BY: TANNER KENNEY
Yesterday evening, Special Counsel Robert Mueller III and the United States Department of Justice announced the unsealed indictment of a Russian National, Mariia Butina, who was charged with “conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government.” More specifically, Butina was arrested Sunday and arraigned on Monday after she was indicted for failing to notify the Attorney General prior to and during her time working as an agent of the Russian Federation, further demonstrating the depth and breadth of the Russian government’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 elections throughout the United States.
The indictment, itself, was announced mere hours after President Donald Trump met one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, where he held a joint press conference. The press event was widely criticized from both sides of the political aisle in America, including former Democratic President Barack Obama, and around the world. The charges, in and of themselves, are surprising in that Butina had not been a name bandied about in journalistic circles prior to the unsealing yesterday.
This includes Butina’s Russia-based gun-rights advocacy firm, Right to Bear Arms, which is considered by many legal experts to be a political lobbying firm intended to influence American politicians, including current National Security Advisor John Bolton who appeared in a video to support similar causes in Russia. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that Butina was part of a concerted effort by the Russian government to establish “back channels” between President Putin and Donald Trump’s campaign team.
One of the highest-ranking officials in the Russian government accused of assisting Butina in the effort is Alexander Torshin, a gun-rights advocate and longstanding member of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Butina’s arrest also brings into question how her influence and that of her superiors was spread throughout conservative political groups, including the roles of Facebook and Twitter in the process.
The fallout from Butina’s indictment will reach far and wide, from her interactions with members of President Donald J. Trump’s Administration to the local political leaders that helped Butina spread her influence to increasingly higher levels of government. Just today, the former Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, Saul Anuzis, was forced to defend his appearance in several photographs with Butina. Even if we are to believe his explanation for the incident – for which he stated he had only “met her a couple of times” and he “never had much of a conversation with her[.]”
Subject: “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” – Email to Trump Campaign Aides
Moreover, the unsealed indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence officers announced by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Friday, July 13th, allege that a “congressional candidate” sought damaging information on his or her opponent(s) contained within the documents stolen from Democratic National Committee email servers (among other locations) in contacting the adopted persona of the Russian actors – Guccifer 2.0.
Numerous legal observers believe that the hacking and dissemination of sensitive documents took place in order to provide conservative and Russia-friendly candidates with DNC-funded opposition data, including the information gathered about the Democratic Party’s own voters. Furthermore, the charges against the Russian intelligence agents outline the role of “Gun Rights Organization 1” – or, what is presumed to be the NRA. This logic would also follow that “Political Party 1” is that of the Republican Party.
From refusing to enact Congressionally-approved economic sanctions on the nation to his public admiration of strong-handed leaders throughout the world, Trump has ditched any semblance of the America-first rhetoric he ham-fistedly poured into the ears of any potentially undecided voter. In doing so, President Trump outright refuses to acknowledge truth, facts, and promises he, himself, has made in-office.
In recent years, the Office of the President of the United States has served as the de-facto leader of the anti-Putin movement throughout the world. However, both former Republican President George W. Bush and former President Obama have been criticized on numerous occasions for even entertaining meeting the Russian President. However, the ascension of Donald J. Trump to the White House has seen a complete reversal of norms and policies in relating to the U.S.-Russian relationship, including President Trump’s refusal to enact the economic sanctions approved by a bipartisan Congress.
Ultimately, the question remains as to what all of this means for President Trump, moving forward, as each and every decision he makes is increasingly scrutinized for being overly and overtly friendly to Russia. The cacophony of criticism from former friends and calls for his impeachment from all sides have grown louder daily, and even allies in Congress are considering new sanctions against Russia in order to slow their encroachment into American business, politics, and civil society.
As such, legal experts and international observers alike have noted that the Trump Administration’s agenda is in grave danger, including the deregulation of political financing as well as the nomination of anti-impeachment Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Above all else, the erosion of positive influence of the Office of the President of the United States must be slowed and, eventually, stopped in order to protect the democratic processes that keep Americans and their civil rights safe.
This includes preventing the Russian government, and other actors like it that wish to do the same, from influencing American political spheres, lobbying members of the American government, illegally accessing intellectual and physical property, and beyond. Thankfully, the agencies tasked with such an enormous endeavour are not only prepared to defend against such nefarious activities, but to proactively prevent a mirror image of the 2016 election interference from happening again.
Tanner Kenney is an energy and media professional with a background in journalism and received his M.S. in Global Affairs, Environment & Energy Policy from NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. Recently, Tanner has focused on the advocacy of sustainable development through renewable energy technologies, transportation efficiency, and inclusive public policy.
Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.