NEW: Maria Butina’s Alleged Handler — Lifetime NRA Member Alexander Torshin — “Tied to Suspicious U.S.-Russia Exchange Program”
A new report by Politico sheds light on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the now-sanctioned lifetime NRA member, Vladimir Putin ally and man alleged to have been the handler of accused Kremlin agent Maria Butina during her time in the United States.
Specifically, Politico reports that, dating back to as early as 2010, Torshin was involved with a “U.S.-Russia exchange program” that the FBI believes “was an elaborate cover for a Washington-based Russian spy recruiting effort.” Torshin’s relationship with then-NRA president David Keene began in 2011.
“Six years before he was exposed for allegedly managing a covert agent on U.S. soil, the Russian politician Alexander Torshin hosted young Americans visiting Moscow as part of two cultural exchange programs, including one that has drawn the FBI’s scrutiny.
“The gregarious Torshin regularly hosted U.S. visitors in the ornate chambers of Russia’s parliament, where he gushed about his love of guns, bourbon and America.”
“It wasn’t until years later that Torshin would emerge as a major figure in the Trump-Russia saga — a man whom federal prosecutors say oversaw the accused Russian operative Mariia Butina’s efforts to infiltrate Republican Party circles, including the National Rifle Association, to push them toward more pro-Russia policies. Torshin himself has attended annual NRA meetings dating back to at least 2011.
“Many of the first-class student exchanges were officially organized by the Russian Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., and included top-flight meals, airfare and hotel accommodations. But the center’s exchange programs abruptly stopped in fall 2013, after FBI counterintelligence agents urgently located dozens of trip participants and told them the program was an elaborate cover for a Washington-based Russian spy recruiting effort.
“The (FBI) agents said the Russians had prepared dossiers on some of the most promising participants, two of the former students told POLITICO. They pressed for every detail of the program, including whom the students met, where they went and what they discussed. They also said that Russian government official who oversaw the program — from a mansion about a mile and a half from the White House — was a suspected spy and would be kicked out of the U.S. soon.”
Politico also reports that in 2010, “Torshin helped orchestrate a secret spy swap between the U.S. and Russia after the FBI arrested 10 Russian operatives who had been living undercover in America for years.”
Among those convicted Russian spies was the infamous Anna Chapman. According to the Department of Justice, Torshin likened Butina to Chapman in private messages, writing to her, “How are you faring there in the rays of the new fame? Are your admirers asking for your autographs yet? You have upstaged Anna Chapman.”