Indictment of Maria Butina

Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker, poses with indicted Russian agent, Maria Butina, and Russian mafia don, Alexandr Torshin, in 2015

The Coen Brothers film we’re all living in inched closer to its climax on Sunday. While we were distracted by the president’s antics, the FBI arrested Russian agent, Maria Butina, on charges that she arranged contacts between Russian intelligence figures and members of “Political Party 1” in US, through the NRA (“Gun Rights Organization). Read the unusually detailed criminal complaint here.

Butina held meetings with “US politicians and political candidates.” Betina’s unnamed Russian handler met with “a US Congressman” in August 2015. She set up a series of “friendship and dialogue” meetings with unnamed US attendees, including officials of “Political Party 1.” The National Prayer Breakfast was apparently a very important event for the whole operation, as all the major players attended. And she appears to have had a very special relationship with Person 1 and Person 2, who should either be packing a toothbrush or boarding a flight to Moscow.

Who is US Person 1 and US Person 2? They obviously aren’t Manafort, Flynn or the other already indicted players. It’s likely that at least one of them was handling this channel for the NRA. Person 2 might be Paul Erickson, who’s a sort of rightwing nutjob at large, with strong ties to the NRA.

It seems likely that her unnamed Russian handler is Alexandr Torshin, who was previously linked to her efforts to arrange a backchannel meeting between Trump and Putin in ’16.

Who is the “Second Pozner” Butina refers to in her communications? For background, here’s some information on the original Pozner.

Another interesting detail – this indictment came from the FBI’s counter-intelligence division, not the Special Prosecutor. We have no indication of whether the Special Council’s investigation contributed to this indictment, but even if Mueller’s investigation was terminated this line of prosecution would continue.

If you’ve been wondering why Congressional Republicans scrambled so aggressively to squash this investigation, or why so many Republican talking heads have bent over backward to defend Trump, well…take a look at that picture. This indictment hints at the casual breadth of contacts between Russian agents and Republican political figures, going back many years.

Butina herself has been operating in Republican circles since at least 2013. The Trump organization let her ask Donald Trump an “audience question” at one of their first campaign events in Las Vegas in July 2015. She was a special guest of the NRA President at the 2014 convention. She’s been EVERYWHERE, leaving an incriminating trail of emails, texts and money.

Many Republicans are likely to be tangled in this dragnet despite having little understanding of what laws they were breaking. There could easily be dozens of Republicans in relatively high positions who failed to appreciate the implications of their actions when they took money from figures like Butina, accepted travel offers, exchanged emails which now belong to the FBI, etc. When their half-witted engagement in this scheme goes public they’ll be radioactive, chased out of public life for good, so they’ll do anything it takes to halt further revelations.

I’m reluctant to get sucked into the fine details of this case as it emerges. This will be a long process, with many turns and lots and lots of arrests. However, this indictment was just too good to stop reading. Between the operational details it revealed, the figures it fingered without revealing names, and the “Boris and Natasha”-style mangled English, it’s delightful. Enjoy.

For a little background on how the details of the Trump/Russia story fit together, here’s an earlier piece.

Fun update: The Congressman mentioned in the indictment is apparently Dana Rohrabacher.

71 Comments

    1. Because of Florida, 2000.

      We realized something truly troubling as we flirted with the prospect of recounts potentially stretching across much of the country. The biggest problem with paper ballots is that a disturbing large portion of them will be uncountable. That ambiguity, in close elections, can cast a shadow of the legitimacy of an outcome and it’s an entirely unnecessary problem.

      Once we work out the kinks in blockchain, most of us will end up voting remotely on our phones anyway.

      1. We have paper ballots in NM. They are filled in with ink, not like the famous Florida ballots that were punched (not to mention other design errors in 2000.) I don’t know if anyone has done an analysis to determine percentage of uncountable ballots but they seem to work well.

        I gotta believe based on the Florida 2000 experience that who gets to count the ballots is the real issue.

      2. Having reliable ballot-counting technology is important.

        But it’s not nearly as important as having ballot-counting technology that people understand and believe in. Will blockchain ever be that? I’m doubtful.

      3. “Who gets to count the ballots is the real issue…”

        In the case of Gore v Bush, 2000, the issue was who gets to “stop” the counting of ballots. Gore was pulling ahead in the recount when SCOTUS stepped in.

        I will always believe this election was stolen from Gore….who, btw, is not someone I have a great deal of affinity for, but the Florida recount scene was egregiously handled.

