Spy Maria Butina's US targets
The case of arrested on suspicion of espionage Maria Butina gets new details. Several unusual suspects have already appeared. The Russian politician, trying to use the charm of the girl to influence the US President entourage. An old American lover that introduced the student to the dignitaries. The Russian oligarch who sponsored her luxurious life in Washington. And, of course, Russian intelligence officers who received regular reports from their employee. Butina is already considered the second Anna Chapman.
On July 16, the US Department of Justice reported that a 29-year-old Russian woman, Maria Butina that lives in Washington, DC, was detained on suspicion of espionage in favor of Russia on July 15. She was arrested hours before the meeting of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump in Helsinki.
Initially, Butina was charged with conspiring to act on the territory of the United States as an agent of the Russian Federation without prior notification to the country's prosecutor. The maximum penalty is five years’ imprisonment. Later, the US Department of Justice put forward a new, more grave, charge: "acting as a foreign agent without registration," which increases the possible term of imprisonment.
This is the standard wording when it comes to espionage. The charge is filed under title 18, paragraph 951 and 371 of the US Code. Paragraph 951 states that "Whoever, other than a diplomatic or consular officer or attaché, acts in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General if required in subsection (b), shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both." Paragraph 371 states that "If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both." If Butina is found guilty on both counts, she faces up to 15 years in prison.
According to the prosecution, Butina tried to develop ties with American citizens and infiltrating political groups to influence American politics. The investigation believes that in 2015-2017, the Russian woman worked under the leadership of a high-ranking official from the Russian government, who had previously been a member of the legislative branch of the Russian Federation and then became the highest official in the Central Bank of Russia. The US Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions on this Russian official in April of this year. FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson's sworn statement said her assignment was to "exploit personal connections with US persons influencing American politics to advance the interests of the Russian Federation. She was trying to establish a 'back channel' communication for representatives of the Government of Russia to advance the interest of Russia.” He also stated that Butina met not only with politicians and candidates for political posts in the US, but also attended events sponsored by lobby groups. The Russian woman reported to Moscow on the results of negotiations, sending messages through her curator.
The investigation of the Butina’s case was initiated by the FBI Washington Field and then took over by the DC National Security Section (NSS) and the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). On June 16, Judge Deborah A. Robinson held the first hearing on the case in the DC District Court. The Russian was placed into custody until the next trial. At the next hearing on July 18, the DC District Court refused Butina held Butina without bail, as she considered that Butina could leave the US.
Maria Butina was born on November 10, 1988 in the village of Kulunda, Altai Territory. In 2005 she graduated from school #22 in Barnaul with in-depth study of foreign languages. In 2010 she graduated from the faculty of mass communications, philology and political science of the Altai State University with a honours diploma. She also studied in the local school of real politics. While studying at the university she worked as a press secretary in the Public Chamber of the Altai Territory. In 2008, she became an adviser to the consultant of the Public Chamber of the Altai Territory, Andrey Stepurko. In the same year she was elected a member of the Altai Chamber from the League of Students of Altai State University. Participated in the youth primaries of United Russia party. At the end of the university, she headed the Domashny Uyut company, which deals with furniture trade. Then she created the Moscow advertising company Antares. In 2011, Butina enrolled at the graduate school of Altai State University with a degree in Political Processes, Institutes and Technologies. From 2011 to March 2018 she was the chairman of the board of the All-Russian public organization The Right to Bear Arms, becoming one of its founders. This organization unites more than 10.000 owners of civilian weapons and individuals interested in improving the regulation of weapons and self-defense. Since 2016 she lives in the US on a F-1 student visa. Butina attended the meetings of the largest shooting association in the United States - National Rifle Association of America (NRA). Recently she graduated from the American University in Washington, got a master's degree in international relations.
Former President of the National Rifle Association David Keene, Maria Butin and Alexander Torshin, Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker, April 2015
The Butina’s patron name is not revealed. However, in February last year, the Russian woman became a member of the delegation attending the National Prayer Breakfast - a celebration with the participation of US President Donald Trump. Butina represented the All-Russian public organization The Right to Bear Arms. The composition of the delegation was formed by Alexander Torshin, the former vice-speaker of the Federation Council, who later became deputy chairman of the Central Bank of Russia. Probably, Torshin was her patron. According to one of the publications, when Torshin was a senator, Butina served as his assistant. The alleged connection of the official with the NRA through Butina journalists considered as evidence of "collusion" of Donald Trump with Russia since the rifle association supports the Republicans in general and Trump in particular. This organization is suspected of financing the Trump campaign with Russian money.
