Is a Tie with Vladimir Putin What Makes Mariia Butina More of a Spy than Paul Manafort?

Given my continued obsession with the border between the spying charge (18 USC 951) with which Mariia Butina got charged and the FARA charge (22 USC 611 et seq.) with which Paul Manafort got charged, I find this footnote from the government’s opposition to Butina’s request for bail of particular interest.

14 The defendant also attempts to rely on the government’s search warrant seeking “evidence of a potential violation under FARA.” ECF No. 23-1 at 7. As the defendant later acknowledges, id. at 15, the search warrants the government obtained for the defendant’s residence authorized it to search for potential violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and 951, as well as 22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq.

It reveals that at the time they searched Butina’s residence on April 25, 2018, the FBI had not determined whether they considered her just a sleazy foreign influence peddler or a spy. The government had explained that, in that or a subsequent search they found several pieces of evidence she had ties to the FSB, including a note reflecting a job offer. The search also included access to her devices, which revealed a slew of “taskings” from Aleksandr Torshin, which the government will use (if this ever goes to trial) to prove Butina worked as an agent for the Russian government.

So that may be one of the things that led them to charge her as a spy, rather than just a sleazy influence peddler.

The opposition filing provides more details, however, that may explain the charge.

Pre-meditation: the operation started in 2015

I had noted, here, that one difference between Butina and Manafort likely stemmed from her necessity to lie to get a visa, something the government repeats here.

In 2016, the defendant applied for and was granted an F1 student visa to study at American University in Washington, D.C. On her application, she identified her current employer as “Antares LLC” and described the Russian Official as a previous employer. Nonetheless, once resident in the United States, the defendant continued her efforts at the direction of the Russian Official to establish connections with U.S. Political Party 1 and other U.S. officials and political operatives.

They also defend a claim they made about her current visa, which she obtained to ensure she’d be able to travel back and forth from Russia, another detail the defense had spun to great effect.

The defense asserts, ECF No. 23-1 at 13 n.12 & ECF No. 23-8, that the government made a misrepresentation regarding the type of visa for which the defendant recently applied and implies that it did so intentionally. The government acknowledges the error in its Memorandum in Support of Detention regarding the label it applied to the visa. ECF No. 8 at 8. But the substance of the government’s contention—that the defendant could travel to and from the United States per her new visa’s terms, but not per the terms of her F-1 visa after her graduation—is true of the Optional and Practical Training visa extension for which the defendant applied. In other words, the “B1/B2” label the government used to describe the visa was incorrect, but its underlying its argument was correct.

But this filing also adds further details of how pre-meditated Butina’s plan was, describing a plan she wrote up in March 2015.

Beginning as early as 2015, the defendant wrote a proposal intended for Russian officials laying out her plan to serve as an unofficial agent or representative to promote the political interests of the Russian Federation vis-à-vis the United States.


In 2015, the defendant created a document entitled “Description of the Diplomacy Project,” in March 2015, which included a proposal to cultivate political contacts in the United States.

Interestingly, amid a list of Russian officials the FBI has evidence she had contact with, is a phone call she had with Sergey Kislyak in May 2015, when this operation was still in the planning stages.

At the detention hearing on July 18, 2018, defense counsel argued, “There’s no evidence [the defendant has] been in a diplomatic car. There’s no evidence that she’s been to the embassy. There’s no evidence that she’s been in contact with the consulate. ECF No. 12 at 55:21-25. But after the government proffered that it had seen photos of the defendant with the former Russian ambassador to the United States, ECF No. 12 at 58:8-18, counsel admitted that he was aware of at least one photograph of the defendant with the former Ambassador at “a movie screening hosted by a Russian cultural group in Washington.” Id. at 59:19-21. The government now proffers that it possesses additional photographs of the defendant and the Russian Official with the former Russian ambassador to the United States; that the defendant’s calendar shows a call with the former ambassador in May 2015; and that the defendant’s journal reflects her plan to meet with the current Russian ambassador to the United States upon his arrival to the United States. The government also possesses a photograph of the defendant with the Russian ambassador dated October 2017. [my emphasis]

Putin’s personal involvement

Finally, as noted here, this filing provides more evidence of Putin’s involvement (even though one premise of the operation is to suggest some in Russia are planning for a post-Putin future). The filing describes Erickson calling Torshin “Putin’s emissary.”

