The Washington Post is out with a story about the American right’s ties to Russia and the article centers on the tale of accused Russian Mob boss and Russian Duma member Alexander Torshin and his red-headed friend, Maria Butina, which I’ve written about here.
In that post, I wrote that David Keene — opinion editor of The Washington Times editorial page and past NRA president — was a useful idiot who allowed a suspected Russian mobster to get close to the president.
Torshin is a member of the Russian Duma and, simultaneously, (while the Post story doesn’t mention it), he was accused by Spanish police of being a ranking member of the Moscow-based Taganskaya crime syndicate. He was slated to meet with President Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast until a White House national security aide noticed Torshin’s name and flagged him as a figure who had “baggage.”
The Post adds an important new detail: How Torshin met Keene.
At least one connection came about thanks to a conservative Nashville lawyer named G. Kline Preston IV, who had done business in Russia for years.
Preston said that in 2011 he introduced then-NRA President David Keene to a Russian senator, Alexander Torshin, a member of Putin’s party who later became a top official at the Russian central bank. Keene had been a stalwart on the right, a past chairman of the American Conservative Union who was NRA’s president from 2011 to 2013.
I never realized that Vladimir Putin had such open and effusive admirers in the United States like George Kline Preston.
Preston, born in 1966, is an expert on Russian law who displays a white porcelain bust of Putin in his office, according to the Post.
He believes that we have it backwards: Putin is the good guy in this story. He has told friends for years not to believe reports that Putin murdered journalists or political opponents. Here he is effusively praising Putin to his friend Torshin on Twitter.
Translation: “@torshin_ru Tomorrow is Presidents’ Day in the USA. I want to say that you are fortunate to have President Vladimir Putin.”
Preston’s relationship with Torshin goes back to at least 2009 when Preston briefed Russian legislators on the implementation of immunity agreements in Russia:
Mr. Torshin asked me to briefly describe the concept of a “deal with the investigation,” or, more precisely, the “plea bargaining”, as we used to call this term in the West. (source: archived web page of prestonkline.com)
Preston was an international observer during the 2011 Russian duma elections that led to mass street protests about election fraud. Preston said he concluded the Russian election system was “impressive” and “very well-organized,” but the Western view was overwhelmingly negative. The reason why, he said, lay in the fact the West does not like Vladimir Putin. Asked why, he speculated that “maybe because he’s a strong leader, maybe he’s done a pretty effective job:”
Interestingly, this video was posted to YouTube (and possibly made by) Johan Backman, a controversial Finnish academic. Backman is a Putin cheerleader and Kremlin propagandist (which is detailed in this lengthy expose). Preston was apparently didn’t know or didn’t mind that he was being used for propaganda purposes.
In 2012, Preston returned the favor and invited Torshin to be an election observer in Nashville. Both men appear in the picture below (Preston on the left, and Torshin in the middle). Torshin’s tweet below reads: “Standing in line at the polling place. As an ordinary American. 6:45 a.m.”
In contrast to his experience observing voting Russia, Preston said he saw violations of U.S. law during the presidential election: pro-Obama signs posted too close to a polling place.
Preston earned his bachelors degree in Russian language and literature at the University of Tennessee in 1989, the same year he studied in Leningrad via an Indiana University program at Leningrad State. He and earned his law degree at Nashville School of Law in 1994. For a time, Preston was involved in trading Russian/Ukrainian securities and importing Kievskaya Rus ultra premium vodka.
Preston’s law practice appears heavily focused on Russia. A version of his website archived in 2011 appears in both English and Cyrillic. On his office web page of is what appears to be a double-headed eagle, the symbol on the coat of arms of the Russian Federation.
A portion of the Preston’s practice involved assisting Americans in adopting children born in the Ukraine and the former Soviet Union. (Putin in 2012 signed into law a ban on adoptions of Russian children by Americans.) Preston also represented Bering Strait, a classically-trained Russian bluegrass and Russian scholar Mikhail Anikin, who claimed that author Dan Brown stole his idea for the “Da Vinci Code.”
On his Twitter feed, @gittinpaid, Preston often retweets Russian propaganda from RT, Pravda and other news outlets:
I’m not sure what happened to G. Kline Preston, but it’s hard to look at him and see a man who has turned himself, quite happily it seems, into another of Putin’s useful idiots.
