Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Arrest of Russian operative Maria Butina on spying charges points to NRA-related communications that landed in the files of Trump AG Jeff Sessions

Maria Butina
Trump attorney general and former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was "in the loop" on communications that led to yesterday's charges against a Russian woman who stands accused of spying for Moscow by infiltrating the National Rifle Association (NRA) in an effort to influence the Republican Party and American politics. From a report at The Guardian:

Maria Butina, who purported to be a pro-gun activist, met American politicians and candidates to establish “back channels” and secretly reported back to the Kremlin through a high-level Russian official, according to the US justice department.

Prosecutors said in a statement that Butina, 29, had been “developing relationships with US persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian federation”.

Butina was charged with conspiracy to act as a Russian agent within the US without notifying the attorney general. She was arrested on Sunday and appeared before a magistrate in Washington on Monday, officials said. In an affidavit, an FBI agent said investigators had searched Butina’s laptop computer and mobile phone.

According to a Rolling Stone (RS) report earlier this year -- and we reported on it in a post dated April 30, 2018 -- those "U.S. persons" included Jeff Sessions and his former chief of staff Rick Dearborn, who went on to become a member of the Trump transition team. The winding road that led from Butina to Sessions involved Vladimir Putin ally Alexander Torshin and Republican/NRA operative Paul Erickson.

Rolling Stone reported on an email between Erickson and Dearborn and describes Butina as "Torshin's protege."  It says Erickson and Butina had started a business together in South Dakota. From the RS report, which was built on a response from Democrats to a U.S. House Intelligence Committee report on the Trump-Russia scandal:

In particular, the Democrats strongly suggest that Putin ally Alexander Torshin was running an op through the NRA: "The Kremlin-linked individual" – Torshin – "appears to have used the group" – the NRA – "to befriend and establish a back channel to senior Trump campaign associates through their mutual affinity for firearms," the Democrats write, "a strategy consistent with Russian trade craft." (Torshin, a lifetime NRA member, was recently sanctioned by the Treasury Department and can no longer travel to the United States.)

The Democratic report also publishes a full excerpt of an infamous May 2016 email from Paul Erickson to the Trump campaign. (Previously, this email had only been reported in snippets by The New York Times.) Erickson is an NRA- and GOP operative who repeatedly visited a Torshin-backed gun-rights group in Moscow. He later started a mysterious business with Torshin's protege, Maria Butina, in South Dakota.

How close does this get to Jeff Sessions. According to RS, the answer is "real close":

The excerpt is illuminating: Erickson addressed the email – which included a proposed meeting between candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin – to Rick Dearborn, then a top Trump campaign staffer. But the full text suggests Sen. Jeff Sessions was directly in the loop. Erickson wrote: 
"I'm now writing to you and Sen. Sessions in your roles as Trump foreign policy experts/advisors. […] Happenstance and the (sometimes) international reach of the NRA placed me in a position a couple of years ago to slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin's Kremlin. Russia is quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S. that isn't forthcoming under the current administration. And for reasons that we can discuss in person or on the phone, the Kremlin believes that the only possibility of a true re-set in this relationship would be with a new Republican White House."

Where was the excerpt found? In Jeff Sessions' files:

Did Sessions, now the attorney general, receive a copy of this email directly? The report's footnote, sourcing the email, reveals the document came from "Attorney General Jeff Session [sic] Document Production." Rolling Stone asked for clarification from a spokesperson for Ranking Member Adam Schiff; he replied: "We cannot comment."

That this email was found in Sessions' files is a startling revelation. Sessions previously told House investigators that he did not recall the outreach by Erickson, according to The New York Times. And it may provide new context for why Sessions recused himself from the Justice Department's Russia investigation.

The Democratic report also reveals that Dearborn moved Erickson's message up the chain of command – and amplified when and where Putin hoped to meet with candidate Trump. "Dearborn communicated this request on May 17, 2016 to the highest levels of the Trump campaign, including Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and Jared Kushner," the Democrats write.

Here is how we concluded our April post on Butina, Torshin, Erickson, Dearborn, and Sessions:

Russia's outreach efforts did result in a meeting with a Trump representative, and there is little doubt Jeff Sessions knew about it. There also is little doubt that Republicans on the intelligence committee tried to cover it up. Writes Dickinson:

"Torshin hoped to use the 2016 NRA convention to break the ice, and open a personal line of communication to "someone of high rank in the Trump Campaign," the report continues. "As explained in Dearborn's email, such a meeting would provide Torshin an opportunity “to discuss an offer he claims to be carrying from President Putin to meet with DJT." ("DJT" is a reference to Donald J. Trump.) "They would also like DJT to visit Russia for a world summit on the persecution of Christians at which Putin and Trump would meet.'"

