Alleged Russian agent Maria Butina socialized with a Trump campaign aide and transition team prospect right before the 2016 election, according to a new report in the Washington Post. Butina exchanged emails and social invitations with J.D. Gordon, who was the Trump campaign’s director of national security until moving into a transition team role in August 2016. Gordon even invited Butina to both a Styx concert and his birthday party in D.C. that fall.
The 50-year-old Gordon attempted to brush off the significance of his contacts with Butina in a statement responding to the Post’s story. Commenting that “it seems the Maria Butina saga is basically a sensationalized click bait story meant to smear a steady stream of Republicans and NRA members she reportedly encountered over the past few years,” Gordon wondered “which prominent Republican political figures she hasn’t come across?”
Gordon, however, was no ordinary prominent Republican. He had been one of the members of the Trump team who worked to kill language seen as hostile to Russia from the official platform at the 2016 Republican National Convention, and Gordon has disclosed that he briefly met with Russia’s then-ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, during that event as well. Gordon also served on a committee with Carter Page, one of the most infamous targets of the Russia investigation, and who has testified that he notified Gordon about his July 2016 trip to Moscow.
Gordon has denied that any of these interactions were consequential, and says he disclosed his contacts with Butina to congressional investigators, but has not been asked about her by members of the Mueller investigation. He also insists he did no official work for the Trump transition team.
Butina’s attorney maintains that she was no more than a socially ambitious graduate student and guns rights activist who was interested in meeting like-minded conservative officials in the U.S. Both Butina’s lawyer and Gordon insist there was no romance involved, and no further contact after Gordon’s birthday party in late October.
The 29-year-old Butina, who also met with Donald Trump Jr. at an NRA event in May 2016, was charged last month by federal prosecutors with “conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government.” Her ties the NRA have come under particular scrutiny, since her former boss, Russian banker and Putin ally Alexander Torshin, is reportedly suspected of funneling money to the NRA to aid the effort to elect Trump. There has also been a steady stream of stories (and photographs) revealing the many Republican lawmakers and other conservative officials Butina has interacted with over the past few years. Gordon is the first Trump official to be added to that list since her arrest, however.
Butina and Gordon reportedly met at a party at the Swiss ambassador’s residence in late September 2016, and the networking opportunity between the pair was then pushed along by GOP operative Paul Erickson, who was dating Butina at the time. Erickson told her that Gordon’s foreign policy views got attention from all the “right” people and that he was playing a “crucial role” in Trump’s transition efforts. Gordon “would be an excellent addition to any of the U.S./Russia friendship dinners to occasionally hold,” Erickson added. The pitch worked on both sides:
The emails show Gordon quickly responded to Erickson, sending Butina and Erickson a clip of a recent appearance he had made on RT, the Russian state-run English language television network. In the RT interview, Gordon said Trump took a “real common-sense approach to Russia.”
“We want to reduce hostility with Russia because, look, we have common interests,” he said.
Butina responded with praise, writing in an email to Gordon that he “looked very good” and had appeared smart and comfortable in the television appearance.
The Post report didn’t elaborate on why Gordon invited Butina to a Styx concert, but it’s possible that both he, a formal naval officer, and millennial Russian spies share a soft spot for the band’s 1977 progressive rock classic Come Sail Away.
Including Gordon, at least 12 members of the Trump campaign or transition team have now acknowledged interacting with Russian nationals before or after the election.