Another Huge Arrest in the Russia Investigation

Sometimes, it’s hard to know what to say. Today is one of those times. I think I need to regroup a bit before I respond to what happened in Helsinki. I knew it would be bad but I didn’t anticipate that the reception would be this immediate and overwhelmingly negative.  In any case, I’m going to leave that story be for the remainder of this afternoon. Instead, I will direct you to a piece I wrote all the way back in January called Did a Russian Crime Boss Fund Trump Through the NRA?. The reason I want you to take a look at it again is because one of the main characters in that story was arrested yesterday. The Department of Justice has sent out a press release on Mariia Butina (also known as Maria Butina).

Mariia Butina, 29, a Russian citizen residing in Washington D.C., was arrested on July 15, 2018, in Washington, D.C., and made her initial appearance this afternoon before Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She was ordered held pending a hearing set for July 18, 2018.

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.

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.

The “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” is a Russian gangster and close friend of Vladimir Putin named Alexander Torshin. The primary organization “having influence in American politics” that Torshin and Butina “infiltrated” is the National Rifle Association.

One of the primary ways in which this happened is that Torshin met with Donald Trump Jr. at an NRA conference in Louisville, Kentucky that was held in May 2016.  Butina initiated the conversations that resulted in that meeting.

There’s a much bigger matter here which is that the FBI has suspected for perhaps a year or more than Torshin funneled money to the NRA and that that money was then repurposed to help Trump and other Republicans win their 2016 campaigns.

I don’t want to reinvent the wheel here. I think I did a good job of explaining all of this in the January piece, so I’d encourage you to take another gander at it to refresh your memory.

This is obviously a major event in the Russia investigation. They actually have Butina is custody. Donald Trump Jr. has a massive headache to explain while his father returns from a private meeting with Putin in Europe, which is exactly what happened the last time the president met privately with Putin in Europe.

More than that, though, the National Rifle Association may be up to its ears in legal trouble.

And, I’ll just share this from the original article:

Alexander Torshin, a former senior member of the Russian Senate, has been described as “a vociferous Putin ally,” as well as a “mafia godfather.” The Spanish authorities have 33 audio recordings of phone conversations where Torshin is referred to as “boss” or “godfather.” These recordings also implicate Torshin in a vast money laundering scheme. However, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California refers to Torshin as “conservatives’ favorite Russian.” And it’s true. Conservatives seem to love the guy.

This past February, Republican bigwig donor George O’Neill Jr. hosted  “a fancy four-hour dinner” for Torshin at a Capitol Hill restaurant that attracted Rohrabacher and a host of other conservatives. Torshin was even slated to have a meeting with President Trump until his mob connections came up and the meeting was cancelled. The love affair appears to have more to do with guns than anything else. Torshin is the founder of the Russian gun rights group Right to Bear Arms. He has been trying to find common cause with the National Rifle Association.

Maybe President Trump should conclude that meeting with Putin is more trouble than it’s worth.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.