light on an individual who was entangled in a relationship with the accused Russian operative.

09.10.18 5:18 AM ET
While he was involved with accused Russian spy Maria Butina, Paul Erickson was trying to sell investors on an oil-rich real estate deal using a company that appears not to have existed on land that he did not own, according to multiple sources, court records, and data reviewed by The Daily Beast.

It was 2014 and North Dakota was experiencing a major oil boom—one propped up by the burgeoning fracking industry in the Bakken formation, a swath of 200,000 square miles of land stretching across the state to Minnesota and into parts of Canada.

Erickson solicited investments from attendees at conservative political events by laying out a deal that promised high returns, according to three people with knowledge of the deal and court records reviewed by The Daily Beast. Erickson, who represented himself as a real estate developer, planned to use his company in North Dakota to set up a transaction in the Bakken region, the sources said. But Erickson doesn’t appear to have planned on carrying out the deal, according to a 2015 judgement by a California court. And the company he represented doesn’t appear to have ever existed, according to a review of public records by The Daily Beast.

The details behind the deal Erickson promoted in North Dakota shed new light on an individual who was entangled in a relationship with an accused Russian operative and who is now being probed by the U.S. attorney’s office in South Dakota and the FBI, according to two people with knowledge of the efforts. The Bakken deal also raises questions about how Erickson used the investment money he accumulated. His former business partners now wonder whether the money from the deal went into any of his activities with Butina.

Originally from Russia and a close confidant of Russian central bank official Alexander Torshin, Butina is currently in an Alexandria jail on charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent.

Throughout the Butina court documents, federal investigators mention a “U.S. Person 1”—an individual Butina worked with, dated and used to make connections with “an extensive network” of right-wing political figures. That person, who documents say is closely tied to the National Rifle Association, is largely believed to be Erickson. Butina recently offered to provide information to the government about Erickson’s illegal activities, according to a document filed by the government in Butina’s case in Washington, D.C. last week. Although Erickson has has not been accused of any wrongdoing officially, the document described “U.S. Person 1” as an individual that "aided the defendant’s charged criminal activity for years and, as such, should not be viewed as a positive tie to the community."

By the time he met Butina in 2013, Erickson had founded a handful of companies in South Dakota that dabbled in sectors ranging from real estate to patenting. He had solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment for his business ventures. But he was also in legal trouble, according to court records. As first reported by The Daily Beast in July, several people have sued Erickson in California, Virginia, and South Dakota, claiming he misrepresented himself and his businesses and failed to pay investors back. In one case, Erickson attempted to pay back an investor, but the check bounced.

The Bakken oil deal shows Erickson not only failed to manage his investments properly, but he also knowingly misled investors about owning a company in North Dakota, according to a 2015 judgement filed in a California court.

In an email in November of 2013 to a potential investor for the Bakken deal, Erickson asked for funding for what he called his “new real estate development venture” in North Dakota.

“I’m extremely proud of the work of our development team as together we find new ways to service the office and housing needs of this new American gold rush,” Erickson wrote. In the email, Erickson called his new business the “Bakken oil fields” and said it was set up to capitalize on the boom in North Dakota.

“Due to your interest in my work and in consideration of past kindness, I would welcome your investment of any amount you choose (up to $100,000),” the email said.

Erickson noted in the email that any investment would be governed by two conditions. One, that returns would be repaid by February 18, 2014 and two, that he would repay the full amount of investments if the deal did not materialize. Erickson garnered at least $50,000 from the email exchange and did not pay any of it back, according to the judge’s decision on the case.

Two individuals familiar with the Erickson deal said he told investors he owned several parcels of land near Williston, North Dakota and would set up a transaction between two of his companies. In a complaint filed in a lawsuit in 2015, one of the investors alleges Erickson planned to use a company he controlled to sell undeveloped North Dakota land it owned to a second company Erickson controlled.

“Such a transfer would result in profits for Defendant, as owner of the first seller company, on account of a secured lender giving a higher valuation to the land, on account of various entitlements acquisitions which were part of the Transaction,” according to the complaint.

