When Trump called on Maria Butina in 2015, was someone close to him conspiring with her?
It was a little odd in July 2015 when Donald Trump, just a few weeks after launching his presidential bid, threw a question at a Las Vegas event to a Russian woman who asked him about U.S. sanctions against her country.
Trump was ready to riff. “Okay, Obama gets along with nobody. The whole world hates us,” Trump began, before touching on U.S. relations with Mexico, China, and how current U.S. policy had “driven” Russia and China together.
“I know Putin, and I’ll tell you what, we get along with Putin. Putin has no respect for President Obama. Big problem. Big problem,” Trump asserted. “I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin, okay? And I mean where we have the strength. I don’t think you’d need the sanctions.”
The Russian woman was Maria Butina, who confessed on Thursday to working as a foreign agent of Russia in a conspiracy against the U.S. Butina had infiltrated conservative political circles, including the upper echelons of the National Rifle Association. But two key questions now are: Why did Trump call on Butina and why did he have a ready-made answer?
That’s certainly what Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, wondered on MSNBC Thursday.
“Think about that possibility,” Figliuzzi posed to anchor Andrea Mitchell, “that someone tipped off the president to call on her […] that gets right to the heart of whether or not someone around Trump is actually in conspiracy with, now, someone who’s said, I was a foreign agent of Russia. This is a big deal.”
Steve Bannon, who didn’t join the Trump campaign until a year after that press conference, has been quoted several times questioning how Butina got that question. In Russian Roulette, Michael Isikoff and David Corn write:
Steve Bannon raised it with RNC chair Reince Priebus. How was it that this Russian woman happened to be in Las Vegas for that event? And how was it that Trump happened to call on her? And Trump’s response? It was odd, Bannon thought, that Trump had a fully developed answer.
Priebus agreed there was something strange about Butina. Whenever there were events held by conservative groups, she was always around, he told Bannon.
Strange, indeed. Federal prosecutors likely have a lot more insight into questions surrounding that 2015 interaction between Trump and Butina, it’s just a waiting game now.