The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! That was the title of a 1966 comedy movie about hysteria in a small New England town that thinks it's being invaded by Russians. Now, The Russians Are Coming! is the unofficial motto of CNN. The media is all over the "infiltration" of alleged Russian spy Maria Butina. Is she one of the genius lynchpins in a vast Right-wing conspiracy to allow Russia to turn the White House into a marionette show? Or is she the most incompetent Russian spy since Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle? We start there, next…
30-year-old Russian agent Maria Butina made a deal with federal prosecutors. She pled guilty to conspiring to act as a foreign agent and admitted to being part of a Russian government effort to influence N.R.A. and Republican Party members. Supposedly, the idea was for Butina to convince conservative movers and shakers that Russia is our friend.
This is a very weird case. Initially, accusations against Butina included that she was some kind of "Red Sparrow" femme fatale, who used sex as part of her spy toolkit. But now prosecutors have backed down, saying she wasn't simply posing as a student at American University in DC, but that she actually wanted to earn a graduate degree. They're also backing down on the accusation that she was only dating her 56-year-old boyfriend, Paul Erickson, to gain access to his influential contacts. Erickson is a Republican operative who ran Pat Buchanan's 1992 presidential campaign. He's under investigation himself for what he may have known about Butina's ties to the Russian government.
For a spy, she sure posted a ton of selfies and photos of herself with politicians.
Butina was arrested last July as part of a Justice Department and FBI counterintelligence investigation that is separate from the Mueller investigation. This one focuses on Aleksandr Torshin, a Russian government official and Butina's alleged boss, who directed her work to infiltrate the N.R.A. and the Republican Party for the Kremlin.
One of the weirdest things about this case is the high-profile way Butina went about her mission. For a spy, she sure posted a ton of selfies and photos of herself with politicians. There's still much to learn about Butina and her boss, Aleksandr Torshin. At this point the only thing we know for sure is that Butina's story is going to make a fantastic Netflix series.