      4. Everybody else manages to do do this – we do have “spoiled ballots” – but in a district with 40,000 voters we end up with single digit “spoiled ballots”

        One of the reasons is that we vote for our MP – and Party
        So all that is on the ballot is maybe 10 names and 10 party names

        You guys vote for a lot of different positions – simple solution – SEPARATE BALLOTS!

        Then they could all be counted individually

        This helps the counting a LOT – as they simply have to be sorted into piles and then the piles counted

    1. Thanks Mary for the Vanity Fair article. I know she is on video asking Trump a question at a live event. It would be interesting if she actually met with Trump…though of course he is still denying he met with Torshin. He lies so much it makes almost any outcome plausible.

      His answer today to the question “are the Russians still targeting our elections?” “No” then the WH PS says his “No” was to “will you take questions”…these folks are shameless liars. How do you combat a habitual liar?

      1. “How do you combat a habitual liar?”

        You indict him and/or impeach him. If that doesn’t work, you humiliate him when he runs for president in 2020. If that doesn’t work, I’m gonna be a a one-way plane or boat.

      1. More Russians involved and possibly foreign funds for campaign use are popping up in Mueller’s probe…

        https://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2018/04/exclusive_robert_muellers_team_in_charge_of_invest.html

        Mueller may be looking at an apolitical political approach by following the money and going after all the bad actors involved in funding the misinformation and social media campaigns. He would only have to prove foreign funds found their way into campaign efforts without having to prove conspiracy. Accounting and funds transactions are pretty easy to prove with empirical data and you don’t have to tackle the frame of mind or intent of the participants.

  1. I hope this isn’t off topic. I ran into this article recently, and it’s an interesting read. Titled “Winning Is Not Enough” it makes the point that the sane people must win and then RETAIN the government. The article points out that Democrats had twice in the near past, two year periods where they had both the house and presidency.

    The article lays out some ways to retain control.

    https://washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/july-august-2018/winning-is-not-enough/

    1. I loved this article, unarmed! 21 super smart people who care about democracy in America offering practical ideas to the Democratic Party to build a stronghold that will endure for a few cycles to give Repubs time to get their heads on straight. I shared it with those I felt would appreciate it. I hope someone in the DNC is paying attention.

    1. I’m all in for one hell of a severance package if it will get the whole family on the plane. Heck, Russia can keep AF 1. The only problem is: we are still left with the Republicans who have enabled and ignored Trump’s actions. Maybe we’ll need a ship, not AF 1. One way ticket, of course.

    2. EJ

      According to FiveThirtyEight, 42.2% of Americans believe that Trump is doing a good or very good job as President. This works out as 137 million people, almost the population equivalent of Russia. We’re going to need a very big boat.

      The problem isn’t Trump, vile as he is. The problem is his supporters. Without them he’s nothing: without him they’re still hateful and angry and willing to vote.

      1. Quite a few people. Maybe Angela Merkel will take some in, eh EJ? What with having experience with that sort of thing and all.

        I don’t always check in with John Oliver’s show but I did after the election and he said that for supporters of both parties, fake news accounted for something like 20%+ of shared political stories on Facebook. (It was worse for Rs of course but still bad for Dems.) Then there was that MIT study that found sensationalist lies usually beat out real news on Twitter.
        Chris’s “The People Who Lie to my Father” comes to mind. So does his line “In a democracy you always have the government you deserve.” I agree something will have to change in the electorate. But what that would be I don’t know. At times I’m afraid we’re too far gone down the road of dividing into two camps to turn back. I am, of course, convinced that some law of social psychology will make both groups worse the fiercer they become towards each other, so I’m not quite having a come-to-Jesus moment on the sorts of approaches I expressed caution about last week. But there is room for reasonable disagreement here. The Helsinki summit made WX Wall’s dice roll of authoritarianism just a little more attractive.

      2. That is exactly the problem. As I mentioned earlier his base is more like a cult – they certainly do not act like reasoning adults. The normal ignorance of the American voting public aggravates this. Many make up their minds based on feelings rather than actual facts. In March of 2017, I heard people say if Trump can get this nation moving again, he will be great. All they are thinking about is returning to a situation where the middle class is doing well economically, big industry generates lots of jobs for low skilled workers and white men rule the roost, i.e. the 1950s, 60s and early 70s. Those times are not going to return.

        Trump’s father had him work on construction sites during his formative years, so he would learn how white blue collar men talk. Trump learned that lesson too well and combined with his normal inclination that way, he is a master at that. One can see it in every campaign speech he makes. He never thinks things through and rambles. Right now he is and has been in full bore campaign mode for over a month. How the “train wreck” in Europe and in Russia affects this who knows. But so far he has been able to escape every jam he gets into.

