The U.S. indictment for accused Russian secret foreign agent Maria Butina refers to one of her American contacts as “U.S. Person 2.” Like others having serious legal troubles this week, they shared a love for the NRA.
We now know “U.S. Person 2” is George O’Neill Jr., an heir to the Rockefeller fortune and a conservative opinion writer, from a report today in the WSJ. O'Neill is believed to have helped build a secret line of communication between the U.S. right wing behind Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, and the Russian government under President Vladimir Putin.
The U.S. charges against Butina discuss “friendship dinners” she organized to bring together Russians with politically active Americans who'd be receptive to their money and ideology.
One of those Americans, government prosecutors now say, hosted such a dinner in February 2017 before that year’s National Prayer Breakfast.
From Aruna Viswanatha and Julie Bykowicz at the Wall Street Journal:
Mr. O’Neill, an heir to the Rockefeller fortune and an outspoken advocate of closer ties with Russia, hosted that event, as he confirmed in a magazine column. The charging documents say Ms. Butina told him that a representative of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration had approved “building this communications channel.”
Mr. O’Neill, who hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing, didn’t respond to emails and phone messages. In the charging papers, he isn’t described by name but is called “U.S. Person 2.”
“All that we needed is > from Putin’s side. The rest is easier,” Ms. Butina told Mr. O’Neill, according to the court documents, in an apparent effort to relay approval from the Russian government of a U.S-Russian back channel through events like the dinner.
Mr. O’Neill’s involvement helps broaden the picture of Ms. Butina’s efforts in the U.S. She also collaborated with Paul Erickson, a South Dakota-based conservative with a history of debt and fraud cases who is referenced as “U.S. Person 1” in the charges filed against Ms. Butina, The Wall Street Journal reported previously.
Mr. O’Neill and Mr. Erickson were on some of the same emails with Ms. Butina, court papers show. Mr. Erickson didn’t respond to emails and phone messages.
In a column in advance of President Donald Trump’s meeting with Mr. Putin earlier this month, Mr. O’Neill argued that Russia could be a “constructive partner” in working with the U.S. to “stop its wasteful wars.” He founded a group to lobby for a “realistic and restrained foreign policy,” and organized a dinner last year for several Russian officials and Republican lawmakers and others before the Prayer Breakfast.
That dinner, chronicled by Time magazine last year, was a factor in the case against Ms. Butina, who is in jail awaiting trial on charges of being an unregistered foreign agent after her arrest on July 15. In a column last year for the American Conservative, where he is a board member, Mr. O’Neill laid out his involvement in that dinner.
“Some months back I organized a dinner on Capitol Hill that brought together some former and current Russian officials with a number of prominent U.S. Republicans and conservatives, including two congressmen, a conservative magazine publisher, some journalists, and others,” Mr. O’Neill wrote in his April 24, 2017, column.
The American Conservative says they “did not fund or sponsor the dinner.” Butina has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which her lawyer says are “overblown.”
From Bloomberg's story on Butina's connection to 'scion of the Rockefeller clan' George D. O’Neill Jr.:
O’Neill, a 68-year-old sculptor and a rainmaker for conservatives since Pat Buchanan’s 1992 presidential run, hosted a private dinner in Washington, D.C., for a delegation of Russian dignitaries in town for a National Prayer Breakfast in early February 2017, he has said publicly and to Bloomberg last year. There, just days after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Russians met two Republican lawmakers and other conservative luminaries, he has said.
The dinner is also referenced in a trip itinerary given to Russian delegates traveling to Washington for the breakfast, which was reviewed by Bloomberg. Delegates also received a Russian-language rundown of the Americans they could expect to meet at the dinner. Among them were O’Neill and his wife, a Russian-speaking congressional aide and a conservative operative they were told was an adviser to the new Trump administration, according to a document reviewed by Bloomberg.
Oh, and guess who else came to dinner? Yep, Dana Rohrabacher.
Dana Rohrabacher is colloquially known here in California as “the Congressman From Moscow.”
At one dinner, ABC News has learned, in February 2017 at the tony French eaterie, Bistro Bis, one guest who dined with the then-28 year old Russian was a California Republican congressman on the House Foreign Relations committee, Dana Rohrabacher. Rohrabacher’s office confirmed he attended.
Some of the Russians at that dinner were part of an active effort to undermine the 2016 presidential elections, U.S. national security prosecutors are effectively saying in the indictment. Whether he knew it or not, O’Neill may have helped Butina achieve her goal of creating a “backchannel” between the Kremlin and GOP, pro-Trump leadership.
IN RELATED NEWS:
On July 17, Maria Butina was indicted on charges of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government. Her involvement in a South Dakota fraud case involving Paul Erickson first came to light last week, during a detention hearing in Butina's case.
Butina has “offered to cooperate in a fraud investigation being mounted by federal prosecutors in South Dakota that appears to target Paul Erickson, the conservative activist with whom she was romantically linked, according to a letter released by her lawyer and court testimony in her case.”
OH, AND THERE'S JUST ONE MORE THING.
She trolled you so hard, America. How hard? She literally walked around DC with this Beautiful Vladimir Putin With A Horse On A Russian Mountaintop Phone Case.
From the Washington Post:
Butina’s cellphone case was emblazoned with a famous photograph of Russian President Vladimir Putin riding shirtless on a horse. She would buy friends rounds of vodka at Russia House, the Dupont Circle restaurant popular with the Russian diplomatic set, sometimes challenging male friends to down horseradish-infused shots. She bragged to classmates that she had worked for the Russian government.
More recent updates on the Butina story, below.