How did a suspected Russian mob “Godfather” (update: and Kremlin emissary) nearly make it to a private meeting in February with President Trump? With help from friends in the NRA.
The Godfather: Spanish police investigating the Moscow-based Taganskaya crime syndicate laundering ill-gotten gains through banks and properties in Spain learn that Alexander Torshin, while serving as a deputy speaker of the upper house of parliament in Russia, instructed members how to launder criminal proceeds. Wiretaps recorded Torshin talking in 2012 and 2013 to the alleged Taganskaya leader in Spain, Alexander Romanov. An internal document from the Spanish Civil Guard Information Service, explains Torshin’s central role in the criminal plot.
“As a consequence of the phone tapping carried out in the aforementioned inquiries it has been ratified that, above Romanov, on a higher hierarchical level, is Alexander Torshin. In the numerous phone conversations and with different contact persons, Alexander Romanov himself recognized his subordination before someone who he describes as ‘the Godfather’ or ‘the boss’ … which in itself is telling when it comes to situating their relationship.”
Torshin also has longstanding ties to the FSB, successor agency to Russia’s KGB.
The Honeypot: Maria Butina. In 2011, this tall redhead was involved in sales of appliances and furniture in the Altai region of Siberia, A year later, she was rubbing elbows with Torshin and putting together Право на Оружие (translated as “Right to Bear Arms”) in Moscow, an international gun rights organization.
The Useful Idiot: David A. Keene is a political consultant, longtime director of the American Conservative Union, past president of the National Rifle Association, and currently the opinion editor of The Washington Times. Although not the power broker he once was, Keene still wields influence. He takes a liking to Torshin and Butina and opens doors for them in Washington and introduces them to influential people.
Our Story Begins
It’s election day in America, 2012. Barack Obama is running for a second term against Mitt Romney. Enter Torshin.
Nov. 6 2012: Torshin travels to Nashville, Tennessee where
the NRA an American friend has granted him special status as an observer for the 2012 presidential election. Tweet below reads: “Standing in line at the polling place. As an ordinary American. 6:45 a.m.” At the time, Torshin is a senator in Putin’s United Russia in the upper house of Russia’s parliament.
Nov. 8, 2012: Torshin visits the Russian ambassador’s residence in Washington and NRA headquarters in Washington, DC.
May 2013: Torshin attends the NRA’s annual meeting in Houston, Texas.
August 21, 2013: Torshin decides not to attend a birthday celebration for Taganskaya leader in Spain, Alexander Romanov, as planned. Spanish authorities believe he was warned by the Russian prosecutor that if he stepped onto Spanish soil he would be arrested.
November 2013: NRA president David Keene travels to Russia for a conference hosted by The Right to Bear Arms. Keene speaks at the conference, with Torshin in attendance.
January 2, 2014: David Keene publishes an op-ed piece in the Washington Times by his friend, Alexander Torshin. “Last year, I had the pleasure of attending the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Houston,” he writes. Torshin says he has been a “life member” of the NRA for years.
April 2014: Torshin and Butina attend the NRA’s annual meeting in Indianapolis, where they are given the red carpet treatment. Butina attends the annual NRA Women’s Leadership Luncheon as a guest of former NRA President Sandy Froman and participates in general meetings over the weekend as a guest of former NRA President David Keene. She also presents the then-NRA president Jim Porter with a plaque. Butina is given the “rare privilege” of ringing a Liberty Bell replica.
May 5, 2014: Maria Butina visits NRA headquarters in Washington, DC. and meets with David Keene.
May 6, 2014: Butina and her organization are profiled by conservative website Townhall.
We are a young organization. We are three years old. And we invited David Keene. He made a speech at our annual meeting. And so it’s like an answer from one side. The next side is the life member of our organization. He is our Russian senator. His name is Senator Alexander Torshin. He is a life member of NRA too, and he’s usually a participant of such events, and every annual meeting of NRA. But now the situation between (our) two countries is very difficult. And we have to go here together with Senator Torshin. He is a great gun lover, he supports our organization and he’s a friend of the NRA.
September 3, 2014: Paul Erickson, NRA member, GOP operative, campaign manager for Pat Buchanan’s 1992 presidential run, attends an open forum in Moscow organized by Right to Bear Arms.
