Maria Butina, a Russian gun advocate recently arrested for being a spy, was fairly busy after the 2016 election. According to new reports, she got close to at least one Congressman and a member of the Rockefeller family, who told Bloomberg last year his pro-Russia views didn’t make him a “useful idiot.”
Butina met with California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher at least twice, ABC News reported on Thursday, at a 2017 dinner hosted by a Rockefeller relative — and two years before, in Moscow.
Rohrabacher has vehemently denied that these meetings prove he's somehow under the influence of the Russian government.
“They call me Putin's best friend. I'm not Putin's best friend,” Rohrabacher said in an interview with ABC News last year. “I'm a patriotic American who knows that it would be really good for America to cooperate with Russia. I could care less whether it's good for Russia.”
According to Bloomberg, the 2017 meeting occurred at a dinner hosted by George D. O’Neill Jr., a member of the Rockefeller clan, who promised visiting Russian dignitaries the chance to meet with important Washington insiders. Guests included Rohrbacher and Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie.
Kenneth Grubbs, Rohrabacher’s spokesman, told ABC News the meetings occurred because the Congressman was the chairman of the committee overseeing U.S. relations in Eastern Europe.
“Given any level of Russian activity or interest in relations with the United States, it is not surprising their agents or even their transplanted citizens would be magnetized toward the business of the subcommittee overseeing Russia and its chairman,” Grubbs told ABC News earlier this week. “It is also proper that Chairman Rohrabacher would be guardedly open to their communications.”
Rohrabacher seemed, at times, more than guardedly open. He was the host of an inaugural ball at the Library of Congress, for example, that attracted several prominent Russian figures. Guests included Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya — two of the participants in the 2016 Trump Tower meeting in which Donald Trump Jr. attempted to get “dirt” on then-candidate Hillary Clinton, according to ABC News.
Rohrabacher has defended Butina since her arrest, calling the charges against her “bogus” in an interview with Politico. Butina has pleaded not guilty to both of her felony charges, including conspiracy and acting as an agent of a foreign government without informing the attorney general.
Cover image: Mariia Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization, speaks on October 8, 2013 during a press conference in Moscow. STR/AFP/Getty Images.