Maria Butina, who now stands accused by the U.S. Justice Department of trying to infiltrate American political groups on behalf of the Russian government, once met with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who, she claimed on social media, greeted her in Russian.
The U.S. Justice Department announced charges against Butina in an indictment released on July 16, 2018 shortly after President Donald Trump held a press conference with Vladimir Putin.
“Butina, 29, a Russian citizen residing in Washington D.C., was arrested on July 15, 2018, in Washington, D.C., and made her initial appearance this afternoon before Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She was ordered held pending a hearing set for July 18, 2018,” the release says. Walker is not accused of any wrongdoing in the indictment, which does not name him. The indictment does list several Americans as interacting with Butina, but it does not give their identities and does not charge any Americans with crimes. The references to Walker appear on Butina’s social media pages.
The photo with Walker at the top of this article was posted on Butina’s page on April 24, 2015.
The back story involving Butina is tangled up in gun rights advocacy and Russian and American political intrigue. In a lengthy profile, Mother Jones described her as “a graduate student since fall 2016 at American University in Washington, DC—who founded a Russian gun rights group and …has reportedly bragged about her connections to the Trump campaign.”
Asked about President Donald Trump’s comments that he doesn’t see any reason why Putin’s government might have interfered in the presidential election (despite the U.S. indictment accusing 12 Russians of doing so through hacking), Walker demurred. “I’ll leave that up to federal folks. That’s not in my jurisdiction,” Walker said to Fox 6. “I think the members of Congress certainly need to look into the details of that, but that’s not something I have any privvied information about.” According to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Walker’s campaign said the FBI hasn’t contacted him but “did not say whether Walker’s discussions with the woman were described in a court filing.” He also did not explain whether Walker can speak any Russian.
Here’s what you need to know on the Scott Walker angle:
Maria Butina Says Walker Greeted Her in Russian, Reports Say
Scott Walker is not mentioned in the indictment by name. However, he’s mentioned on Butina’s social media page and in the Mother Jones article that profiles her.
Heavy has left a message for Walker’s press secretary for comment and has yet to hear back.
“Governor Walker never had a meeting,” Walker’s gubernatorial re-election campaign spokesman told Fox 6. “Like other speakers at the event, Governor Walker appeared in an atrium area while waiting to deliver his remarks, where event attendees had the chance to say hello. There were thousands of people at the convention and many of them approached the governor and asked to say hello and take a photo with him.”
On July 13, 2015, Butina posted photos on Facebook from Walker’s presidential campaign announcement event. She posted another set of photos that included the Wisconsin governor too. According to Rolling Stone, “The Russians also rubbed elbows with Scott Walker, then a viable candidate, and the beneficiary of more than $3.5 million from the NRA over his career.”
She wrote on a blog: “We talked about Russia,” she wrote. “I did not hear any aggression towards our country, the president or my compatriots.” Two months later, reports Rolling Stone, “Butina traveled to Waukesha, Wisconsin, to attend Walker’s official presidential launch.”
According to Mother Jones, “April 2015: Butina posts about 200 pictures from Nashville, including one with Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who she says greeted her in Russian.” The photos were posted on a social media site called VK. She also directed readers to a page from Our American Revival, Walker’s 527 organization for more pictures, but that page is deleted.
Butina also posted on Facebook that she was attending an NRA convention in Nashville, Tennessee that month, writing, “I’m going to attend the annual meeting of the largest association of supporters of civilian weapons in the world (approx. 4.5 million people) – NRA, which will be held in Nashville, Tennessee, USA.”
On the same day she posted the picture standing with Walker, Butina posted a slew of photos from the NRA convention. She also posted a photo of his talk.
Butina posted a lengthy comment in Russian alongside the photo of her standing with Walker. According to Google translate, it says in part, “One of the possible future nominees for the post of US President from the Republican Party Scott Walker speaks Russian. For me, acquaintance with Scott Walker will remain in my memory forever, because he was accompanied by a very interesting story.”
She then continues, “And here at one of the events where I was present as a guest, I first met Scott Walker, who was introduced to me. With genuine interest and ready to ask a question on the topic of Russian-American relations, I went to him. And then something happened that I did not expect: the first words in many, many days in Russian, I heard from the future nominee in the US presidency from the Republican Party, who, having learned that I from Russia with a smile said ‘Hello!’ And during the conversation he remembered another word: ‘Thank you!'”
