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.