The government has developed other evidence over the course of the conspiracy that establishes taskings by the Russian Official (whom U.S. Person 1 has referred to as “Putin’s emissary”) and actions within the United States in response to those taskings by the defendant

It describes Erickson pitching Putin’s involvement when arranging for the Russian delegation to the National Prayer Breakfast.

Reaction to the delegation’s presence in America will be relayed DIRECTLY to President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (who both had to personally approve the delegation’s travel to this event).

And that Putin involvement came at the last minute — the weekend of January 20-21, 2017.

[Erickson] noted, “I was ahead of this in December, but last weekend Putin decided to up his official delegation – if we can accommodate them, we can empower rational insiders that have been cultivated for three years.”

Diplomatic attention even beyond propaganda-making

All of which may explain why the Russians have made such an effort to pressure for Butina’s release.

Since the detention hearing in this case, the actions of the Russian Federation and its officials toward the defendant have confirmed her relationship with, and value to, her own government. To date, the Russian government has conducted six consular visits with the defendant. It also has passed four diplomatic notes to the U.S. Department of State.2 According to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has spoken to the U.S. Secretary of State twice to complain about this prosecution.3 The official Kremlin Twitter account changed its avatar to the defendant’s face and started a #FreeMariaButina hashtag. RT, a Russian television network funded by the Russian government, has published numerous articles on its website criticizing this prosecution and the defendant’s detention.4 Russia has issued more diplomatic notes on the defendant’s behalf in the past month than for any other Russian citizen imprisoned in the United States in the past year. Put simply, the Russian government has given this case much more attention than other cases.

2 Diplomatic notes are used for official correspondence between the U.S. Government and a foreign government. The Department of State serves as the official channel for diplomatic communications between the U.S. government and a foreign government.

3 Press release on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, July 21, 2018 available at content/id/3302434 (last accessed Sept. 7, 2018); Press Release on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, August 23, 2018, available at cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/3323966 (last accessed September 7, 2018).

4 See, e.g., “Accused ‘Russian Agent’ Butina moved to another jail, now in ‘borderline torture’ conditions,” RT, August 19, 2018, available at (last accessed Sept. 2, 2018); “‘A real witch hunt’: Moscow says student Butina is being held as ‘political prisoner’ by US,” RT, July 26, 2018, available

Though, of course, some of this is the simple counterpart to what Butina’s attorneys complain DOJ is doing: because she’s a pretty woman, she makes for good propaganda that Russia can use to accuse the US of abuse. Still — Butina has gotten more reported attention than even Yevgeniy Nikulin, another case the Russian government has shown exceptional interest in.

Spying doesn’t require tradecraft

Her lawyers’ opposition to a government bid for a gag order repeats, in more dramatic fashion, a claim they had made in their bid for bail: that the government has presented no evidence of traditional tradecraft.

Maria Butina is in a cell, pretrial, 22 hours a day for crimes she did not commit and for government falsehoods and never-tested theories of culpability that have not (and will never) pan out. For all of the government insinuation and media coverage of Hollywood style, spy-novel allegations, in reality this case is bereft of any tradecraft or covert activity whatsoever. There are no dead drops, no brush passes, no secret communication devices, no bags of cash or payoffs, no bribes, no confidential secret information gathering, no espionage type activity, and no agency or agreement to commit crime.

Ultimately, though, the government relies on the elements of the offense, and confirm what I had suggested here — “he mis-states what the materials say about exempting political activity, not least because, per other materials, section 611 can be a subset of a section 951 violation.”

The elements of a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 951 are that (1) the defendant acted in the United States as an agent of a foreign government; (2) that the defendant failed to notify the Attorney General of the United States that she would be acting in the United States as an agent of a foreign government prior to so acting; and (3) that the defendant acted knowingly, and knew that she had not notified the attorney general.

