by Chuck Ross
Maria Butina, a Russian national accused of acting as an unregistered foreign agent, expressed concern in July 2016 that her efforts to establish relationships with American politicians would be disrupted by Russian hacks of Democrats’ emails.
“Right now I’m sitting here very quietly after the scandal about our FSB hacking into [Political Party 2’s] emails. My all too blunt attempts to befriend politicians right now will probably be misinterpreted, as you yourself can understand,” Butina wrote in an email to a Russian government official believed to be Alexander Torshin, the deputy chief of Russia’s central bank.
The message was revealed in court documents submitted Friday night.
Federal prosecutors have charged the 29-year-old Butina with conspiracy and with acting as an unregistered foreign agent of Russia. She allegedly acted under the direction of Torshin to infiltrate conservative political groups, including the National Rifle Association.
Around the time of Butina’s message, Wikileaks published emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee. Special counsel Robert Mueller has since charged intelligence officials with Russia’s military intelligence bureau, the GRU. The FSB mentioned by Butina is a reference to Russia’s domestic spy service.
Butina’s message to Torshin suggests that she believed early on that the Russian government was behind the hacks of Democrats’ emails. Neither have been accused of aiding or having prior knowledge of the cyber attacks.
Prosecutors also pointed to an email that Paul Erickson, a Republican political operative and former boyfriend of Butina’s, sent in July 2016 expressing frustration over the Russian hacks.
Erickson, who is referred to as “U.S. Person 1” in court filings, wrote to Butina and Torshin that the email hack “complicates the hell out of nearly a year of quiet back-channel diplomacy in establishing links between reformers inside the Kremlin and a putative [Political Party 1] administration (regardless of nominee or president).”
“What a colossal waste of lead time,” he added.
Political Party 1 is believed to the Republican party. Butina began early on in the 2016 election cycle to cozy up to Republican operatives and politicians. She and Torshin met Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at the NRA convention in April 2015. Butina told Torshin early in the campaign that she believed that Walker stood the best chance of winning the GOP nomination.
Erickson, who has not been accused of a crime, made attempts later in the campaign to set up meetings between Donald Trump and both Torshin and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a May 2016 email entitled “Kremlin Connection,” Erickson emailed Trump campaign official Rick Dearborn with an offer of setting up a meeting between Trump and Torshin. Erickson said that the NRA’s annual convention would provide an opportunity for the “first contact” between Trump and Torshin.
In Friday’s court filing, prosecutors said that “all available evidence indicates that no such meeting occurred with Political Candidate 2.” Torshin did briefly greet Donald Trump Jr. at an NRA event.
Erickson, Butina and Torshin’s effort to set up a meeting at the 2016 NRA convention appears to be mentioned in the government’s recent court filing.
Prosecutors pointed to an April 23, 2016 private Twitter message in which Butina wrote to Torshin: “Important in these circumstances are those contacts with the candidate and his entourage that will help form [Political Candidate 2]’s correct view of Russian-American relations. Attending the general assembly of the [Gun Rights Organization] in May 2016 fully provides this unique opportunity.”
Butina also asserted that her cultivation of GOP ties put her in a good position to influence the Trump campaign.
In a June 22, 2016 email, Butina wrote of “deep, inside connections” she had made “in the past year” with the Republican party.
“As of today, it’s more likely than not that [Political Candidate 2] wins the presidency and that my connections can be utilized for the benefits [sic] of both countries,” she added.
While Friday’s prosecutors also acknowledged a major error in their initial case against Butina.
Jessie K. Liu, the U.S. attorney handling the Butina case, acknowledged that the government was “mistaken” about a text message which prosecutors have claimed showed Butina offering sex in exchange for access to a special interest group.
Butina’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, said in an Aug. 24 court filing that the text message in question was a joke between Butina and a friend of hers in Russia who sought payment for repairing her car.
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Chuck Ross is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundations. Follow Chuck on Twitter.