January, 20 2015: Torshin is named deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia, responsible for liaison with the Federal Assembly chambers, and also federal and regional state executive bodies. Torshin selects Maria Butina as his special assistant.
April 2015: Torshin and Butina both attend NRA’s annual meeting in Nashville.
April 10, 2015: Butina, Torshin and Keene meet future Republican presidential candidate and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker during an event in Tennessee.
July 11, 2015: Maria Butina attends Trump Freedom Fest rally in Las Vegas and poses a question to the Republican candidate: “I’m from Russia. My question will be about foreign politics. If you will be elected as president, what will be your foreign politics, especially in the relationships with my country? Do you want to continue the policy of sanctions that are damaging both economies? Or [do you] have any other ideas?”
Trump replies: “I know Putin, and I’ll tell you what, we’ll get along with Putin. … I would get along very nicely with Putin, I mean, where we have the strength. I don’t think you’d need the sanctions. I think we would get along very, very well.”
July 13, 2015: Butina attends the official launch of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s run for governor.
December 2015: An NRA delegation travels to Moscow to meet with Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister in charge of Russia’s defense industry who is a subject of US sanctions. The delegation consists of David Keene, Paul Erickson, and Milwaukee County, Wisconsin sheriff David A. Clarke. Right to Bear Arms pays $6,000 for Clarke’s meals, hotel, transportation, and entertainment. (Daily Beast story)
Feb. 7, 2016: Torshin attends National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.
February 10, 2016: Paul Erickson forms a limited liability corporation with Maria Butina called Bridges, LLC., based in South Dakota. What this company does is a mystery.
May 2016: According to The New York Times, Torshin tries to meet with Trump during the NRA comeeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin. Torshin Rick Clay, an advocate for conservative Christian causes, to Rick Dearborn, a Trump campaign aide.
May 2016: Paul Erickson, Marina Butina’s friend and business partner, writes an email to a Trump campaign aide, The New York Times reports.
Subject: “Kremlin Connection.”
Russia, Erickson writes, was “quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S.” and would use the NRA’s annual convention in Louisville, Kentucky, to make “first contact.”
“Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump,” Erickson writes to Trump aide Rick Dearborn. “He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election. Let’s talk through what has transpired and Senator Sessions’s advice on how to proceed.” Sessions says he does not recall the outreach.
“The Kremlin believes that the only possibility of a true reset in this relationship would be with a new Republican White House,” Erickson writes. “Ever since Hillary compared Putin to Hitler, all senior Russian leaders consider her beyond redemption.”
By “happenstance” and the reach of the NRA, Erickson says he had been put in position to “slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin’s Kremlin” in recent years.
“Russia is quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S. that isn’t forthcoming under the current administration.”
May 20, 2016: Torshin attends NRA convention in Louisville, Kentucky. He shares a table with Donald Trump, Jr. at a private dinner. According to The New York Times, Torshin had tried and failed to meet with candidate Trump in Louisville to pitch a “backdoor meeting” with Putin. In the picture below, David Keene is in the background and Torshin is wearing a button that reads “I’m the NRA and I Voted.”
May 2016: Taganskaya mafia boss Alexander Romanov is sentenced to almost four years in a Spanish prison, after pleading guilty to illegal transactions totaling 1.65 million euros ($1.83 million) and $50,000.
August 8, 2016: Bloomberg reveals Torshin’s connections to organized crime.
Nov. 12, 2016: Butina celebrates her birthday with a costume party in Washington, DC. attended by several Trump’ campaign consultants.
January 15, 2017: Torshin tweets that he brought a gift for NRA President Allan D. Cors. President Cors loves tanks.
January 20, 2017: Maria Butina and Paul Erickson attended the invitation-only Freedom Ball to celebrate Donald Trump’s swearing in as President of the United States.
Feb. 2, 2017: Torshin and Butina are excited to meet newly-elected President Donald Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast. Their hopes are dashed at the last minute when a White House national security aide notices Torshin’s name and flags him as a figure who had “baggage,” a reference to his suspected ties to organized crime, according to Yahoo News.
Butina told Yahoo:
“Late the night before, we were told that all meet and greets were off,” Butina wrote in an email. “There were no specific questions or statements that Mr. Torshin had in mind during what we assumed to be a five-second handshake. We all hope for better relations between our two countries. I’m sure there will be other opportunities to express this hope.”