But neither the USAM nor the Criminal Resource Manual contain any provisions that “specifically exempt[] section 951 from applying to ‘foreign agents engaged in political activities.’” ECF No. 23-1 at 7. Setting aside whether the defendant’s alleged activities are “purely political”—which the government does not concede—the sections of the USAM and Criminal Resource Manual cited by the defendant do not specifically exempt political activity undertaken at the behest of a foreign government or foreign government official from prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 951. Further, the Inspector General’s Report cited by the defendant, id. at 6, n.4, quotes National Security Division officials as stating, “unlike FARA . . . Section 951 can be aimed at political or non-political activities of agents under the control of foreign governments.” U.S. DOJ, Office of the Inspector General, Audit of the National Security Division’s Enforcement and Administration of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, at ii (Sep. 2016), available at (last visited Aug. 26, 2018). More importantly, the USAM “is not intended to, does not, and may not be relied upon to create any rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law by any party in any matter civil or criminal.” United States v. Goodwin, 57 F.3d 815, 818 (9th Cir. 1995) (quoting USAM § 1-1.100); cf. United States v. Caceras, 440 U.S. 741, 754 (1979) (IRS manual does not confer any substantive rights on taxpayers but is instead only an internal statement of penalty policy and philosophy). 14

One final thing: this opposition motion makes it clear how pissed Butina and Torshin were when news of the DNC hack broke, knowing it would focus more attention to their own operation.

In July 2016, in a series of revealing communications, the defendant, U.S. Person 1, and the Russian Official expressed concern about how their operation might be affected by news reports that Russia had hacked the emails of the Political Party 2 National Committee. U.S. Person 1 worried that “it 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.” The defendant told the Russian Official, “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.” The Russian Official responded by telling the defendant, she was “doing the right thing.”

Parallel processing: Not just about Trump

And it describes Butina first latching on to Scott Walker before picking up with Trump.

At some point, she identified a particular candidate (“Political Candidate 1”), whom she believed to have the best chance of becoming Political Party 1’s nominee for President. On July 14, 2015, the Russian Official requested that the defendant send him a report about Political Candidate 1’s announcement of his candidacy for the Presidency. She did so the next morning. After recounting Political Candidate 1’s speech, the defendant reported that she had a “short personal contact” with Political Candidate 1, with whom she had had previous personal contact, as well as one of his three advisors in matters of international politics. The day prior, the defendant had written to the Russian Official, “Judging from American polls – our bet on [Political Candidate 1] is correct.”

It describes the arc of the operation as an attempt to be well-positioned after the 2016 election.

[Butina] was working as an undeclared agent on behalf of the Russian Federation to position herself and that official to exert Russian influence over U.S. policies towards Russia after the 2016 Presidential election.

All that leads me to believe that the government is beginning to view the Torshin operation as a parallel effort to the election hack one, an effort that had Putin’s direct involvement in.

So it’s not just that the government has decided she has real ties to Russia’s spooks. It’s that the scope of her effort, and the involvement of Putin, raises the stakes for her custody, but also for any attempt to learn how these operations fit together.

70 replies
  1. Viget says:

    This Russian operation, like a flowering body of an underground fungus (eg mushroom), has more tentacles than can ever be seen from above ground.  I expect there is still a lot to be discovered.

    Maybe we should codename the whole Mueller investigation Operation Mushroom.

  2. Avattoir says:

    Trained experienced spy Putin, perfectly aware Prohías’ Spy v Spy was a cartoon featured in a popular humor mag and le Carré the nom de plume of a writer of popular fiction, nonetheless has the lawyers for his oligarch agents press judges in U.S. courts to apply le Carré / Prohías tests in determining whether his one of his cut-out agents qualifies as a ‘spy’ under U.S. law.

    • Bob Conyers says:

      It will be interesting to see how that goes in a post 2001 world. Being someone like, say, a Pakastani-American architect who walks around NYC taking photos of landmarks for purely legitimate reasons can still raise all kinds of alarm bells. But the GOP rush to break down restrictions against foreign election influence may lead to an exception out for Russians.

  3. der says:

    This – a spy but “not a spy because she wasn’t trained by SMERSH so let her come home” plea – to me signals a worry that the longer Butina stays in custody the more likely it is she’ll spill the beans on the whole operation. Like Trump, it seems the Russians are worried, she won’t shut up once she starts talking so “Bring her home, bring her home, bring her home.”

  4. J R in WV says:

    We are living in a Le Carre novel, and simultaneously a Spy V Spy comic, because so many participants are clowns. Clowns are terrifying when they hold a weapon of mass destruction, whether it is a chain saw in the basement or the combined military force of a nation. Esp when they are obviously demented in the medical sense of that word.

  5. Bob Conyers says:

    I agree it makes sense to say the election hack (not sure if that word exactly encapsulates things) and the Torshin influence operation are tandem pieces. I think in a lot of ways it makes sense to see the IRA (and others) trolling as a separate track as well, with occasional transfer points.

