In my interview with Patrick Lalley on KSOO yesterday, I declined to use the word “spying” to describe accused Russian “agent” Maria Butina’s activities at Teenage Republican Camp and elsewhere in South Dakota.
I so decline no longer. In its argument to keep Butina in jail awaiting trial, the government says Butina has been in contact with the Russian FSB, the spy agency used to be Putin’s KGB, throughout her time in America. From the government’s memo to the court today:
The FBI has uncovered evidence during the course of executing several search warrants that, during the course of her deployment to the United States, Butina was in contact with officials believed to be Russian intelligence operatives. First, the defendant maintained contact information for individuals identified as employees of the Russian FSB, the Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii, the main successor agency to the USSR’s Committee of State Security, the KGB. For example, in the defendant’s electronic contact list, there was an email account listed at an FSB-associated domain. Another document uncovered during the execution of a search warrant contained a hand-written note, entitled “Maria’s ‘Russian Patriots In-Waiting’ Organization,” and asking “How to respond to FSB offer of employment?” Based on this and other evidence, the FBI believes that the defendant was likely in contact with the FSB throughout her stay in the United States. Additionally, FBI surveillance observed Butina in the company of a Russian diplomat in the weeks leading up to that official’s departure from the United States in March 2018. That Russian diplomat, with whom Butina was sharing a private meal, was suspected by the United States Government of being a Russian intelligence officer. The concern that Butina poses a risk of flight is only heightened due to her connection to suspected Russian intelligence operatives [Government’s Memorandum in Support of Pre-Trail Detention, United States of America v. Mariia/Maria Butina, case #1:18-cr-00218-TSC, 2018.07.18, pp. 3–4].
The government contends nothing short of jail will keep Butina from running for “safe harbor in a diplomatic facility.”
Prosecutors include this March 2017 e-mail exchange in which Butina’s boss, Russian state bank official and NRA infiltrator Alexander Torshin, says Butina is doing a better job than outed Russian redhead spy Anna Chapman:
Russian Official: Good morning! How are you faring there in the rays of the new fame? Are your admirers asking for your autographs yet? You have upstaged Anna Chapman. She poses with toy pistols, while you are being published with real ones. There are a hell of a lot of rumors circulating here about me too! Very funny!
Butina: It is curious that only our liberal media published the translation of the article. Yesterday I was pressing for an interview to Komsomolka but they are silent. It was probably our [people] that stood up for me.
Russian Official: I only saw it in the Echo [of Moscow] Blog and on the InoSMI site. What do you expect from the liberals anyway?!
Butina: It’s the other thing that is important: evidently, there is an Order not to touch us. I believe it is a good sign.
Russian Official: For now – yes, but should things shift, then we are guaranteed a spot on the list of ‘agents of influence.” . . .
Butina: It’s better to keep a low profile now. For some time. You probably got in trouble because of that nasty leak? Sorry. . . [translation from Russian, in gov’t memo, 2018.07.18, p. 5].
The American fellows whom Butina plied with her wiles will be disappointed to learn she had all the money she needed from a Russian billionaire:
In addition to her ties to the Russian government, there is evidence that Butina is well- connected to wealthy businessmen in the Russian oligarchy. Her Twitter messages, chat logs, and emails refer to a known Russian businessman with deep ties to the Russian Presidential Administration. This person often travels to the United States and has also been referred to as her “funder” throughout her correspondence; he was listed in Forbes as having a real-time net worth of $1.2 billion as of 2018. Immediately prior to her first trip to the United States in late 2014, Butina engaged in a series of text messages with a different wealthy Russian businessman regarding budgets for her trip to the United States and meetings with the aforementioned “funder.” Individuals such as these wealthy businessmen could, through their wealth and influence, be in a position to offer a safe harbor for Butina [gov’t memo, 2018.07.18, p. 7].
One American fellow in particular—identified in court documents strictly as “U.S. Person 1” but widely reported to be South Dakota Republican political operative Paul Erickson—will be disappointed to see his collaboration with Butina is being made public in court documents. Evidently, U.S. Person 1 discussed with Butina the best way to falsely enter the country and then supported that part of the conspiracy by doing her American University homework for her:
The FBI has uncovered electronic communications revealing Butina’s involvement in the planning of the covert influence operation with U.S. Person 1. This series of communications included a discussion about how Butina could best enter and remain in the United States. Butina chose a student visa from a range of options for her ultimate application, but not before a lengthy discussion of the risks associated with traveling to the United States repeatedly on a tourist visa. The FBI has discovered text messages and emails between U.S. Person 1 and Butina in which Butina would routinely ask U.S. Person 1 to help complete her academic assignments, by editing papers and answering exam questions. In other words, although she attended classes and completed coursework with outside help, attending American University was Butina’s cover while she continued to work on behalf of the Russian Official [gov’t memo, 2018.07.18, p. 7].
And the boffing—the tragic boffing! Butina told the Senate Intelligence Committee during eight hours of testimony in April that she was having a romantic relationship with Erickson, but the government says Butina’s shacking up with Erickson was strictly business, and she was using her feminine charms to pursue other marks:
During the course of this investigation, the FBI has determined that Butina gained access through U.S. Person 1 to an extensive network of U.S. persons in positions to influence political activities in the United States. Butina, age 29, and U.S. Person 1, age 56, are believed to have cohabitated and been involved in a personal relationship during the course of Butina’s activities in the United States. But this relationship does not represent a strong tie to the United States because Butina appears to treat it as simply a necessary aspect of her activities. For example, on at least one occasion, Butina offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization. Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with U.S. Person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. Person 1 [govt’ memo, 2018.07.18, p. 8].
WaPo reported last night that the feds swooped in to arrest Butina Sunday because she was planning to leave D.C. for South Dakota again. The government contends that Butina was getting ready to bolt and that her false true love was knowingly abetting her covert influence operation and her escape:
Finally, in the days leading up to her arrest, Butina was observed by the FBI taking steps consistent with a plan to leave the Washington, D.C., area and possibly the United States. First, Butina applied for a B1/B2 visa, which would allow her to travel to and from the United States. On July 14, 2018, Butina and U.S. Person 1 were followed to a U-Haul truck rental facility where they inquired about renting a moving truck and purchased moving boxes. When agents executed a warrant at their Washington, D.C., apartment on July 15, 2018, the defendant’s belongings were packed and a letter was discovered notifying the landlord that the lease was to be terminated on July 31, 2018.
In addition, on July 12, 2018, Butina and U.S. Person 1 were observed entering a bank in Washington, D.C., and sending an international wire transfer in the amount of $3,500 to an account in Russia. Although the government does not proffer that it knows the purpose of that transfer at this point, the amount shows her access to funds, and the location of the recipient underscores her ties to Russia.
Even if Butina were only trying to leave the immediate Washington, D.C., area, her sole real tie to the United States at all is U.S. Person 1, who, as the affidavit in support of the complaint demonstrates, was instrumental in aiding her covert influence operation, despite knowing its connections to the Russian Official [gov’t memo, 2018.07.18, pp. 8–9].
The government says it has “numerous witnesses [who] will testify about the influence activities described in the complaint.” By emphasizing Butina’s lack of real affection for her American patron, the government may be signaling that “U.S. Person 1” has more to gain by turning and testifying against his faux lover instead of going to jail for the spy who “loved” him.