      3. The problem is all of them: Trump, the GOP in Congress and their donors, plus his base. Big business is too saited from the 20% tax cut they got to say diddly; the Republicans in Congress are getting every thing they ever wanted and never thought they’d get…..and, Trump is doing it almost single-handedly – so, what’s little “tariff problem” or “Putin problem” or “sex problem”? They are all responsible.

      4. Yes but Mary, EJ’s core observation is correct. Get rid of Trump and his supporters just band around somebody else. Now, suggesting that we deport them all does a lot more to strengthen, enlarge, and energize the far right than anything I ever have said or will say, but, I shall give credit where credit is due.

      5. Maybe, maybe not. We don’t know how much his base depends upon him vs being driven by their own issues. Regardless, I was just having a little fun. Trying to anyway, in the midst of so much disappointment and concern for our country.

        The Washington Monthly article Unarmed posted offers a solid concept of reaching out to those Trump supporters who can be reached. I think this is possible while acknowledging that a large number will not listen. Racism drives so many and that’s hard to change. Economic dispair offers an opportunity to reach out.

      6. EJ

        I’m unsure. If a person believes that children should be kept in cages to prevent those childrens’ ethnic group from overwhelming White people and bringing down civilisation, what meaningful way can those people be reached out to without betraying said children?

  2. I read this comments about Nov 6th and laugh. Sadly laugh.

    I can’t find a whole lot on electronic voting, but this article 5 months ago in the NY Times states flatly that hacker proof electronic voting machines are a total myth. I quote from the article:

    “Because of this, attackers could theoretically intercept unofficial results as they’re transmitted on election night — or, worse, use the modem connections to reach back into election machines at either end and install malware or alter election software and official results.”

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/21/magazine/the-myth-of-the-hacker-proof-voting-machine.html

    Given the step-by-step details and depth of expertise by the Russians provided by the latest Meuller indictment, to suggest that the Nov “elections” are not already decided is so naive. The fascists’ coup is complete. Today was the official acknowledgement.

    Oh, and for those that still cling to the idea that the 2016 election result was not just changed by the Russians, a little bit of math:

    Pennsylvania: 48.18% vs 47.46. Difference of 0.72%, That means if 0.37% of voters flipped their votes based on the information released by the Russians, then Russia flipped Pennsylvania. That translates into one out of 270 voters.
    Michigan: 47.50% vs 47.27. Difference of 0.23%, translates into one out of 833 voters needed to change their vote based on the info.
    Wisconsin: 47.22% vs 46.45%. Difference of 0.77%, translates into one out of 256 voters.

    If people don’t believe that there were not that percent of undecided who were swayed by the russian information, or by Comey’s statements just before the election, then you may as believe in little green men on Mars.

    The entire 2016 election results were illegitimate, and all subsequent laws/ appointments were fruit of a poisoned tree. And to think that the voting machines in the upcoming elections have not or will be hacked is also naive, mortally naive, especially when the puppet tyrant stated to the world today that he believes Putin over every intelligence agency in the U.S.

    1. Hacking election machines to break them would be manageable. Hacking election machines to change an outcome is nearly impossible. They are based on fairly simple technology, but their architecture requires you to hack them all individually in order to accomplish anything. Then of course, you have to find a way to cover your tracks.

      This isn’t what they were doing with our voter registration data.

      1. Chris, yes, they have to hack individual machines. And?

        They use the same stinger tech that the feds use when looking to hack cell phones. They target a few dozen, at most, congressional seats, the ones that are closest. From what I have read, albeit not that much, it is not that difficult, when anything but paper ballots are used.

        And as for covering their tracks, who, precisely, do you think would be following up on checking results? What government agency? What agency not under the tyrant’s control? How would anyone know to check congressional races there were projected to be razor thin margins anyway. Some Democrat has a 3% polling lead going in, and loses by 1 or 2%?

        The same party lines would be used again regarding how all the polling companies were wrong again, and that is the end of it. And that of course, does not even focus on the massive ongoing disinformation campaign that has worked once, and is being used again.

      2. Chris, call me a doubting Tom, but I question your statement “… their architecture requires you to hack them all individually ….”. I am not an electronics or software engineer, but I am an electrical engineer and spent 40 years designing industrial control systems and am somewhat familiar with security systems. I can not accept that statement regarding the architecture without additional justification. I know you are in the tech industry so may have more information than most of us, but I think you stated once you were an attorney, not an engineer.