One of the companies he represented while soliciting investments was Northern Plains Holdings, LLC, according to investors and people familiar with the deal. The North Dakota secretary of state’s office told The Daily Beast it did not have record of such a company connected to Erickson. It’s unclear what other company Erickson planned to use. The Daily Beast also checked property ownership data for North Dakota and could not find evidence Erickson ever owned land in Williston.

At one point in 2014, when he was dating Butina, Erickson admitted to an investor that he had used some or all of the money for personal expenses. In a 2015 default judgement, the court found Erickson had committed fraud.

Erickson did not provide the investor with details of how he used the money, but those involved in the Bakken deal are now questioning if some or all of the money they gave to Erickson went to funding his relationship with Butina.

“[Erickson] was a liar,” one investor told The Daily Beast. “He seemed like one of those people that liked to to try and exist on the periphery of power politics in Washington so he could lure people in.”

Those associated with Erickson told The Daily Beast he relied on meeting people at events such as the National Rifle Association and the Conservative Political Action Conference to find people to fund his ventures, including the one in North Dakota. Erickson wooed those he met into investing by offering attractive terms specifically for “friends and family,” according to court records.

“Power is an aphrodisiac in politics. Paul always attracted people around him,” said Gary Byler, a longtime friend and an attorney in Virginia Beach. “He is great fun to be about.”

Byler also called Erickson “a great American.”

There’s no evidence to suggest Erickson coordinated with Butina on the Bakken oil deal. However, the couple has worked together on several different business deals since 2013, including one that involved Russian jet fuel, according to a recent report by The New York Times. Erickson and Butina also worked together operating Bridges LLC, a company they registered in 2016 in in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It’s unclear from South Dakota records how the company conducted its business.

Around the same time, Erickson reached out to the Trump campaign and suggested setting up a meeting between the candidate and President Vladimir Putin. In a May 2016 email to Trump’s campaign advisor Rick Dearborn titled “Kremlin connection,” Erickson presented himself as someone connected to the Russian government and said he could arrange a back-channel meeting, according to The New York Times.

The U.S. attorney’s office in South Dakota is currently leading a fraud investigation into Erickson’s business dealings, and the FBI is questioning those in his orbit. Several of his companies are registered in the state. Butina’s lawyer Robert Driscoll in July said his client had offered to assist law enforcement in its investigation. But last week he told the Associated Press Butina in fact knew “very little” about the case and that she was not “aware or guilty of any crimes” in South Dakota.

Documents filed in the Butina case show Erickson met with the agency earlier this summer. The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office in South Dakota both declined to comment for this story. Erickson and his lawyer did not respond to calls for comment.

Meanwhile, Erickson is “holding up well,” Byler said, adding that he had lunch with his friend within the past two weeks. “Paul understands politics is a contact sport. But he is very smart. I think he can put two and two together and understand the reality of things.” ... y-oil-deal
Mazars and Deutsche Bank could have ended this nightmare before it started.
They could still get him out of office.
But instead, they want mass death.
Don’t forget that.
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Re: Maria Butina

Postby seemslikeadream » Mon Sep 10, 2018 12:50 pm

Misfire: Maria Butina’s strange route from Russia to US jail
Maria Butina
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In this photo taken on Sunday, April 22, 2012, Maria Butina, a gun-rights activist, poses for a photo at a shooting range in Moscow, Russia. When gun activist Maria Butina arrived in Washington in 2014 to network with the NRA, she was peddling a Russian gun rights movement that was already dead. Fellow gun enthusiasts and arms industry officials describe the strange trajectory of her Russian gun lobby project, which U.S. prosecutors say was a cover for a Russian influence campaign. Accused of working as a foreign agent, Butina faces a hearing Monday, Sept. 10 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pavel Ptitsin)
MOSCOW (AP) — When Maria Butina arrived in Moscow from Siberia in 2011 to launch a Russian version of the National Rifle Association, her shooting range coach said she didn’t even know how to fire a weapon.

She learned fast, but her far-fetched bid to liberalize gun rights in Russia flamed out. By the time she arrived in Washington in 2014 to network with the NRA, she was peddling a Russian gun rights movement that was already dead.

Fellow gun enthusiasts and arms industry officials described to The Associated Press the strange trajectory of a Russian gun lobby project that appeared doomed from the start — with President Vladimir Putin among its many opponents.