    So what else is out there? It’s been said elsewhere that Putin runs things on a semi-compartmentalized basis, and that seems valid. I have to assume there is at least one evangelist influence peddling operator. Probably a NeoNazi/alt-right one.

    If the Democrats pull off a reversal in Congress, I hope they can start breaking open some of these connections, And it’s going to be ugly. I think the gelding of the IRS has made a lot of the GOP infrastructure lazy about who it takes money from and how they spend it, and we’re going to see places like Wisconsin getting wild.

    Kavanaugh is being hired in large part to shut down campaign finance law, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he also is at the forefront of new fights to strangle congressional oversight.

    • Lulymay says:

      And I would just add to “….in large part to shut down campaign finance law,…” as well every line item on the evangelicals’ wish list”, and ….

    • Avattoir says:

      I don’t get this: strangle it by enabling it?

      As I read his writings & speeches, Kavanaugh’s clear aim is to strangle every administration initiative, inquiry or investigation into ‘itself’.

      And, to that end, his take on the Constitution includes – well, as he’s been pressing his entire career, demands, really – leaving those tasks only to Congress.

      On the one hand, that view serves his take on constitutional ‘purity’, by ‘reasoning’ along these lines:

      THAT since, take for example the DoJ (and with it, the FBI), the federal administrative agency

      a. reports to POTUS, and

      b. its leadership is nominated by POTUS, and

      c. is largely if not completely (He’d say the latter.) accountable to POTUS alone, and

      d. that accountability (extending so far as to necessarily include such influences as biases, feelings, guesses, hunches, impressions, mood swings, serendipity and whimsy) cannot be subject to Congressional oversight;

      WHEREAS on the other hand – also both convenient and necessarily serving ‘purity’, by rendering any and all Congressional oversight simply political (which ‘self-evidently’ would not require ‘resources’ aimed at objective determination – such as scientific coherence, established expertise, or regulatory hearings – to satisfy (indeed, apparently nothing more than the sheer shining motive, if not the blessed constitutional duty, to oppose the executive branch on everything – indeed, one is driven to assume, everything indiscriminately), Congress would retain full and unfettered  constitutionally-based power to negotiate with the executive branch over what dollar amounts the federal budget might allocate to Congress for execution on its purely political function.

      What all might be covered under that function? Well sir: an array of past, present and future boondoggles possibly limited only by the human politically-creative spirit; ideologically-biased conferences; political hit jobs; junkets; media massages; photo ops; attention-grabbing stunts; pure p.r. events; high leverage think-tank wankery; and, indeed, advanced studies in ratfuckology.

      Thus, far from seeking to “strangle” congressional oversight”, Kavanaughism actually foresees that function widening dramatically, extending far beyond the limits of evidence & objectivity (indeed beyond any need for object permanence), vaulting us all into a brave new post-rational existence of choosing up sides for a big ol’ national yell-off bearing more resemblance than to anything else to a Saturday afternoon at the Big Game pitting A&M vee State.

      • Bob Conyers says:

        Except I think the next phase of that kind of reductionism is going to be an argument about the roles of the branches of government, and how investigation is really an executive function, so Congress cannot so much as look at a 1040 on the way to passing a new anti-corruption law. At least, so long as it’s Democrats looking to rein in a generalized problem. Republicans looking to punish the head of Planned Parenthood can go ahead as usual.

        And of course, the right of a conservative Supreme Court to legislate from the bench shall not be infringed.

      • Will Twiner says:

        All of this assumes Kavanaugh’s not just a partisan hack who is perfectly willing to adjust his legal thinking to whatever benefits his team, an assertion not born out by experience.

  6. Troutwaxer says:

    I wonder whether the lack of tradecraft encapsulates a Russian opinion about the strength, competence or focus of the U.S. intelligence community. Do they see us as weak? Obsessed with Muslim terror to the point of blindness everywhere else? Or simply incompetent?

    • Bob Conyers says:

      My understanding is that a lot of the activity Putin launches is on separate tracks by people only loosely steered by his intelligence pros. He does this for deniability reasons and to protect other tracks if one gets compromised.

      And yes, I think it also says something about how he has viewed US counterefforts, probably rightly. I think the coordination and scope of the Mueller investigation is a surprise to him, as it probably is to many in the US. I definitely don’t think Trump or Kushner were expecting it, nor was the NRA.

