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What We’ve Now Learned About Maria Butina

July 19, 2018

Below are new allegations about Maria Butina, the Russian national and lifetime NRA member who has been indicted and charged by DOJ with “conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior notification to the Attorney General.”

To date, the NRA still has not publicly commented on the arrest or indictment of Maria Butina, or its many ties to Butina and Russia.

  • Media are widely reporting that “U.S. Person 1” in the Department of Justice’s documents charging Maria Butina is Republican and NRA-affiliated political operative Paul Erickson. The New York Times reported “Prosecutors said a 56-year-old American romantically linked to Ms. Butina was helping her leave the country. While the authorities did not identify the man, he is believed to be Paul Erickson, a longtime conservative activist and National Rifle Association member from South Dakota.” The Washington Post reported, “Erickson matches a description of an American described in court filings as a political operative who helped introduce Butina to influential American political figures ‘for the purpose of advancing the agenda of the Russian Federation.’” NPR reported, “The FBI said it has determined that even though Butina had a personal relationship with someone described in court papers as Person 1 — identified by NPR as political fundraiser Paul Erickson…’”
  • Butina was in a romantic relationship with Republican and NRA-affiliated political operative Paul Erickson. The Washington Post reported, “There, Butina met Paul Erickson, a South Dakota-based Republican operative who was well known to Republican insiders, going back to the work he did as national political director for Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign in 1992. She told the Senate Intelligence Committee in April that she began a romantic relationship with the American operative, people familiar with her testimony said.”
  • This case against Butina may be larger than just one arrest — newly unsealed court documents show that the investigation had more than one subject. CNN reported that “The government will continue its investigation after execution of the arrest warrant,” the prosecutors wrote to the judge. “And disclosure of the arrest warrant would jeopardize the investigation by providing the subjects of the investigation an opportunity to destroy evidence or flee and jeopardize the investigation by disclosing the details of facts known to investigators, the identities of witnesses, and the investigative strategy.”
  • Erickson appears to be part of a federal investigation related to fraud in South Dakota. According to The New York Times, prosecutors revealed that the Republican political operative from South Dakota who created a company with Butina “was the subject of a fraud investigation.” The Washington Post reported that in arguing that Butina should be released, “(her lawyer) revealed that Butina had offered to assist law enforcement with a federal criminal investigation of an unidentified person in South Dakota.”
  • Sources have suggested to CBS News that “the fact that Torshin wasn’t charged along with Butina is a sign that special counsel Robert Mueller is trying to secure her cooperation and get her to turn on Torshin or other Russian officials.”
  • Butina was questioned by Federal Election Commission investigators in March about “whether certain donations had been made to a political campaign.” Mother Jones reported that she cooperated, but no further details were given at yesterday’s hearing.
  • Despite her relationship with Erickson, about whom she complained, Butina offered sex to an unnamed person in exchange for a position at a “special interest organization.” According to the Department of Justice, “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.”
  • The FBI arrested Butina because she appeared to be taking steps to leave the D.C. area with Erickson, and possibly the country. She was also observed wiring money to Russia, showing that she had access to funds. According to the Department of Justice, “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.”
  • Butina was in regular contact with people believed to be members of Russian intelligence. According to the Department of Justice, “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.”
  • Torshin told Butina she was “a daredevil girl” for being photographed near the U.S. Capitol on inauguration day and later commented that she had “upstaged Anna Chapman.” According to the Department of Justice, “FBI agents have also discovered messages between Butina and the Russian Official in which the Russian Official likened Butina to one member of a ring of Russian covert agents who were arrested in 2010. … On January 20, 2017, in response to a photo Butina sent to the Russian Official of her near the U.S. Capitol on Inauguration Day, the Russian Official responded, ‘You’re a daredevil girl! What can I say![]’ Butina responded, ‘Good teachers![]’”
  • Maria Butina appears to have had relationships with at least two wealthy Russian oligarchs, one of whom she referred to in private messages as a “funder.” According to the Department of Justice, “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.’”
  • Butina and Russian banker, politician and lifetime NRA member Alexander Torshin regularly attended dinners and VIP events for the NRA’s Golden Ring of Freedom — its million-dollar donor program. The Washington Post reported, “[Butina] and Torshin got unusual access to elite NRA gatherings, according to a person familiar with NRA event arrangements. In recent years, they were regular guests at Golden Ring of Freedom dinners and VIP events reserved for people who typically donate $1 million to the NRA.
  • Butina appears to have tried to infiltrate a D.C.-based civil rights group to learn about their cyber-vulnerabilities. The Washington Post reported, “By 2017, after she had enrolled as a graduate student at American University in Washington, Butina began probing groups on the left as well, trying unsuccessfully to interview a D.C.-based civil rights group about its cyber-vulnerabilities for what she said was a school project, according to a person familiar with her outreach.”
  • Butina’s Russian gun group, the Right to Bear Arms, paid for part of NRA board member and surrogate Sheriff David Clarke’s travel during the 2015 NRA delegation trip to Moscow. “Butina’s group, The Right to Bear Arms, covered $6,000 of Clarke’s meal, hotel, and transportation expenses, according to the ex-sheriff’s Milwaukee County financial disclosure form,” reports Milwaukee’s FOX6 News.
  • Paul Erickson lobbied for a role on President Trump’s transition team, and lobbied for K.T. McFarland to be hired as an adviser to Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Washington Post reported, “Erickson lobbied for a role in Trump’s transition team and complained after the election when he ran into a problem with his security clearance, according to people familiar with the situation. Even without official credentials, he pressed Trump donors and former campaign officials, pushing for top positions for people he thought especially qualified. One person recalled his lobbying to get K.T. McFarland named as an adviser to Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.”


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