Maria Butina
Maria Butina poses for a photo at a shooting range in Moscow, Russia, on April 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Pavel Ptitsin)

U.S. court papers suggest the movement was a ruse, created to allow Butina and influential patron Alexander Torshin to infiltrate the NRA and pursue covert Russian back channels to American conservatives as Donald Trump rose to power.

Jailed since July on charges of working as an undeclared foreign agent, the 29-year-old Butina faces a hearing Monday in Washington, the latest Russian accused of meddling in U.S. politics and courting Trump.

She pleaded not guilty, and her lawyer calls the charges exaggerated. The Russian government calls her a political prisoner.

Analysts suggest Butina and Torshin started as freelancers, endeavoring to create something the Kremlin was signaling it wanted: a line of communication with Republican lawmakers to negotiate a détente that would ease crippling economic sanctions.

Maria Butina, Alexander Torshin
Maria Butina walks with Alexander Torshin, then a member of the Russian upper house of parliament, in Moscow, Russia, on Sept. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Pavel Ptitsin)
It’s unclear when, and to what degree, Russian secret services got involved. But it’s clear that no one in Russia tried to stop it.

Butina and Torshin — a longtime senator who’s now deputy governor of Russia’s Central Bank — were oddly overt in their activities. They shared their U.S. travels widely on social media and displayed none of the tradecraft typical of spies.

And they suffered no punishment for championing gun rights, even though many in Russia’s leadership see the idea as subversive.

“She was saying, ‘I always thought if I was going to be in jail, I’d be in jail in Russia for advocating for gun rights, and now I’m in jail in America for advocating better U.S.-Russian relations. There’s something kind of screwed up about that,’” said Robert Driscoll, Butina’s U.S. attorney.

One possible reason she remained untouched in Russia: Evidence presented by the FBI suggests she and Torshin had links to Russian intelligence.

Guns are tightly restricted in Russia, a country where extremist threats loom and organized crime and corruption fester. Civilians can own only hunting rifles and smoothbore firearms and must undergo significant background checks for those. Firearms advertising is illegal, and polls show most Russians are wary of looser gun laws.

Gun statistics in Russia are difficult to come by. The Small Arms Survey, which looks at the issue globally, estimated in 2010 that about 9 percent of Russians own a firearm, but only about 60 percent of the 13 million guns in civilian hands are legally registered.

Allowing Russians to own handguns would be a lucrative opportunity for arms manufacturers — a prospect that launched Butina’s rise.

Born in the Siberian city of Barnaul, Butina flirted with libertarianism and gun rights activism, and a failed political campaign got her noticed — in her words — by higher powers who pulled her to Moscow in 2011 to “bring the (gun rights) project to life.”

Those powers, according to a representative in the Russian arms industry, were billionaire transport magnate Konstantin Nikolayev and his wife, Svetlana Nikolayeva, a sport shooter and CEO of Russian gun manufacturer ORSIS. Nikolayeva, the representative said, tapped Butina to become the face of her pet project — a lobbying group that would come to be known as The Right to Bear Arms, modeled on the NRA.

Svetlana Nikolayeva, the head of a gun company that supplies sniper rifles to the Russian military and intelligence services, left, presents her company's arms to then-Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, second right, during an exhibition in Yerevan, Armenia, on March 28, 2018. (Armenian Presidential Press Service via AP)
The Nikolayevs hired a PR firm to give Butina a makeover, according to the representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he knows the Nikolayevs personally and he fears professional repercussions. The wonkish girl from the provinces became a charismatic spokeswoman for Russian guns.

Boris Pashchenko, the head of a shooting club in Moscow, worked closely with Butina in those early days. “I saw (Butina’s group) at a shooting range when they first started organizing,” he told the AP. “Butina had never fired a gun before; I was the one who taught her how.”

Her lawyer said he couldn’t comment on her shooting ability.

Fellow activists said she was an effective organizer, putting together well-financed rallies and uniting disparate gun rights supporters — including opposition libertarians and pro-Putin officials. She studied the NRA’s playbook, reciting its slogans and statistics.

Boris Pashchenko
Shooting instructor Boris Pashchenko demonstrates how to handle a gun at a shooting range in Moscow, Russia, on July 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Meanwhile, a sea change was taking place in U.S. politics. Many conservatives increasingly saw the left as enemies with which they had little in common, and began viewing Putin’s Russia — nationalist, traditionalist, newly devout — as a like-minded friend.