      The downside is that efforts have a fair degree of improvised, ad hoc work, and there is some duplication and interference. But I think those are costs he’s willing to accept in exchange for the durability of the overall enterprise.

  7. Charles says:

    In the old days, in the mid-1930s, I was told by a member of the OSS,  every American traveler abroad who went to areas of interest to the American government might be interviewed and the intelligence relayed to the government. And of course in the 1960s/70s there was a  scandal about anthropologists on field trips in southeast Asia being used to gather intelligence. The earliest use of travelers as spies that I know of dates back to 1919. though sources as old as the Bible talk about it.

    All you need to be a spy is a visa and a good eye. Speaking the local language helps.

    One can guess that Putin will retaliate against every student, businessman, and scholar that he can lay hands on.

  8. Jeffrey Kaye says:

    Wow! In the latest iteration of Orwellian newspeak, you can be a “spy” even if you don’t do any spying, espionage, or attempt to procure secret or privileged information.

    I don’t see anything this Russian “undeclared agent” did that was different than what a lobbyist would do.

    Too bad your formidable skills are now used to buttress a creaky government propaganda operation.

    Maybe she’s guilty of not registering as a foreign agent. I’m not an attorney, and I don’t know one way or another. But ginning her up into some kind of Putin associate and danger to the nation is unconvincing.

    Do you really believe that bail is not allowable in this case, or that she should be in solitary confinement 22 hrs a day?

    • bmaz says:

      This is just sticking your head in the sand. Marcy has laid out in a series of posts what the statutes are and why they apply, and has done so quite convincingly. As to bail, when the court makes a determination that a defendant is a flight and/or security risk, they order no bail, as was done here. That is actually how bail determinations work. Butina can defend her case, serve whatever time if convicted, and then take her gun nut ass back to her precious Mother Russia. Screw Butina.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      You raise a valid point about what American lobbyists are allowed to do.  Much of it is legalized bribery, which was illegal when Vanderbilt did it in Albany and Collis Huntington did it for the Big Four in DC.

      Lobbyists should be restricted to much narrower conduct, with significant prompt disclosure requirements.

      But to bmaz’s point, a major issue with Butina is that she’s not American, and has questionable relations with Russian intelligence.

      • bmaz says:

        Agree completely. Will say that I think her ties to Russian intelligence are fairly strong, and I  think there is a lot more in that regard that has not yet been made public.

        • Bob Conyers says:

          I suspect that before this is over, there will be a lot of people indicted for things like foreign agent registration violations which only hint a larger set of crimes that are left uncharged. The feds are going to make a calculation that exposing intelligence sources and methods aren’t worth the benefit of a longer prison sentence.

          And we’ll probably see more apologists complaining that the spies aren’t being charged with more serious crimes, in the same way that Trump complains about the Manafort-Al Capone tax evasion comparison As if being compared to Al Capone is somehow a good thing for Manafort.

        • Allison Holland says:

          funny yet not. the russians have grabbed us and those who worship money have literally pimped out our nationhood. without our permission though it seems we did just let them do it ..and repblican willing they will get away with it.  i dont like being bought and sold by republicans as though my world was theirs to sell to putin.  they have whored us all out because they themselves are without moral character having pimped themselves out willingly. for the disgusting love of money.  money in exchange for our nation. money. money money. its not even ideological. its just fing money. and then they have the nerve to foist kavenaugh on us. the liar under oath. the deal maker. the woman hater. the people hater. he doesnt love the american people.  he thinks they are in the way. he is like saurons mouthpiece. ick. ick ick

    • SteveB says:

      Under the guise of being a member of a cultural organisation, which was a front for a long term intelligence operation, Butina sought to ingratiate herself with one of the most powerful political lobbying organisations in the USA with a view to influencing election results, campaign financing, and policy outcomes. All of this is classic infiltration and subversion tactics. Had she and Torshin and their phoney organisation been registered lobbyists, or formally acknowledged as arms of the Putin foriegn policy operations could they have achieved what they did?  I have little doubt that their intentions were to go as far as they could to compromise whoever could be most useful to their ultimate master. Infiltration and cultivating influence clandestinely no doubt happens the world over, and compared to obtaining national security or military intelligence materials it may seem less malign – however, it is far from benign and even open societies should be wary of such activities, take steps to monitor them and punish abuses when they arise.

