FACT CHECK: Does A Photo Show Trump Jr. With Alleged Russian Spy Maria Butina?
The Occupy Democrats Facebook page shared a photo Tuesday that it said showed alleged Russian spy Maria Butina with President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr.
“Whatever you do, DON’T share this embarrassing newly-obtained photo of Donald Trump Jr. with Russian spy Maria Butina,” the meme said.
Butina took a photo with Trump Jr. at a National Rifle Association (NRA) dinner in 2016.
Butina pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to influence U.S. politics as a foreign agent. She admitted in a plea agreement that she “sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics.”
Prosecutors dropped a second charge against Butina of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. She previously pleaded not guilty to both charges after being indicted in July.
The meme in the Occupy Democrats post said that the photo of Butina and Trump Jr. was “newly-obtained,” but The New York Times published the photo in an August story about Butina’s connections to influential Republicans and conservatives. Occupy Democrats previously posted the meme in August on the same day the story was published.
“She even managed to get a photo with Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, whom she met at a 2016 dinner hosted by the N.R.A. in Louisville, Ky,” the Times story read. It identified the third person in the photo as NRA board member Pete Brownell, who later served as the NRA’s president from 2017 to 2018.
Butina met Trump Jr. at the event with Aleksandr Torshin, then-deputy governor of Russia’s central bank. One of Trump Jr.’s lawyers told McClatchy DC that the conversation with Torshin was brief. “It was all gun-related small talk,” he said.
The NYT piece included photos of Butina with other high-profile Republicans like former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. She has also been pictured with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Butina, who ran a Russian gun rights group called the Right to Bear Arms, reportedly worked with Torshin and Republican operative Paul Erickson, Butina’s boyfriend. The three established connections with NRA executives and conservative political groups.
Butina moved to the U.S. on a student visa in 2016 and attended American University in Washington, D.C., though she had previously visited the U.S. and attended political events. She asked Trump a question about U.S.-Russian relations at FreedomFest in 2015.
“I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin,” Trump told the audience in response to Butina’s question. “And I mean where we have the strength. I don’t think you’d need the sanctions.”
Erickson sent an email to a Trump campaign official in May 2016 with the subject line “Kremlin connection” in which he said that Russia was “quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S.” and suggested using an NRA convention to make “first contact.” Erickson told The Daily Caller News Foundation in December 2017 that Torshin and Butina did not ask him to send the email. The Daily Beast reported Dec. 5 that federal investigators are considering bringing charges against Erickson.
Butina faces a maximum of five years in prison followed by deportation.
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