Torshin took note. According to his own accounts, he frequently visited the U.S. while in Russia’s upper house of parliament from 2001 to 2015, befriended NRA members, bought a lifetime membership and even monitored the 2012 U.S. presidential election.

A key ally was lawyer G. Kline Preston IV, who introduced him to then-NRA President David Keene.

Keene, Preston and the NRA did not respond to requests for comment about Torshin. When AP journalists visited Preston’s office in Nashville, a portrait of Putin was hanging in the main entrance.

Torshin met Butina in Russia at one of her group’s rallies in 2011, and within months, they were collaborating on legislation to liberalize pistol ownership, according to those involved.

But when Torshin submitted the bill in July 2012, it was torn apart.

The timing was tough: It came days after James Holmes fired on a Colorado movie theater with multiple weapons, killing 12 and wounding dozens.

But the idea had already met resistance from Moscow’s mayor, Russia’s interior minister and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who said later that year: “The (gun) rules that exist in the United States are absolutely unacceptable for Russia, or even for the United States itself.”

Torshin’s bill almost seemed designed to fail. Bills are rarely presented without tacit Kremlin approval, yet Putin himself said a few months earlier that “free movement of firearms will bring large chaos, and present great danger.” A Russian arms industry official said civilian gun sales were so politically sensitive that his company refused to mention the prospect in annual reports or discussions with investors.

“They wanted to be a Russian NRA in terms of influence. But they knew you’re never in Russia going to have a full-on Second Amendment arm-yourself-against-the-tyranny thing. That will get you thrown in jail,” Butina’s U.S. lawyer Robert Driscoll told the AP.

The dream of Russian gun rights, it seemed, was over. The Nikolayevs, who once hoped to make money from the idea, were pulling out.

Maria Butina
Butina speaks to a crowd during a rally in support of legalizing the possession of handguns in Moscow, Russia, on April 21, 2013. (AP Photo/File)
Yet Torshin and Butina pressed on, and the Right to Bear Arms increased its international outreach, focusing on the NRA.

In 2013, an NRA delegation attended a Moscow conference led by Butina. Visitors included then-NRA boss Keene and Paul Erickson, a Republican operative who would become Butina’s romantic partner in the U.S. and help her make inroads with the American right, according to U.S. prosecutors.

Torshin and Butina talked with the U.S. visitors about reviving gun rights legislation, according to Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation, part of the 2013 delegation.

But they didn’t mention Kremlin opposition to the bill, he said, and their lobbying group seemed anything but marginalized. He thought their meeting, at a major convention center, “had some government blessing,” Gottlieb told the AP.

Even as Butina and Torshin used the Right to Bear Arms to attract U.S. attention, the group was falling apart. Opposition libertarians bristled at Butina’s outreach to the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, according to former collaborators.

Maria Butina
Butina poses for a photo at a shooting range in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Pavel Ptitsin)
In late 2014, Butina surprised her followers by resigning as head of the Right to Bear Arms. “After she left, I’ve not heard of them doing anything meaningful. It is a shadow of its former self,” said Libertarian Party member and gun enthusiast Alexey Ovsiyenko.

But her U.S. networking was blossoming. As the U.S. presidential campaign heated up, she and Torshin met with GOP figures at the 2015 NRA convention in Nashville — including, Torshin tweeted, Donald Trump.

Butina and Torshin organized another NRA visit in December 2015 to Moscow, where they discussed gun rights. Yet Putin remained opposed. He announced the creation of a new National Guard a few months later, in part “to limit the circulation of weapons in the country.”

Butina continued to champion guns on social media, and moved to the U.S. in 2016 for graduate studies at American University.

Based on Twitter messages and other exchanges, the FBI says Butina moved to Washington on Torshin’s order to leverage their NRA contacts — and lay the groundwork for a long-term influence campaign.

Instead, it led to her arrest and indictment.


Charlton reported from Paris. Lisa Marie Pane in Boise, Idaho, contributed.

Mazars and Deutsche Bank could have ended this nightmare before it started.
They could still get him out of office.
But instead, they want mass death.
Don’t forget that.
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