Ultimately, Torshin met the future-President's son, Donald Jr., at the NRA convention. The Democrats upbraid the majority for "conveniently" concluding there was "no evidence that the two discussed the presidential election." The Democrats expand: "this relies solely on the voluntary and self-interested testimony of the individual in question . . . Trump Jr." The report adds: "The Majority refused multiple requests by the Minority to interview witnesses central to this line of inquiry, including Torshin, Butina, Erickson, and others."

How ugly could this get for the NRA -- with Jeff Sessions right in the middle of it? From RS:

"The Democrats conclude the NRA section of their report with a litany of questions the GOP majority refused to examine, writing that the GOP majority report "ignores significant outstanding questions about individuals who sought to set up this back channel, including why Torshin and Butina were interested in connecting the Trump campaign to Putin, what they sought to get out of that connection, why they enlisted the support of NRA colleagues, and whether others in the campaign were communicating with Russia through the NRA."

The Democrats also underscore that Republicans took no interest in getting to the bottom of allegations that Russian money illegally boosted Trump's candidacy. "The Majority refused to investigate," Democrats write, "whether Russian-linked intermediaries used the NRA to illegally funnel money to the Trump Campaign, to open lines of communication with or approaches to Trump or his associates, and how those approaches may have informed Russia's active measures campaign as it unfolded throughout 2016."

Butina, who has been in the United States, is the first Russian operative to be arrested in the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. If she cooperates with investigators or goes to trial, that could present a nightmare scenario for Jeff Sessions and some of his associates.


Anonymous said...

This post might give the "evil elf" some acid indigestion. Hope so.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Torshin is the big dog in all of this, very close to Putin. Did not realize he had ties to Butina.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it funny how even international scandals have connections to the seediness in Alabama?

legalschnauzer said...

@9:37 --

Never seems to fail.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking the NRA might implode when all is said and done.

Anonymous said...

Paul Erickson seems to the "man behind the curtain" on communications with Sessions' office and will be interesting to see if he is drawn into this case. Strange that he has a business with Butina in South Dakota. Sounds like Erickson is an NRA lackey.

Anonymous said...


See page 208- LS is mentioned!

Anonymous said...

Maybe Sessions finally will hear the prison doors slamming shut behind him.

Anonymous said...

The Russia stuff probably is what attracted Sessions to the Trump campaign in the first place.

legalschnauzer said...

@9:46 --

Thanks for sharing. Will havve to check this out.

legalschnauzer said...

@9:46 --

Thanks for the heads up re: Bentley deposition. I just put up a new post about it.

You are our Investigative Journalism Hero of the Day.

Excellent work.

legalschnauzer said...

Here is link to new post on Bentley depo:


e.a.f. said...

Russia saw in Trump some one they could manipulate and went for it. Sessions, also. The Russians aren't stupid. they would have "investigated" every one who would have come into Trump's orbit, Sessions would have been some one to have in the orbit because he was some one they could black mail.

Russia also saw something in Trump and Sessions, that they wanted to weaken the fabric of American life, racism. The Russians are a deeply racist country. At one time they were expelling every one who was not an ethnic Russian from Moscow. About 15/20 years ago. To have Trump elected would help them create a greater divide with in American society. They hated Obama, not just for what he stood for but because he was black. It was clear Putin could not stand him. However, Trump was just his type. Could be manipulated and was weak. Sessions ditto. How far this goes, we can only wait to see. Just Trump's body language while at the podium with Putin is strange. Did he resent having his strings pulled by Putin? Who knows. The U.S.A. though is in very deep trouble and it is doubtful the Republicans who are now "upset" will go the distance on any of it or the MSM. Its just a money making enterprise, not real journalism. If it had been they wouldn't have sat around like a bunch of idiots while two security men, one of them Putin's pulled a journalist out of the press conference. Can't even find much print on the subject.

On the bright side for Trump, the media has lost interest in the detention of babies and separated families. Those families will be detained for years in something akin to concentration camps.

We can thank the bloggers of the world for printing the truth and being willing to take what comes with that territory. In your case it has cost you and Carol a great deal, your home, your money, your careers, health, security of person all in a quest to exercise your First Amendment rights. My hat goes off to you and the rest of the bloggers who continue to expose the corruption which goes on in countries.