For fans of Fox’s series, The Americans, last month’s series finale was a sad end to some great television. I was one of those loyal bingers. My bar was even featured in an early episode, Season 1/Episode 10 where one of Elizabeth’s kompromats, Gregory, comes on to her. Seriously, it’s one of the best TV series ever made.
The story is about two Russian illegals, Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings, two highly trained KGB officers posing as a married American couple living and flying under the radar in the DC suburbs and how they worked to undermine the US during the Cold War era of the 1980s.
It was with a certain degree of deja vu and even self-satisfaction that I learned today that Maria Butina had been arrested and charged with espionage. The reason for the self-satisfaction is that I’ve been following her “career” for well over a year, ever since I read an article about her being the godmother of the Russian Right To Bear Arms movement. Eh wot? I knew that the last thing Vladimir Putin would permit is an armed Russian proletariat. And if she was the head of a Russian grassroots movement, why was she living here?
Further reading showed that Butina had weaseled herself into the NRA’s inner sanctum. She was hosting expensive dinners for NRA big wigs and influential Republicans, flying off to GOP fundraisers and essentially acting like a lobbyist. Like everything in the Trump/Russia investigation each discovery begged many questions.
For instance, how did a 29 year-old redhead who supposedly owned a used furniture store in Siberia in 2011 manage to hook up with billionaire oligarchs in Moscow, bank a trip to Washington DC and grad school at American University and then work her way into the NRA, the Republican party and even into Trump World? How did she become a Special Assistant to a thus-far unnamed official in the Russian Federation (*cough* Alexander Torshin *cough*)? Where did she get even more money for her extensive traveling and lavish affairs? How does an innocent Russian college student manage to get herself on an FBI counterespionage watch list only two years after arriving in the US and get subpoenaed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? She was a twenty-something newbie in the US on a student visa. Where would she even get the thousands of documents proving her innocence to the SFR Committee? For that matter, who’s paying for her high-priced lawyer, Robert Driscoll, who also represented Sheriff Joe Arpaio in his pardon by Donald Trump? Will Trump pardon her before she cracks?
The timing for her arrest also couldn’t have been less coincidental: while a fawning, obsequious Donald Trump was ratfucking the US and our allies to Vladimir Putin in Finland. The charges reveal that Butina’s mentor, Russian banker and known foreign intelligence operative, Alexander Torshin, funneled millions in Russian cash through a shell company to the NRA for distribution as campaign contributions to select GOP candidates. And not just Donald Trump’s campaign, which allegedly received up to $30 million in laundered cash, but also the campaigns of many hard right Republicans including Tom Cotton, Cory Gardner and Thom Tillis. Several others have been implicated, including in the Republican leadership.
Even though I dislike virtually everything about Donald Trump and want to see him frog-walked out of Trump Tower in chains by Mexican-American federal marshals, I actually don’t think Trump actively colluded with Russia. I think Trump is both too stupid and too lazy to have done that himself. He would have delegated that to others. Likewise, I don’t think Putin trusts Trump to stick to a plan and keep his mouth shut. But Putin would have worked through a high ranking member(s) in Trump’s world who reported to Trump. My bet is Roger Stone and/or Manafort but there could even be new names to add to the indictments. However it’s certain that Trump knew all about it, and that’s more than enough to impeach his ass.
CNN reports that the FBI interviewed Butina’s associates and former fellow students to whom she admitted that she was a Russian agent. She freely revealed that her mission was maintaining communications between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Two of these folks reported her to the FBI in 2016.
Among her many admissions is that the “Russian gun rights” movement she was allegedly representing here in the US was a sham organization created by Russian intelligence to give her cover to penetrate the highest levels of the NRA. The NRA was played like a cheap balalaika.
Despite the size and sensitivity of her mission, Butina showed few signs that she was a trained illegal in the sense of an Elizabeth Jennings or even an Anna Chapman, a KGB illegal arrested in 2010 who was possibly the model for Jennings’ character in The Americans. Because of her flirtatious nature she was probably intended only as a sexual lure by Alexander Torshin who actually ran the NRA operation. He suddenly aborted his stay in the US after he was indicted in Spain on money laundering and the FBI began investigating Butina. It was left to Butina to continue the operation but she lacked the training and field experience to successfully stay off the radar for long.
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