The bizarre link between Wisconsin and Russia

The bizarre link between Wisconsin and Russia
Maria Butina/Shutterstock
Maria Butina/Shutterstock

The Mueller Report had plenty of information as to how Russians worked to subvert our elections and gained influence in our current US government. But what jumps out to me is how much of that story and related Russian affairs connected back to Wisconsin.


Our state appears in the Mueller Report as one of a handful in the Midwest that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort passed information about to a Russian intelligence agent. The report indicates that this was done to tell the Russians the best way to boost Trump's chances in those states.

And you may recall that Trump did surprisingly well in all of those states in November 2016. Funny, that.
One of the biggest assists Trump got was in the form of a record investment by the National Rifle Association. Keep that NRA support in mind when you hear about this story from Friday night. 
Maria Butina, who has admitted to working as a Russian agent to infiltrate an influential U.S. gun rights group and make inroads with conservative activists and Republicans, asked the court to sentence her to time served ahead of her April 26 sentencing, according to court documents.
Butina, 30, a former graduate student at American University who publicly advocated for gun rights, pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiring to act as a foreign agent for Russia. She has remained in custody since her arrest in July 2018.

Prosecutors filed a memo on Friday ahead of this week's sentencing. And check out this segment of that report, which might be familiar to you.

Soon after [Butina] drafted the Diplomacy Project proposal, in April 2015, she traveled to the United States to attend the Gun Rights Organization (aka the NRA) annual meetings with the Russian Official, where she highlighted her experience as a gun-rights advocate in Russia and was introduced to influential members of Political Party 1, one of whom announced his Presidential campaign shortly thereafter.  Statement of Offense at 3.  She did so in furtherance of the conspiracy’s goal to establish the back channel of communication as laid out in the Diplomacy Project.  Id. at 3.  Butina attended this announcement event in July 2015 and, after being tasked by the Russian Official to do so, wrote a report to him in which she emphasized the fact that she was introduced to one of that candidate’s three advisors for matters concerning international politics.   A copy of the Twitter chats, along with the report, is attached hereto as Exhibit 4.   According to her notes from a meeting with then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in May 2015, she said she would “send the name of the advisor [to the candidate whose announcement event she later attended] who can come to Moscow.”

Looks like those Twitter chats will be released when the Butina file is redacted, likely after the sentencing happens on Friday.

But who was this candidate that Butina and Putin-appointed central banker Alexander Torshin met up with, and whose presidential announcement event did she go to in July 2015?

After Walker washed out of the 2016 election race, the sentencing memo describes how Butina organized a meeting with the NRA back home in Mother Russia.

In December 2015, Butina invited powerful members of the Gun Rights Organization to Moscow as part of the conspiracy’s plan to establish the unofficial channel of communication. Statement of Offense at 3. She actively sought out meetings for this group with high-level Russian government officials, as arranged by the Russian Official.  Id.  As part of this endeavor, the defendant sought information from U.S. Person 1 about the degree of political influence held by the Gun Rights Organization members in the United States and stressed the need for a “political program” as part of the Gun Rights Organization trip to Moscow.  Id. at 3-4.
Following the Gun Rights Organization trip to Moscow, the defendant and the Russian Official discussed the need to “hold the spot” now that “everyone has realized that [the Gun Rights Organization] is a valuable contact,” and she noted that there will be “attempts to seize the  initiative.”  Exhibit 2. Butina has since confirmed that she was worried about others within the Russian government or a political group or activist noticing that the contacts she had built with the Gun Rights Organization were valuable and cutting her and the Russian Official out of the loop. Just days later, Butina noted to the Russian Official that they would “quietly press” or “put pressure on [members of the Gun Rights Organization] later.”
Guess who was in Russia in December 2015?

Also don't forget that a couple of Wisconsin politicians knew about these Russian efforts before the 2016 election, but hid it from unsuspecting Wisconsin voters. In late Summer 2016, President Obama organized a "Gang of 12" to let them know about potential Russian hacking and interference, and 2 of the members of that meeting were then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senate Homeland Security Chair Ron Johnson. That meeting that was kept from public knowledge before the elections after complaints from Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell.

I’ve referenced this Bruce Murphy article in Urban Milwaukee from January 2017 in the past, and that's because it continues to link back to developments in the Trump-GOP-Russia connection. It also points to Johnson being complicit in keeping Wisconsinites from knowing about the Russian garbage that was being sent to their computers, and flat-out lying later on about what intelligence agencies told him.

Russia’s interference with the American elections fit the pattern of a country engaged in disinformation and destabilization efforts across the globe, as Johnson has described it. And Russia’s leader was someone Johnson already suspected of nefarious acts. Johnson had previously sponsored resolutions calling for a full investigation into the murder of a Russian political opposition leader and for an investigation of Russia’s attacks on the Ukraine.

Johnson, in short, had an opportunity to be a patriot and condemn the fact that Russia was now engaged in such activities in the United States. But he issued no resolutions — in fact, not one word — on Russian’s cyber attacks on America.
Worse, he has engaged in his own pattern of misinformation on the subject. After the CIA publicly released a report in January concluding that Russia meddled in the presidential election to help Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump win the election, Johnson issued a statement to the Wisconsin State Journal saying he would “would need more definitive information before drawing further conclusions.” Johnson did not reveal that he had been informed back in September this was happening.
Johnson went on to complain to CNBC that the CIA refused to brief him on Russian hacking, saying “I have not seen the evidence that it actually was Russia,” while failing to note the CIA report’s echoed the briefing he’d received from other intelligence leaders in September.

In addition, Ron Johnson was 1 of several GOP Senators who decided last year's US Independence Day was a great time...to visit the Russians.

Sounds like investigative media might want to ask some questions of these Sconnie Republicans, why many seem to have no problem hanging out with high-level Russian officials, and ask what's being done to prevent Wisconsinites from being targeted and propagandized against in 2020. The (non)-answers they give might be quite illuminating.

I'd also like to see Walker, Clarke, Paul Ryan, ex-Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (named several times in the Mueller Report) and Ron Johnson go before Congress and answer some pointed questions in the coming months. They have a lot to answer for in how they've allowed our democracy to be threatened over the last few years, and why they don't seem too willing to do much about it.

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