      It maybe that the Butina /NRA activity was a separate track from the hacking and other influence efforts, but being party to only one aspect of a multi-layered attack is scant mitigation: sure she desreves to be punished according to her own culpability, but the context of that culpability is not what Washington lobbyists are doing, but what the Russian State is doing.

    • Chetan Murthy says:

      jesus h. christ.  Move to Moscow already, you Putinfelcher.

      She’s a *Russian*.  She shouldn’t be even -gesturing- in the direction of influencing *our* political system, and again, if you can’t understand that, MOVE TO MOSCOW.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        That’s the sort of comment one associates with Fox Noise.  Commentators here try for more than a bumper sticker argument.

        Butina can have personal opinions, like everyone here, without risk of being deported, as if she were a naturalized American or lived in a Moscow suburb.  What’s prohibited is influencing government and election campaigns.  She can even do that if the the campaign pays her market value.

        If Butina had declared her foreign affiliation and been paid for her work, it would have been legal – except for the spying shit, naturally.

        Kaye’s argument that she has too tenuous a Russian connection is willful ignorance.  But that there are American Butinas scattered round the globe doing similar things in their host countries isn’t deniable.

        • Jeffrey Kaye says:

          “Kaye’s argument that she has too tenuous a Russian connection is willful ignorance.“ – I never made such a statement. My contention is that her alleged attempts to be an influence-maker for Russia has much more in common with being a lobbyist for Russia’s interests than being a spy or some sort of Mata Hari. The only reason to portray her as the latter is to amplify the scare campaign around Russia. Whatever Russia did around the 2016 election was of small import compared to how big US money affects the electoral scene. The effect of blaming Trump’s election on Russia is to stupify Americans about the real causes surrounding that debacle – the ongoing scandal of the electoral college, the DNC anti-democratic nomination rules, the failure of election finance reform, etc – all of which gets near zero coverage with the obsession with Russia. 

        • AndTheSlithyToves says:

          –Maybe she’s guilty of not registering as a foreign agent. I’m not an attorney, and I don’t know one way or another. But ginning her up into some kind of Putin associate and danger to the nation is unconvincing.–

          Since you’re “not a lawyer, and don’t know one way or another” then I would suggest, Mr. Kaye, everything in your last sentence is nothing more than your opinion.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          I agree with you about the damaging effects of rampant voter suppression, gerrymandering, and lobbying engaged in by domestic players, and the refusal by both sides of the pay-to-play aisle to consider serious campaign finance reform.

          That was the fertile ground seeded by Russian influence peddlers.  I disagree with the observation that that influence had little impact – or that it will have little impact going forward.

          Surely, Shirley, we need to address both sides of that coin.  We have enough evidence from more than half a century of American influence campaigns abroad to know how effective they can be, whether it be France, Italy, the UK, Australia, Indonesia or all of Latin America.

        • jonb says:

          It is trump and Fox News that attempts to stupify Americans as to his participation with Russians in the 2016 election. The real causes of this debacle is those that choose to follow such nonsense and then deny their culpability.

    • orionATL says:

      jeff kaye –

      i’m always willing to give you some room, up to a point, because of your good works.

      consider this, though –

      “… I don’t see anything this Russian “undeclared agent” did that was different than what a lobbyist would do…”

      what if l, given his history of assiociation with deripaska and gru agent kilimnick, the lobbyist, manafort, was a russian agent, which i personally believe to be the case.

      by your reasoning, the gal falls too, right?

      clever reasoning or not, she is clearly a spy by her associations with russian government bigwigs and, most importantly, by her “calls back home” .

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Concurrence and causation are not the same thing.

        Being a fellow traveler – best translated from its 1950s usage as believing in some common things, but not necessarily for the same reasons or desiring the same consequences as someone else – is not the same as being that someone else.

        Yea, lawyers not running for or holding political office are often addicted to process and proof.  For good reason.

        • orionATL says:

          being reasonably labeled a spy by sensible considerations of what a spy might do is not the same as being convicted by the State and deprived of liberty based on the above “sensible” considerations.

          i have no trouble at all labeling batina a spy and can think of no good reason not to. what the courts and the lawyers end up deciding to label her will be a technical decision based on the many rules of law.

          a commenter, calilawyer, made a similar distinction here recently.

          i would put it this way, i have no intention of waiting on the courts, the lawyers, and the law to rule in order to make my decisions about matters in my society.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Which is to say you needn’t wait to form a personal opinion.  But for the state to impose sanctions on conduct you’ve pre-judged, it would be convenient to have a little law, process, and hard evidence that survives challenge in open court.

