Russian spy Maria Butina has reportedly been struggling in a U.S. federal prison. Butina’s lawyers have repeatedly asked Judge Tanya Chutkan to order Butina out of solitary confinement and for her to be released into the general prison population. In late November, her lawyers said Butina is increasingly in poor mental health because of the isolation, but Judge Chutkan denied their request.
Only days later, word broke that Butina appears to be breaking in spirit and would accept a plea deal with federal prosecutors, changing her plea from “not guilty” to “guilty” on conspiracy charges. She’s come to realize Putin isn’t riding in bare-chested atop some white horse to make a deal and save her. She’s staring at more than a decade in federal prison. And who could blame her? Just this week, Vladimir Putin threw her under a Russian-made 18-wheeler when he claimed that not only does he not know her, neither do any of his top spy chiefs.
Putin on Butina: "She's facing 15 years in prison. For what? When I heard that something was happening to her […] I started by asking all our secret service chiefs: who is she? Nobody knew anything about her!"pic.twitter.com/b9k9N9umZG
— max seddon (@maxseddon) December 11, 2018
An incredible statement from Vladimir Putin considering the Russian government has had “six consular visits to Butina, passed four diplomatic notes to State about her case, and had Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov personally speak to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo twice about her prosecution.” Oh, and the Kremlin changed their Twitter avatar to a photo of Butina shortly after her arrest.
Betsy Woodruff at The Daily Beast reports the plea deal means Butina will fully cooperate with prosecutors, spilling the beans on her former boyfriend, Republican operative Paul Erickson, among others. All told, it means a whole lot of American conservatives—inside and outside the Trump campaign, should be spending the holidays with their lawyers, perhaps none more so than the executives of the NRA. Here’s a simple visual to illustrate precisely why Butina’s plea deal should be so very troubling for them all.
One could argue Donald Trump Jr., who frequently speaks at NRA events and attended a private NRA-hosted dinner with Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina, also belongs in that center circle, especially given his contacts with Russians at Trump Tower. In fact, NBC reported Torshin was seated next to Don Jr. Decorated dummy Sheriff Clarke is there because he worked with the NRA, worked with the Trump campaign and was stupid enough accept a Russian-funded trip to Moscow to be wined and dined by Russian spies in 2015. Is it any wonder this dummy was so closely connected to the Trump campaign as well? Did any of them ever wonder how a young “furniture store owner” (Butina’s reported cover story) from Russia was able to travel full-time in the United States, turning up at every conservative event in town and then had the pull to personally introduce them to Russia’s Foreign Minister in Moscow? Butina was spoon-feeding them Russian caviar and they were eating it up.
Woodruff notes that after the 2015 Moscow trip with David Clarke and former NRA president Davide Keene, she sent word back to a contact at Russia’s central bank: “We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later.”
Now seems like an important time to note the extraordinary spending by the NRA during the 2016 election. In fact, the NRA spent a whopping $30 million to help elect Donald Trump. For comparison’s sake, that is TRIPLE what they spent supporting Mitt Romney in 2012. In total, the NRA spent $414 million to elect conservatives in 2016, nearly double the $261 million and $204 million they spent in 2012 and 2008, respectively. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the NRA donated $7.2 million toward John McCain’s campaign. But Trump got a whopping $30 million. That’s a mighty big jump in spending. Huge. As Rachel Maddow noted on her show last night (the full segment is available below), the NRA’s biggest spending came from an arm of the organization that isn’t required to list donors.
Curious, no? All of the sudden, these wealthy Russians come into the picture, embed themselves in the highest echelon of the NRA and a short time later, the NRA is quite suddenly spending tens of millions more on Donald Trump than any other candidate in the organization’s history. By far. As Rachel Maddow also noted, it makes it even more curious given the fact that Donald Trump wasn’t any more “pro-gun” than other candidates in the game. Hell, Jeb Bush even tweeted a photo of a customized gun with his name etched on it. Ted Cruz was probably packing heat during the debates. So, why Trump and why the spending jump?
Could it have something to do with the fact that Donald Trump publicly stated he wanted to lift sanctions against Russia? Trump stated that Russian sanctions position in 2015, in response to a question from a young, red-headed woman in the audience of a conference for conservatives in Las Vegas. That woman just happened to be Maria Butina.
Did the Russians funnel money directly into the dark money arm of the NRA with the intent to influence the U.S. presidential election because Donald Trump was so publicly telegraphing that he would rollback Russian sanctions? This was the #1 goal of Putin and his stable of Russian oligarchs, all of whom were looking to make themselves even wealthier.
It should be noted the NRA is now said to be in “deep financial trouble”, something they blame on their inability to get insurance and activism against the organization. But, what if the truth is the Russian well went dry and those rubles are no longer flooding into the organization? How do you go from spending $30 million on Donald Trump to no longer being able to buy coffee for the office only 18 months later?
The NRA wasn’t the only organization infiltrated by the Russians. They also used their money and charms to work their way into the most influential circles of evangelical leaders. After Butina, with the help of boyfriend Paul Erickson, arranged for prominent Russians to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. in 2016, she sent word back to Russia. According to Betsy Woodruff, Butina was eagerly building evangelical relationships in order to give them a “backchannel of communication.”
She emailed Erickson with a list of attendees and said they were coming to the breakfast “to establish a back channel of communication.” Erickson later emailed the list to another person. “Reaction to the delegation’s presence in America will be conveyed DIRECTLY” to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, he wrote. He cc’d Butina on that email.
Paul Erickson has recently gotten a target letter from federal investigators who are considering bringing espionage charges against the longtime Republican operative. He’s another important domino falling in this chain of collusion. From The Daily Beast:
“Charging an American under 951 in the context of the Russia investigation is especially serious because that statute is generally reserved for espionage-like cases, such as intelligence-gathering on behalf of a foreign government,” said Ryan Goodman, a former Defense Department attorney who now teaches at the New York University School of Law.
“Essentially what it would say is that an American was acting to advance the interests of a foreign power, contrary to the interests of the United States of America,” said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor.
Furthermore, Erickson lobbied to get K.T. McFarland named as an advisor to Trump’s first National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn. K.T. McFarland would later lie to FBI investigators about a call Michael Flynn had with the Russians in December 2016. She initially told federal investigators sanctions were not discussed on the call, but later revised her statement to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, avoiding charges of lying to federal investigators. Her story changed only after Michael Flynn became a cooperating witness to the Special Counsel.
Yes, the same Michael Flynn who also enjoyed an all-expenses-paid trip to Moscow in 2015, courtesy of Vladimir Putin and the Russian government. The same Michael Flynn who is cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The same Michael Flynn who may have even worn a wire at the early stages of this investigation.
In the end, when you see how Butina and her Russian boss fit so neatly in the center of all of these circles, it’s clear Butina’s impending plea agreement with U.S. federal prosecutors should be causing high profile American conservatives to hit the panic button at this moment in time. From evangelicals to NRA executives to Donald Trump himself, Butina’s plea deal could potentially expose the entire Russian scam to upend American politics, corrupt American institutions and most importantly to Vladmir Putin and his billionaire Russian allies, to lift the sanctions on Russian interests.
Here’s Butina asking Trump about sanctions.
The Russian spy Maria Butina is sitting in a federal prison right now and magically, back in 2015, she was the very first person to get Trump on the record about lifting Russian sanctions. By golly, what are the odds?https://t.co/ew7bwPISOE
— Jennifer Hayden (@Scout_Finch) December 8, 2018
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.