Butina was arrested Sunday and accused of attempting to infiltrate the American political system. Court documents state that she worked on behalf of an unnamed Russian official to influence American politicians and develop ties to American political organizations between 2015 and 2017. She allegedly worked to establish a “back channel” for Russian contact to American politicians.
While the Kremlin official is not named, prosecutors have said that official has since been sanctioned by the US.
“Your political star has risen in the sky,” the official told Butina through Twitter direct messages. “Now it is important to rise to the zenith and not burn out (fall) prematurely.”
Butina has been connected to the NRA through Alexander Torshin. Butina served as an assistant to Torshin, a top official at the Russian Central Bank who allegedly channeled money to the NRA for use benefiting Trump’s 2016 campaign. The NRA spent at least $30 million trying to secure President Trump’s victory.
Torshin is suspected to be the unnamed Russian official, according to Talking Points Memo.
Talking Points Memo also has identified “U.S. Person 1” in the indictment as Republican political operative Paul Erickson. Erickson was identified in a New York Times report in December as having offered to help the Trump campaign establish ties with Russia, now evidently through Butina. In an email titled “Kremlin Connection,” Erickson asked the advice of campaign adviser Rick Dearborn and then-Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) as to how to put Trump in contact with Putin.
As Attorney General, Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the probe into Russian election interference, and contends to do so was the right decision.
Since Butina expected Democrats to win the 2016 election, she told Erickson in a 2015 email that this was the time to build relations. She also reminded Erickson that “the [GUN RIGHTS ORGANIZTION [is] the largest sponsor of the elections to the US congress, as well as a sponsor of The CPAC conference and other events,” and a core constituency of “Political Party 1.”
This is part of an escalation that took place around Trump’s summit with Vladimir Putin, in which Russians connected with election interference were named and indicted and President Trump reiterated his belief that Putin and Russia were not involved, despite overwhelming evidence and the consensus of the American intelligence community.
It is at this time unknown if Butina will cooperate with the Special Counsel investigation into Russian election interference.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.