        • orionATL says:

          yes. partly

          but i think it is important never to presuppose the superiority of legal determinations over other ways of arriving at decisions.

          they are not superior. they are highly prone to error, manipulation (stool pidgeons, soviet/zimbaweian justice), and “political considerations”, just as are other ways of reaching decisions.

          i suspect we use law not because it reaches superior decisions, but because it involves rules we agreed upon as a society to resolve conflict by making otherwise contentious decisions (who owns the 3.5 acres lying between farm a and farm b.; which partner defaulted on the partnership agreement; did a murder b or was it an accident).

          it is just one other way of knowing and deciding.

      • orionATL says:

        for me, the biggest consideration in this small matter of a russian woman named butina, and the far larger matter of russian infiltration into the political heart of our country – like heartworms infiltrating a dog – is the three monkeys consideration. there has been too much cautious, tentative reporting – blind monkey, deaf monkey, dumb monkey – about what is clearly long-standing, pervasive russian infiltration into our society’s politics using internet, facebook, and agents. the emptywheel weblog has mostly been an exception to this trend.

        much of this involves the russian government directly, but much of it seems to involve the russian government indirectly thru the agency of hyperrich russians like torshin and deripaska among others.

        butina seems strongly connected to the hyperrich torshin. she and her patron torshin seemed to be trying to influence u. s. govt actions indirectly by infiltrating the republican party in general and the nra in particular. butina can not be considered naieve – she cannot be unaware of the import of decisions she has made about which influential american to bed, about which important political events to attend, and about what to say in communications with her rich russian patron.

        i have no problem with the dept of justice squeezing butina to see what she might reveal about her patron and others russians. at this point, quite bluntly, butina is a pawn. the real issue is not is she a spy or not, but what can this pawn be forced to reveal.

  9. bg says:

    I have wondered how it was that Putin did not grab her, get her out of the US, and/or kill her prior to her arrest. How did they leave her out there? Surely her arrest was not unanticipated? The lock-up is surely the safest place for her, it seems to me.

  10. Yette says:

    It seems like large swaths of the Republican Party are compromised/infected by Russian influence, yet the media don’t seem interested. The GOP was apparently so hungry for money, their patriotism was cast aside.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    That Trump refuses to hire Emmet Flood to replace Don McGahn as White House Counsel, and is addicted to lawyers like Cohen and Giuliani, is a sign that the Don hates real lawyers, especially those with an institutional loyalty beyond their client.

    The Don only works with clowns and incompetents who regard him as the second coming of Ramses (which the finicky Don apparently refuses to wear).

    • Frank Probst says:

      This topic is probably deserving of its own post.  If Trump doesn’t pick Flood to be the next White House Counsel, will he walk?  I don’t quite understand all of the politics here (including why his law firm is letting him work in the White House in the first place), but my impression was that he wants the White House Counsel job.  If Trump gives it to a flunky instead, it seems like Flood will just walk away.  McGahn’s people look like they’re all leaving with McGahn (if they’re not gone already), which means Flood is one of the few (if only) high-level attorneys left who is up to speed on all of the various legal problems this Administration has.  If he leaves, he’s going to be hard/impossible to replace, and it’s not like lot people are beating down the door to work in that office to begin with.

      (USUAL DISCLAIMER:  This is not my area of expertise.  Maybe there’s a really good reason for him to keep working behind the scenes there.  But I’m not seeing it.  Is there something obvious that I’m missing?)

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        It is a job dependent on either a rational atmosphere or one’s patron.

        Given that the Trump regime lacks any rational actors near the WH, lower level attorneys not named Mickey Cohen would be wise to leave with the lawyer who brung ’em.  That will severely deplete the car park puddle depth of talent in this WH.

      • orionATL says:

        it has been said that mcgahn was the gop’s lawyer in the white house. whether flood wants to be or do that is a question. trump himself almost certainly has no preconception about the job.

        • bmaz says:

          More than that, I think is this report from Axios:

          Trump wants somebody who’ll be unquestioningly loyal — who’ll be “his guy” and defend him on TV, said a source familiar with his thinking. (McGahn fulfills neither criteria: He’s independent-minded, TV-shy and makes no effort to disguise his contempt for Jared and Ivanka.)

