Courtesy of Mother Jones:

With so much attention justifiably focused on Robert Mueller’s report this past week, not as much notice was paid to a parallel matter regarding another Russian effort to influence policy and politics in the United States: the pending sentencing of confessed Russian agent Maria Butina. But a document filed in that case provides context for understanding the Trump-Russia scandal, and it reads a bit like a spy thriller.

In preparation for a sentencing hearing for Butina scheduled for this coming Friday, the Justice Department submitted a memo requesting that Butina, who faces a maximum sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine, be imprisoned for 18 months. This document depicts Butina running a covert operation to obtain influence for Russia in the United States—with a key target being the National Rifle Association.

The Justice Department memo is essentially a primer on how an influence operation is conducted. Noting that Butina was an agent of Alexander Torshin, a former Russian senator and a governor of Russia’s Central Bank who was a longtime ally of Vladimir Putin (and who has been accused of having ties to the Russian mob—an allegation he has denied), the submission says that Butina looked for “key information about Americans who were in a position to influence United States politics and took steps to establish an unofficial line of communication between Russia and these Americans.” And, it asserts, her activities were “part of Russia’s broader scheme to acquire information and establish relationships and communication channels that can be exploited to the Russian Federation’s benefit.” Note the reference to “Russia’s broader scheme”—which could possibly include the contacts detailed in the Mueller report.

Butina was something other than the usual secret agent, according to the filing:

Butina was not a spy in the traditional sense of trying to gain access to classified information to send back to her home country. She was not a trained intelligence officer. But the actions she took were nonetheless taken on behalf of [Torshin] for the benefit of the Russian Federation, and those actions had the potential to damage the national security of the United States.

Butina’s responsibilities, according to the Justice Department, included identifying “people who have the ability to influence policy” in Russia’s favor. That is, spotting people who could be of use to Russia, wittingly or not. Here’s where the NRA and the GOP came in. In one memo, she noted that the NRA “plays a central role” in the GOP, stating it was “the biggest sponsor of the US Congressional elections.” She had concluded that the way to the heart of the Republican Party was through the NRA.

So it seems that the Kremlin sent little Maria to America to find some way to infiltrate the Republican party and she used the NRA as the passkey to gaining entry. 

According to Politico part of her task was to influence the selection of Republican presidential candidates:

Butina created a plan called the Diplomacy Project in March 2015 aimed at cultivating Republican presidential candidates and their advisers and reporting her progress back to Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia.

She also tried to connect members of the National Rifle Association with Kremlin officials in December 2015 during a trip to Moscow, prosecutors say, and held U.S.-Russia “friendship dinners” to “exert the speediest and most effective influence on the process of making decisions in the American establishment,” according to a document she wrote during the runup to the election.

Oh, now I get it.

And then after Trump becomes a candidate he brings in both Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, who each have ties to Russia, to help run his campaign. 

So it would appear that the Kremlin had infiltrated the Trump campaign even before there was a Trump campaign. 

But remember, there was NO collusion.


And then there is this.

Methinks it is well past time for the Democratically led Congress to start issuing a few subpoenas for NRA records.