How can we be so sure that Maria Butina really was a Russian spy who cultivated contacts and relationships with influential Americans for her bosses back in Russia?
Sure, federal prosecutors have access to the full fire power of the intelligence community and the FBI, but the case against Butina may be as simple as listening to what she has openly confessed to.
According to prosecutors, Butina routinely talked about her work as a Russian spy.
In her graduate-level classes at American University -- a cover for work on behalf of the Russian government, according to prosecutors -- Butina vociferously defended Putin. She also claimed, in class, to be a liaison between the Trump campaign and the Russians, according to a person familiar with the situation.
People who met her through school and through political events described her as a little too friendly. She was quick to start playing footsy under the table or sidle up to an older man at a political event and suddenly request that they become friends on Facebook, according to people who knew her.
On at least two separate occasions she got drunk and spoke openly about her contacts within the Russian government, even acknowledging that Russian intelligence services were involved with the gun rights group she ran in Moscow. Twice, classmates reported her actions to law enforcement because they found her comments so alarming, sources said.
In her final months at American University, the FBI raided her apartment. They arrested her in July.
This doesn't reflect poorly on her classmates because they reported her to authorities, but it does reflect poorly on the NRA, lobbyists, and politicians who carried on relationships with her. Are we suppose to believe she only behaved this way in class or at clubs?
How many lobbyists and politicians did she open up to after they sent her dick pics?
I don't ask that question in jest because it seems pretty clear that was her avenue of approach. There's no telling what the FBI found on her phone.
David Corn at Mother Jones speculates that Butina's arrest may have been behind the NRA's recent shakeup of leadership.