[Marxism] Mariia Butina, Who Sought ‘Back Channel’ Meeting for Trump and Putin, Is Charged as Russian Agent

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jul 17 08:20:33 MDT 2018


NY Times, July 17, 2018
Mariia Butina, Who Sought ‘Back Channel’ Meeting for Trump and Putin, Is 
Charged as Russian Agent
By Matt Apuzzo, Katie Benner and Sharon LaFraniere

WASHINGTON — A Russian woman who tried to broker a secret meeting 
between Donald J. Trump and the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, 
during the 2016 presidential campaign was charged Monday and accused of 
working with Americans to carry out a secret Russian effort to influence 
American politics.

At the behest of a senior Russian government official, the woman, Mariia 
Butina, made connections through the National Rifle Association, 
religious organizations and the National Prayer Breakfast to try to 
steer the Republican Party toward more pro-Russia policies, court 
records show. Privately comparing herself to a Soviet Cold War 
propagandist, she worked to infiltrate American organizations and 
establish “back channel” lines of communication with American politicians.

“These lines could be used by the Russian Federation to penetrate the 
U.S. national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the 
Russian Federation,” an F.B.I. agent wrote in court documents.

The charges were filed under seal on Saturday, the day after 12 Russian 
intelligence officers were indicted on a charge of hacking Democratic 
computers during the 2016 campaign. Ms. Butina, 29, was arrested Sunday 
and appeared Monday in court. The records were unsealed hours after Mr. 
Trump stood beside Mr. Putin in Helsinki and said that he saw no reason 
the Russian leader would try to influence the presidential election.

Mr. Trump’s own intelligence chiefs have concluded otherwise, and the 
two sets of charges served as jarring bookends to Mr. Trump’s summit 
meeting with Mr. Putin. As Mr. Trump disparaged the investigation, the 
Justice Department painted a picture of a multifaceted Russian effort to 
sway the election through computer espionage, personal overtures and the 
assistance of American intermediaries.

While Mr. Putin denied any involvement Monday in such activities, court 
documents showed that Ms. Butina told associates that her covert efforts 
were approved by Mr. Putin’s administration.

Ms. Butina, whose first name is more commonly spelled Maria, was 
involved in two failed efforts to set up meetings between Mr. Trump and 
Mr. Putin in 2016. The charges announced Monday do not name Mr. Trump, 
but they make clear Ms. Butina’s overtures were part of a carefully 
crafted Russian intelligence operation.

Ms. Butina is the 26th Russian — and the first one arrested — to face 
charges related to interference in the presidential election. In 
February, the Justice Department charged 13 Russians and three companies 
with stealing the identities of American citizens, posing as political 
activists and using the flash points of immigration, religion and race 
to manipulate the 2016 campaign.

“Maria Butina is not an agent of the Russian Federation,” her lawyer, 
Robert N. Driscoll, said in a statement. He described the charges as 
overblown, saying that arranging dinners and making friends were being 
mischaracterized as nefarious. “There is simply no indication of Butina 
seeking to influence or undermine any specific policy or law,” he added.

The charges were filed by Justice Department national security 
prosecutors, not the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. The 
investigation into Ms. Butina has been proceeding for some time and was 
carried out parallel to Mr. Mueller’s investigation, a former official 
said. F.B.I. agents raided her home in April, her lawyer said.

Ms. Butina entered the United States on a student visa in 2016, but the 
scheme she was working on dated to 2013, prosecutors said. At that time, 
politicians like former Gov. Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio, both of 
Florida, who have shown no willingness to align themselves with Russian 
interests, were seen as likely Republican presidential front-runners. 
Court records describe an effort to shift the party’s views on Russia.

As Mr. Trump’s unusual candidacy gained steam, the Russian government 
came to favor him over Hillary Clinton, then a Democratic presidential 
candidate, and worked to support his candidacy, prosecutors and 
intelligence officials have said.

The Justice Department said that Ms. Butina worked at the behest of an 
unidentified high-level Russian government official. He has been 
previously identified as Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the 
Russian central bank who has been linked both to Russia’s security 
services and organized crime. Mr. Torshin is among the nearly two dozen 
Russian officials or oligarchs who were sanctioned this year for actions 
including trying to subvert Western democracies.

Mr. Torshin is a leading figure in Mr. Putin’s political party, United 
Russia, and has spoken glowingly of Mr. Trump. He has described Mr. 
Trump as a “supporter of traditional family values” and “a real man” who 
“really is for cooperation with Russia.”

Ms. Butina viewed the N.R.A. as a powerful force for shifting Republican 
policies, court records show. She described the group as “the largest 
sponsor of the elections to the U.S. Congress” and as a sponsor of the 
Conservative Political Action Conference. The N.R.A. is not named in 
court records, but its ties to Ms. Butina and Mr. Torshin have been 
previously reported. The N.R.A. did not respond to a message seeking 
comment.

In May 2016, Mr. Torshin and Ms. Butina proposed a meeting between Mr. 
Trump and Mr. Putin during the annual N.R.A. convention in Louisville, 
Ky. Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, shot down the proposal. But 
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, did meet Mr. Torshin and 
Ms. Butina at an N.R.A.-sponsored dinner, although Mr. Trump’s lawyer 
has called the encounter brief. Congressional investigators have 
obtained a photograph of the three at the event, people familiar with 
the inquiry said.

Prosecutors said that an American political operative helped Ms. Butina 
identify political, news media and business officials to target. Ms. 
Butina met the operative in Moscow, prosecutors said. Quoting from 
emails, prosecutors laid out the most explicit evidence to date that 
Americans knowingly aided the Russian influence effort.

In one email, the American said he had given Ms. Butina a map for how to 
proceed. “I and your friends in America can’t make it any easier for you 
than that,” the political operative wrote.

Ms. Butina and Mr. Torshin attended several events hosted by groups 
affiliated with Republicans, including two National Prayer Breakfasts in 
2016 and 2017. In one email, Ms. Butina wrote that Mr. Torshin had 
suggested that Mr. Putin attend the February 2017 breakfast, at which 
Mr. Trump spoke.

“Pres. Putin did not say ‘no’!” Ms. Butina wrote in the email.

Though the American operative is not identified, The New York Times has 
previously reported that Ms. Butina developed a close relationship with 
Paul Erickson, an N.R.A. member and a longtime conservative activist who 
was part of the effort to arrange a meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. 
Trump. Ms. Butina has publicly described hosting Mr. Erickson at an 
event in Moscow. Mr. Erickson and his lawyer did not respond to messages 
seeking comment. He is not identified in court records and has not been 
charged.

Ms. Butina also worked with a second unidentified American, prosecutors 
said.

After the November 2016 election, Ms. Butina wrote to Mr. Torshin on 
Twitter, prosecutors said: “I am ready for further orders.”

Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.



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