      3. There was a good discussion about the data analytics that the Russians stole from the DNC. The two months leading up to the election, the Russians (et al) knew every field operation and had access to their voter base information. When 70K votes in 3 states flips the electoral collage, access to the entire DNC data base would definitely be helpful if not predictive.

      4. Tmerrit,

        The machines don’t communicate with each other or with the Internet. You’d need something like the hack the NSA and Mossad pulled off with the Iranian nuclear facility, but more difficult. In the Iran hack, once they smuggled software into the facility it could replicated through an inter-machine SNMP communication, copying from machine to machine. With election machines you still have to go one by one.

        Then what? You could perhaps break them, like Mossad did. But how would you program them, during an update cycle ahead of an upcoming election, to deliver an outcome you want when you probably don’t even know the candidates?

        Again, you could target the servers used to compile all the data, but then you’ll leave behind a patently obvious trail of error between the machines, which produce their own output, and the central computation. The folks who do this for election agencies may not be computer geniuses, but they can (generally) add and subtract. And those compilation machines are air-gapped from the Internet, with a few rare and unreliable exceptions.

        Once you’ve solved all of those issues, you then need to produce a credible outcome that lines up with voter rolls. And to be credible, you’d have to spread it across multiple voting entities. In other words, you have to solve all of these problems, uniquely for at least 10-15 separate counties just to have a shot at influencing one state.

        In the real world what you’ll see the first time someone figures out a way to do this is a straightforward hack – a few voting machines, or perhaps a whole precinct, shut down completely. That’s probably doable with enough sophistication and insight, but it would also be obvious. Not the work of an intelligence agency, but of hackers.

        The much simpler and entirely practical alternative is to use data analytics to target voters, suppressing unwanted votes and stirring up enthusiasm among supporters. It’s legal, sort of, but no political campaign has the resources and sophistication that a state intelligence service can bring the game – giving them a powerful competitive edge. That’s what the Russians were helping Republicans (not just Trump) to accomplish in 2016.

      5. Chris, read that NYT article. The security expert makes it clear that the cell modems used on these election machines can be used to get into the actual voting machines and then hack the voting machines.

        The probability of intercepting actual voting results and changing them before the message is sent to a central tabulating center is essentially zero. But hacking the voting machines via the cell phone modem on the voting machines prior to the election results transmissions, installing malware on those machines that then transmits fraudulent results, that is what is going to happen.

        And yes, we know that the Russians have this technical capability and resources (people), as do any number of other countries, and very likely the repub party themselves.

        The ONLY safe way to run an election is paper ballots only, manually counted, with all the attendant scrutineers. It takes way longer, but is hack proof.

      6. I know in Orange County Florida paper ballots are used with optical scanners. I think the machines are unconnected to the internet. Candidate Gore actually praised Orange County for their voting system. There was no ambiguity of the votes and they were easily hand counted.

      7. To put it politely, the author of that NYT article doesn’t understand how this stuff works. And in fairness, no one outside IT trade presses does. What happens is they gather enough from interviews to sense something concerning, then try to build a story around that.

        You don’t need a paper trail to secure these machines. The paper trail exists to mollify people, including elected officials, who don’t get how this stuff works.

        Our election machines are a considerably tougher target for hackers than our electrical grid or our nuclear power plants. This is only a topic of conversation for its dramatic impact.

      8. Chris said, “The machines don’t communicate with each other or with the Internet.”

        According to Election Systems and Software, vote machine manufacturer of over 60% of electronic systems in the US, some do.

        https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/mb4ezy/top-voting-machine-vendor-admits-it-installed-remote-access-software-on-systems-sold-to-states

        Their ‘small number’ includes, just based off of points covered in this article, some districts in Pennsylvania and Michigan — prime flipping territory.

      9. I want to mention, I have not read anything from real news that has indicated that voting machines were hacked to change actual vote tallies. That’s one area where nobody in any authentic position of knowledge seems to be even alluding to it having happened. Everytime the FBI mentions Russia, they seem to take pains to mention that voter machines were not compromised. I prefer to trust, then verify.

        I think paper ballots are simply one of those inefficient things that need to exist just for the social psychology of it all. Electronic tabulators off of paper ballots is fast, friendly, and leaves a paper trail to be directly scrutinized. People just want to know their vote is something physical that can be reclaimed, they don’t want to abstract a bunch of electronic connections and bits with some random company, federal or state authority, or media just shrugging their shoulder and saying, “Nah, can’t be hacked.” Even if they can’t be.

        It’s a peace of mind cost for society.