According to Mother Jones, the translation says that Butina referred to Walker as “one of the possible future nominees for the post of US President” and she says Walker “greeted her in Russian.” Walker would go on to leave the presidential race as Trump obviously became the GOP nominee; he is now embroiled in a re-election campaign for Wisconsin governor.
Mother Jones says Butina is a protege of a man named Alexander Torshin. According to Mother Jones, he is “a former Russian senator and longtime ally of Vladimir Putin, has been accused of having ties to the Russian mob (an allegation he has denied).” The photo shows Walker, Torshin, and Butina.
There’s another Wisconsin link to Torshin: Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke:
The Washington Post previously reported on the meeting, writing, “Butina posted social-media photos showing how she and Torshin gained access to NRA officials and the U.S. politicians attending events. That April, Butina toured the NRA’s Virginia headquarters, and she and Torshin met Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), then a leading White House contender, at the NRA annual convention. Torshin told Bloomberg last year that he had a friendly exchange with Trump at the 2015 convention and sat with his son Donald Jr. at an NRA dinner the following year.”
The Google translation of Butina’s comment goes on to say she wrote that she had dreamed of again of hearing live Russian speech and wrote, “We talked about Russia, I did not hear any aggression towards our country, the president or my compatriots. How to know, maybe such meetings are the beginning of a new dialogue between Russia and the US and back from the Cold War to the peaceful existence of the two great powers ?!”
She continued, according to Google translate, “One thing I can say for sure is that the lack of openness and information, as well as its one-sided submission from the media always negatively affects the formation of a position in relation to any political subject or action. Therefore, I am convinced that the basis of the dialogue should lie in the cooperation of ordinary citizens and their rights and interests, be it the right to arms for law-abiding citizens or the protection of the peaceful sky above their heads.”
There’s another photo with Walker and Butina in this article.
The Justice Department Accuses Maria Butina of Working to Infiltrate Organizations “Having Influence in American Politics’
According to the affidavit in support of the complaint, “from as early as 2015 and continuing through at least February 2017, Butina worked at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government who was previously a member of the legislature of the Russian Federation and later became a top official at the Russian Central Bank. This Russian official was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control in April 2018.”
The indictment says a U.S. citizen and American political operative known as “U.S. Person 1” worked with Butina “to jointly arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics, including an organization promoting gun rights… for the purpose of advancing the agenda of the Russian Federation.” It doesn’t name the group or person.
A second U.S. citizen is described as revealing in emails Butina’s efforts to arrange dinners involving “Russian nationals and U.S. persons having influence in American politics.” That person is also not named.
Butina and a Russian official “took steps to develop relationships with American politicians in order to establish private, or as she called them ‘back channel’ lines of communication. These lines could be used by the Russian Federation to penetrate the U.S. national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation.”
Butina was trying to infiltrate a gun rights organization “in order to infiltrate those groups and advance the interests of the Russian Federation” and the Russian “influence operation included “meetings between Butina and U.S. politicians and political candidates,” and “Butina’s attendance at events sponsored by special interest groups, also attended by U.S. politicians and political candidates,” and Butina’s “reporting back to Moscow through the Russian official the results of the various encounters with the U.S. politicians and political candidates.”
The indictment alleges that Butina had recognized the large influence the gun rights organization played in a political party she wanted to influence.
She allegedly wrote in one email that “American society is broken in relation to Russia. This is now the dividing line of opinions, the crucial one in the election race. (Political Party 1) are for us, (another major US political party) – against – 50/50. Our move here is very important.” The political parties are not named in the indictment affidavit.
The court filings “detail the Russian official’s and Butina’s efforts for Butina to act as an agent of Russia inside the United States by developing relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation,” alleges the Justice Department.
“The filings also describe certain actions taken by Butina to further this effort during multiple visits from Russia and, later, when she entered and resided in the United States on a student visa. The filings allege that she undertook her activities without officially disclosing the fact that she was acting as an agent of Russian government, as required by law.”
The investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Washington Field Office. The case is being prosecuted by the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the National Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, the press release states.