          That is not Emmett Flood’s style at all, maybe even less so than McGahn.

        • orionATL says:

          of course. how could i have forgetten?

          loyalty to trump is the alpha and omega of duties in every job description for trump.

  12. Trip says:


    Hey Butina,

    Bakhti Nishanov‏ @b_nishanov

    Bakhti Nishanov Retweeted Mikhail Svetov
    “Russia will be free” chanting these folks being taken away in a police van for participating in a peaceful demonstration. No matter what the Kremlin propaganda says, this is about dignity and about being heard. So much respect for them.

  13. orionATL says:

    look. it’s not complicated (unless you make it so).

    what do spies do (surreptitiously, of course)?  

    1.  they collect information.

    2. they try to influence gov’t actions thru others who are natives, e. g., cia in italy and greece in ’60’s and’ 70’s, or manifort thru his and gates’ control of the trump campaign, or their gambit involving european famous, but washed-up politicos laundered thru vin weber and podesta inc.

    3. they kill or kidnap people, movie/gangsta  style, e. g., khaleed el-masri.

    so what did butina do as a spy? why, obviously, #2. what’s the mystery? why the lawyerly obfuscation? well, we understand why, don’t we?

    as for the lawyerly bullshit ** about tradecraft, tradecraft evolves with smart people. who’s to say, other than desperate lawyers, that today’s “tradecraft” (i despise this term, in smacks of tweedy harvard/yale efforts to sound like carpenters or electrcians, which those cia bastards never were for a day in their lives) is not completely different from yesterday’s.

    **understood as a philosophical term these days.

    • Fran of the North says:


      Don’t be so sure that Butina didn’t engage in #1 too. She was running in circles where she may have had access to unguarded conversations with all *sorts* of lobbyists, politicians and business leaders. Those insights would be very valuable to the other side, whether unsavory business types or more formal intelligence services like the SVR (Russia’s foreign intelligence) and the GRU (military intel).

      • orionATL says:

        yes. good point. who knows other than the counter-intelligence folk – and they’re not talkin’.

        batina sure as hell wasn’t an exchange student or au paire, and she wasn’t here on a postdoc.

  14. I Never Lie and am Always Right says:

    //snark//  Butina’s most promising defense is that she is an agent of the Russian Orthodox Church and that the criminal charges against her improperly infringe her religious freedom. I would expect Jefress, Graham and Falwell to vigorously support her assertion of religious discrimination. //end snark//

    • Trip says:

      Don’t give them any ideas. This isn’t even in the most ridiculous category of things they have already come up with.

  15. gkbakies says:

    I think the media needs to give more emphasis to Butina’s own words describing “the scandal about our FSB hacking into [Political Party 2’s] emails.” Emphasis on “OUR”. This needs to be hammered to push back against the refrain coming from the right of “no Russian involvement”.

  16. Rusharuse says:

    Here comes the sun . . (for@eoh 12.16)

    Chief Ochwiay Bianco (Taos Pueblos) to C.G Jung
    “After all,” he said, “we are a people who live on the roof of the world; we are the sons of the Father Sun, and with our religion we daily help our father to go across the sky. We do this not only for ourselves, but for the whole world. If we were to cease practising our religion, in ten years time the sun would no longer rise. Then it would be night forever.”

  17. orionATL says:

    then there’s the espionage age from around the end of wwI. that act has been used by the obama and trump administrarltions, in the legal persona of the u. s. department of justice, to label, de facto, americans who provide information to journalists as spies.

    domestic spies??

    more recently nsa employee reality winner was charged under the espionage act by the trump administration.

    this is swell. american citizens who challenge the appropriateness of the conduct of the government, specifically its “security” bureaucracy, are charged and convicted as spies under our legal system. however, a russian maiden burrowing her way into the antidemocratic rightwing national rifle association and religious coalitions with the intention of influencing presidential behavior has her denomination as a spy from another nation :) disputed by her lawyers and american supporters.

  18. orionATL says:

    since we’re in a supreme court time zone:

    and a citation to an aclu podcast that chemerinsky did on the historical supreme court. this history is so damned enlightening and gives such perspective on this major institution of government:

    more useful history. i like just about any writing linda greenhouse does on the supreme court:

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