It was only a matter of time before news organizations started digging up the travel agenda of accused Russian agent Maria Butina, currently under arrest and federal indictment for, among other things, being the conduit between her Moscow boss Alexander Torshin and the NRA and GOP, but Butina was everywhere, and we're just now starting to learn who else she was involved with.
Accused Russian agent Maria Butina had wider high-level contacts in Washington than previously known, taking part in 2015 meetings between a visiting Russian official and two senior officials at the U.S. Federal Reserve and Treasury Department.
The meetings, revealed by several people familiar with the sessions and a report from a Washington think tank that arranged them, involved Stanley Fischer, Fed vice chairman at the time, and Nathan Sheets, then Treasury undersecretary for international affairs.
Butina traveled to the United States in April 2015 with Alexander Torshin, then the Russian Central Bank deputy governor, and they took part in separate meetings with Fischer and Sheets to discuss U.S.-Russian economic relations during Democratic former President Barack Obama’s administration.
The two meetings, which have not been previously reported, reveal a wider circle of high-powered connections that Butina sought to cultivate with American political leaders and special interest groups.
The meetings with Fischer and Sheets were arranged by the Center for the National Interest, a Washington foreign policy think tank that often advocates pro-Russia views.
The meetings were documented in a Center for the National Interest report seen by Reuters that outlined its Russia-related activities from 2013 to 2015. The report described the meetings as helping bring together “leading figures from the financial institutions of the United States and Russia.”
Not a good look, but it seems the Treasury Department and Fed meetings were an excuse to be in town for the real deal arranged by the Center for National Interest. And again, the time frame shows this was a long-term operation.
During the same trip, Torshin and Butina also participated in a private “off the record” discussion at the center about the “Russian financial situation and its impact on Russian politics,” according to people familiar with the meeting and the think tank’s report. That event was moderated by the group’s chairman emeritus, former AIG CEO Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the report showed. Greenberg did not return calls for comment.
Among the think tank’s board members is David Keene, a former NRA president and former chairman of the American Conservative Union. Keene has previously been photographed alongside Butina at events.
Paul Saunders, the think tank’s executive director, said Torshin spoke at an April 2015 event about the Russian banking system and Butina attended. Saunders said people at the organization cannot recall details of Torshin’s presentation.
“We were unaware of any charges or suspicions of illegal or inappropriate conduct or of any connections to Russian intelligence services,” Saunders said in an email.
Prosecutors said the think tank’s magazine published an article by Butina in June 2015 in which she said “certain U.S. politicians and Russians share many common interests.”
Randy Weber, a Republican U.S. congressman from Texas, also met with Torshin during the April trip, according to the think tank’s documents. A spokeswoman for Weber did not respond to multiple calls or emails seeking comment.
But it wasn't just Butina's contact with Americans that was disturbing, it was her contacts with prominent and wealthy Russians in America as well.
Maria Butina, the Russian woman charged in federal court lastweek with acting as an unregistered agent of her government,received financial support from Konstantin Nikolaev, a Russian billionaire with investments in U.S. energy and technology companies, according to a person familiar with testimony she gave Senate investigators.
Butina told the Senate Intelligence Committee in April that Nikolaev provided funding for a gun rights group she represented, according to the person. A spokesman for Nikolaev confirmed that he was in contact with her as she was launching the pro-gun rights group in Russia between 2012 and 2014. He declined to confirm whether Nikolaev gave her financial support.
Nikolaev’s fortune has been built largely through port and railroad investments in Russia. He also sits on the board of American Ethane, a Houston ethane company that was showcased by President Trump at an event in China last year, and is an investor in a Silicon Valley start-up.
Nikolaev has never met Trump, according to his spokesman.
However, Nikolaev’s son Andrey, who is studying in the United States, volunteered in the 2016 campaign in support of Trump’s candidacy, according a person familiar with his activities. Konstantin Nikolaev was spotted at the Trump International Hotel in Washington during Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, according to two people familiar with his presence.
In a court filing last week, prosecutors said Butina’s emails and chat logs are full of references to a billionaire as the “funder” of her activities. They wrote that the billionaire is a “known Russian businessman with deep ties to the Russian Presidential Administration.”
Prosecutors did not identify Butina’s funder by name but said he travels often to the United States and was listed by Forbes this year as having a net worth of $1.2 billion — which is the same as Nikolaev’s current listing.
A whole lot of people met Maria Butina over the last three years. It's clear just how much of a keystone she was to this operation.
A whole lot of people are in trouble because of that.
A whole lot of people should be sweating prison right now.
Maria Butina, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn are just the beginning.