      10. Chris, I am in the networking world. For years I designed data networks that might span 2 rooms, or across the continent. So while the NYT writer might not be an expert, the people that he interviewed ARE. What was described in that article can and will happen.

        It might not have happened in the 2016 election on a large scale, but the puppet tyrant gave the keys away to Russia a few days ago. You factor in the puppet tyrant’s iron grip on any number of law enforcement agencies, key media sites, and roughly 40% of the people, and it is a perfect recipe to rig the elections and then simply cry “sour grapes by the lefties” after the results are in.

  3. After reading the transcript of the disastrous press conference between Trump and Putin today, I am willing to state that Trump effectively committed Treason. There is only a technicality between his actions and the Constitutional definition of Treason. The Constitution defines Treason as follows:

    “Article. III. Section. 3. Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

    The only thing the differentiates Trump’s statements from qualifying is that Russia is technically not an ‘Enemy’ and we are not technically in a State of War. Russia is certainly an adversary and to all effectively an enemy – note the difference in capitalization of the word enemy, it is intentional.

    Regarding Impeachment and potential conviction for a High Crime or Misdemeanor, this statement probably does not technically qualify to use the Constitutional term. Nevertheless, it is despicable, treasonous and most definitely crosses the line of acceptable behavior and effectively qualifies as Treason. I only hope that the Mueller Investigation, the Cohen investigation, or the Butina trial reveals some truly damning evidence. I’d dearly love to see incontrovertible evidence of a High Crime or Misdemeanor, sufficient to warrant conviction and removal from office.

    Trump clearly is not qualified for the Presidency and should be removed from office. Of the two impeachments, neither really met the qualification of High Crime or Misdemeanor. The Nixon situation did, but that never reached the point of actual impeachment or trial. However, this Congress equally certainly will not act. As Mary wrote, I will be happy to take my satisfaction on November 6.

    1. It’s hard to guess. We’ve already seen relatively minor GOP Congressmen from Florida, Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast mentioned in connection with the investigation of Roger Stone and Wikileaks. Clearly a lot of people are drawn to shady figures handing out benjamins, and the Russians were flingin a lot of bling.

    2. “which Congresscritters do you think are most likely to get burned”

      Legally, who knows. On the public ballot, none of them. Nothing’s really fazed the Republican party or its voters over this last year and a half, so I don’t think anything will.

      I did see some interesting movements in rightwing media just after the summit occurred. Much more grousing, grumbling, and a few mentions of the t word (the one that rhymes with reason, not the one that rhymes with rump) than I’ve ever seen in rightwing media about 45 so far, but it took a some time for them to collect themselves and begin the “It’s all just 3 dimensional chess, we don’t know what he said in the actual private meeting, he probably was super awesome strong and heroic there!”

      So the message 45 voters are going to receive is that they don’t need to worry about what just happened, it’s probably not what it looked like. And thus the farce continues.

      1. And, of course, Trump “mis-spoke.” Well, it won’t be the last time and it surely wasn’t the first. What really happened is he overplayed his hand. His ego and cockiness on a world stage with his idol just got the best of his mouth…I don’t think for one minute that he didn’t mean what he said, he just isn’t used to getting called out for it by people that matter to him.

    1. Depends on what you mean by “separate.” The indictments were filed by an FBI counter-intelligence unit, not the Special Prosecutor. Did the Special Prosecutor share information with other members of the FBI? I don’t know. That should be legal with the approval of Justice Department officials.

      1. I assume they can share but am curious about this as a parallel investigation…Since the date stated in the complaint was August, 2016, this was within the time frame that Comey began his investigation, but prior to the launch of Mueller’s campaign. In the end, it’s all DOJ.

      1. Congrats on taking this job, Bobo. I am mostly focusing on Beto’s campaign and a couple of other state level positions that are of interest to me (Mike Collier v Dan Patrick and District 15 – Lorena Perez-McGill v Steve Toth). They are all important.

      2. Yeah, show me the votes that really count. I’d like to see Scott Walker join the list of critters who are burned by this….but, as the Politico article points out, Butina may only get a 5-year sentence….not sure what would be levied on an American….”if” any get indicted as a result of this investigation. When the POTUS stands up and defends Putin over his own intelligence leaders, and the response from the GOP is “meh”, do any charges “matter” anymore?

        Are the responses just “words?” Will there never be consequences? I’ll happily take mine November 6 if the American people will put their heads on straight and get out and vote.

        https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/07/16/some-dare-call-it-treason-219014

      3. At the end of the day the outrage needs to translate to votes. We all need to work to get the vote out this fall. Early voting is our friend we cannot allow long lines at the polls to cost us votes.

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