Maria Butina and Deputy Chairman of the Bank of Russia Alexander Torshin
Torshin is an NRA member since 2011, and faced American sanctions in April 2018. Back in 2011, Torshin advocated the right to own military weapons for all Russians and drafted an appropriate bill. Butina became a member of the NRA long before leaving for America and is the second person in Russia, who has the status of a life member of the NRA. Trump is also a member of the NRA, which has significant influence in the Republican circles. In 2016, the NRA officially supported Donald Trump in the struggle for the right to become a Republican candidate for the country's presidency. Judiciary documents state that Butina considered the NRA as a powerful tool for influencing the Republican policy and called the organization "the largest sponsor of the elections to the US Congress" and sponsor of the Conservative Political Action Conference. Some time after the National Prayer Breakfast, McClatchy published an article about the FBI is investigating whether Torshin funneled money to the NRA during the 2016 campaign, donating $30 million for his election campaign. Butina is mentioned in this article too.
The American press emphasizes that Butina traveled along with Torshin around the US, trying to meet with politicians like Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, and Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate. In 2015, The National Interest published a column that began like this - it may take the election of a Republican to the White House to improve relations between the Russian Federation and the United States. The author of that column was Maria Butina. And in May 2016, Torshin and Butina offered to hold Trump's meeting with Putin during the annual NRA congress in Louisville, but Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, rejected the proposal. But the son of the incumbent President, Donald Trump, Jr., met with Torshin and Butina for dinner, organized at the expense of the NRA, although Trump's lawyer later called that conversation "short."
Another member of the NRA is Paul Erickson, the Republican political consultant. The NSS stated that the Russian woman had a 56-year-old boyfriend among the American politicians. The representative of the agency noted that a "separate investigation of fraud" is being conducted against the man. Butina viewed their relationship as “simply a necessary aspect of her activities,” according to prosecutors, with Butina allegedly “express[ing] disdain for continuing to cohabitate with” Erickson. On another occasion, Butina allegedly offered a different person “sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization.”
The American media called Erickson her boyfriend. He was not less than twice involved on charges of financial abuse, and both times the court ruled in favor of the investors deceived by him. As proof of his connection with the Russian woman, Erickson appears to have tagged on a November 2013 junket to Moscow—the same timeframe in which the FBI affidavit says “U.S. Person 1” first established contact with Butina. And in April, during hearings in the Senate, the Russian woman allegedly admitted that she had an affair with Erickson. They founded a company Bridges in 2016 in South Dakota and often appeared together in public. Shortly after Donald Trump won the presidency, Erickson and Butina reportedly celebrated together at a costume party at Cafe Deluxe near American University, where Butina went as Alexandra, the last empress of Russia, and Erickson dressed as the mad monk Rasputin.
The prosecutor's also said that Butina had a patron among the Russian businessmen who financed her stay in the US. “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,” statement argues.
12 businessmen with such a fortune joined the Forbes rating. Ilya Shumanov, Deputy General Director of Transparency International, believes that businessman Gleb Fetisov, who was with Torshin in one Federation Council committee and played golf with him, is her patron. At the end of 2016, Fetisov registered the production company Fetisoff Illusion Films Aldamisa Entertainment (abbreviated as FIFA Entertainment) in Hollywood.
The prosecutor also stated that Butina was in contact with representatives of Russian intelligence. They found e-mail addresses, which related to the FSB, in her contacts. During the hearing, prosecutors showed a photo of Butina having dinner with a man they said was suspected of having ties to Russian intelligence. They also read from notes found in her home that included reference to a potential job offer from the FSB and noted she had been photographed with Russian diplomatic personnel, including Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s former ambassador to the US.
Butina's lawyer Robert Driscoll stated that his client is not an agent of Russia "She has been publicly, essentially, in the media, accused of being an agent for the government of Russia," Driscoll told the judge on Monday. "She testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in closed session -- which was not public until today -- several months ago, did not flee, cooperated with that request; had her house searched in April by the FBI with 15 agents going through everything she had, did not flee." According to the defenders, Butina proposed to also give evidence to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office, which is investigating Russia’s impact on the presidential election and any possible collusion with officials from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The authorities completely ignored Butina's readiness to cooperate and in April the FBI agents searched her apartment. "Since then, she repeatedly offered to answer Justice's questions. Instead of taking advantage of this opportunity, the authorities chose Butina's arrest on Sunday without prior notification to the lawyer," Driscoll said. According to the lawyer, the Russian woman has a work permit; she was looking for employment to apply knowledge into practice.
The Russian embassy in the US demanded consular access to Butina, but it has not received it so far. The embassy's statement notes that the materials of the Butina case are classified. Partner of the law firm Marks & Sokolov, a former Pennsylvania senator, Bruce Marks, suggested that Butina's case will not reach the court: "It is likely she will be expelled from the US and not be subjected to further criminal prosecution."
Maria Butina, the ginger-fringed Russian grad student, charged with acting as a foreign agent in the US this week, was compared by her handler to another famous undercover femme fatale — Anna Chapman, the sultry spook busted for spying in New York in 2010, federal prosecutors allege. It is curious that many countrymen of Butina do not rule out that she really could become a spy. So, chairman of the Altai regional public organization Young journalists of Altai board Sergey Kanaryov stated: "Back in the days when she was a student, she was very ambitious." According to Altai journalist Artem Kuznetsov, who worked together with Butina, she was always "a shady lady."