Maria Butina makes my blogging day. No, the Russian gun advocate didn’t drop by for a podcast (although, Ms. Butina, if you visit South Dakota, I will drop everything, everything, to come speak with you). No, she just knocked five points off Dusty Johnson’s Congressional campaign hopes by getting arrested as a Russian agent.
In an action completely separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, the Department of Justice today announced that it arrested Butina yesterday and is holding her in jail pending a court hearing Wednesday. What did she do?
According to the affidavit in support of the complaint, from as early as 2015 and continuing through at least February 2017, Butina worked at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government who was previously a member of the legislature of the Russian Federation and later became a top official at the Russian Central Bank. This Russian official was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control in April 2018 [U.S. Department of Justice, press release, 2018.07.16].
The director of Butina’s activities was Alexander Torshin, pictured above, who was among 189 Russian-related individuals and entities sanctioned by the U.S. last April for “malign activity around the globe.” Torshin’s malign activity appears to have included infiltrating conservative organizations in America, including the NRA, in which Torshin is a lifetime member.
According to the Department of Justice, Butina was doing the same thing as Torshin:
The court filings detail the Russian official’s and Butina’s efforts for Butina to act as an agent of Russia inside the United States by developing relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation. The filings also describe certain actions taken by Butina to further this effort during multiple visits from Russia and, later, when she entered and resided in the United States on a student visa. The filings allege that she undertook her activities without officially disclosing the fact that she was acting as an agent of Russian government, as required by law [DOJ, 2018.07.16].
The criminal complaint gives a little more detail:
While serving as a Special Assistant to an official of the Russian Federation, BUTINA would meet in person and communicate via electronic means with that official for the purpose of developing and executing a plan to identify and exploit personal connections with U.S. persons having influence in American politics who were in positions to advance the interests of the Russian Federation.
BUTINA did establish contact with an American political operative in Moscow who thereafter would work with BUTINA in the United States to jointly arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics for the purpose of advancing the agenda of the Russian Federation [FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson, Appendix A to criminal complaint, sworn and filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, 2018.07.14].
What a coincidence—last year I reported that she met with American political operative Paul Erickson in Moscow in November 2013:
As I reported last year, in April 2015, Erickson arranged for Butina to speak to students in the Sioux Falls school district about entrepreneurship and to students and community members at the University of South Dakota about her work on gun rights in Russia.
And then—and then—and then, Erickson accompanied Butina when she spoke to the 2015 South Dakota Teenage Republicans Camp in the Black Hills, hosted by U.S. person having influence in American politics Dusty Johnson.
That last picture—you see the back of Butina’s head. You see all those good South Dakota youths to whom she is speaking. And if you look to Butina’s 12:30, at the back of the audience, in the glasses and black t-shirt (with some white insignia…. a puppy? Milton Friedman? Che Guevara? hey, don’t get distracted…), you see Dusty Johnson, listening intently.
Dusty Johnson and Maria Butina in the same photograph. Let that sink in for a moment…
…then turn to this sentence, which I would be derelict in my journalistic, political, and patriotic duties if I did not say:
If the Department of Justice is correct, Dusty Johnson allowed a Russian agent to speak to his Teenage Republican Camp.
Let’s all let that sink in for a few moments… especially you, Dusty-challenger Tim Bjorkman… and you, Republicans, who have previously made a great fuss about connections between Russian agents and South Dakota Congressional candidates.
Related Reading: For happening completely separately from special counsel Mueller’s investigation, FBI Agent Helson’s affidavit says a whole lot about Butina’s work as part of Russia’s efforts to influence to influence our elections and our politics.
Russian influence operations are a threat to U.S. interests as they are low-cost, relatively low-risk, and deniable ways to shape foreign perceptions and to influence populations. Moscow seeks to create wedges that reduce trust and confidence in democratic processes, degrade democratization efforts, weaken U.S. partnerships with European allies, undermine Western sanctions, encourage anti-U.S. political views, and counter efforts to bring Ukraine and other former Soviet states into European institutions.
…The FBI’s investigation has further revealed that BUTINA and the RUSSIAN OFFICIAL took steps to develop relationships with American politicians in order to establish private, or as she called them, “back channel” lines of communication. 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 [emphasis mine; FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson, affidavit in application for criminal complaint for Maria Butina, 2018.07.14].
No more apt sentence could come on the day of the disastrous Putin-Trump summit.
Bonus Kevin Bacon! You can’t bring a Russian agent to South Dakota without plunging her into our seven degrees of separation. Maria Butina and I are mutual Facebook friends with Hughes County GOP boss Mike Mehlhaff.
Мария! Мы почти брат и сестра! Позвони мне… после выхода из тюрмы!