Donald Trump speaking to Russian operative Maria Butina at FreedomFest, Las Vegas
Just one month after riding down the escalator and announcing his candidacy for president in 2015, Donald Trump attended FreedomFest, a libertarian event in Las Vegas. During the Q&A, a young Russian woman had the opportunity to ask a question.
Mother Jones reports that Maria Butina asked him what he would do about sanctions on Russia, if elected. Trump responded that he would try to get rid of them.
“I am visiting from Russia,” Butina said into the mic.
“Ahhhhh, Putin!” Trump interjected, prompting laughter from the audience as he added a mocking riff about the current president: “Good friend of Obama, Putin. He likes Obama a lot. Go ahead.”
“My question will be about foreign politics,” Butina continued. “If you will be elected as president, what will be your foreign politics especially in the relationships with my country? And do you want to continue the politics of sanctions that are damaging of both economy [sic]? Or you have any other ideas?”
After going off on Obama and digressing into trade policy, Trump responded: “I know Putin, and I’ll tell you what, we get along with Putin… I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin, OK? And I mean, where we have the strength. I don’t think you’d need the sanctions. I think we would get along very, very well.”
Butina was arrested Sunday on charges that she failed to register as a foreign agent. In the charging documents, she is linked to Alexander Torshin, a Russian oligarch and funder of the NRA. But there's more:
Butina is accused of developing relationships with American politicians and a “gun rights organization,” none of which are named in the affidavit supporting the criminal complaint. FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson wrote that Butina was attempting to “establish a ‘back channel’ communication for representatives of the Government of Russia.”
The affidavit also contains apparent communications, by direct message on Twitter, between Butina and the unnamed Russian official. “Your political star has risen in the sky,” the official told Butina. “Now it is important to rise to the zenith and not burn out (fall) prematurely,” and they later discussed the “Russia-USA friendship society.”
It's pretty clear the gun rights organization is the NRA, who may have laundered Russian money to help elect Donald Trump.
Washington Post confirms:
She began reaching out to NRA members and other American gun enthusiasts in 2013, on several occasions hosting NRA executives and gun activists in Moscow, including one delegation that included former Milwaukee Sheriff Dave Clarke. She and Torshin also attended a series of NRA events in the United States starting in 2014.
As she traveled the U.S., she had a number of key interactions with the Trump campaign. In June 2015, as Trump announced his candidacy, Butina wrote a column in the National Interest, a conservative U.S. magazine, suggesting that only by election a Republican could the U.S. and Russia hope to improve relations.
And then came her opportunity in Las Vegas to get Trump on the record about sanctions, which she did.
According to the affidavit filed by the FBI, Russians were confident in 2015 that Republicans would take control of the government and used Butina to arrange "backchannel discussions" to promote Russian interests. Apparently it didn't matter which Republican, either. Here she is with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
Hmmm, I wonder why they would be confident in 2015 about the 2016 outcome.
Tim Mak, reporter at the time for The Daily Beast, reported on Butina's connections to Republicans extensively earlier this year:
Butina’s relationships, formed with Washington’s conservative society through her fierce advocacy for firearms—one conference described her as the “public face of gun rights in the Russian Federation”—provide a previously unreported link between the Russian government and the Republican Party.
Two of Butina’s friendships in particular have raised eyebrows. She started a business with Paul Erickson, a decades-long Republican Party activist. And she served as a special assistant to the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin, a former Russian senator belonging to Vladimir Putin’s political party with alleged ties to the Russian mob world.
The Washington Post notes that her lawyer claims she has been offering to cooperate with law enforcement since April of this year, and that she testified in a closed-door session before Congress earlier this year.
Today's display by Donald Trump was shameful, but as we begin to understand the extent of Russia's attack on our country, the contours of his obsequious submission to Vladimir Putin spells one word: Treason.
UPDATE: Is anyone surprised to discover the Congressman appears to be Dana Rohrabacher?
Read the entire affidavit here: