Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
The Wall Street Journal has identified the contact known only as “US Person 2” in the charges against accused Russian spy Maria Butina as conservative columnist, and heir to the Rockefeller fortune, George O’Neill. The contact listed as “US Person 1” had already been identified as South Dakota conservative Paul Erickson. Between the two men, Butina had access to a broad range of Republican organizations, contributors, and power brokers across the country. And it appears that O’Neill worked with Butina in attempting to set up a back channel between Russia and the Republican Party.
O’Neill has been an advocate of closer ties between Republicans and Russia, arguing that Russia could be a “good partner” for the United States and painting himself as a member of the “non-interventionist right.” In a 2017 article, O’Neill complained about the “Russophobia” and “Neo-McCarthyism” behind media articles on ties between the right and the Kremlin. At the same time, O’Neill was exchanging notes with Butina with the apparent goal of making more ties between the right and Russia.
These ties included such meetings around the National Prayer Breakfast, where according to Bloomberg, O’Neill hosted a Russian delegation. That dinner also appears in the charges against Butina, as an event where she acted as a Russian agent to advance Kremlin objectives.
With Erickson helping secure Butina’s connections with the NRA, and O’Neill working with her to bring Russians in contact with Republican leadership and strategists, the accused spy had direct access to a broad swath of the GOP. O’Neill described the dinner as one between the Russian delegation and “American intellectuals” and denied that his conservative guests were either “useful idiots” or “Putin stooges.”
He also maintained that “any clear thinking person” would see the benefits of a close relationship with Russia, though the did admit that Putin’s actions, “can sometimes be problematic.” Though if that problematic action includes removing any rights for gays, shooting journalists, or simply killing off his opposition was not clear. In any case, there was someone who did appreciate everything O’Neill did to cement Russia and the right.
Butina: My dearest President has received ‘the message’ about…your constructive and kind attention to the Russians.
Presumably, Butina means Vladmir Putin when she means her “dearest President” though, that isn’t one hundred percent certain.
O’Neill certainly went out of his way to make the Russians coming in for his dinner and the National Prayer Breakfast feel at home — and at ease with Republican “intellectuals” who came to his house for the get together.
Russian invitees to the Jan. 31 dinner were also provided a list of a dozen Americans they could expect to meet there, complete with Russian-language biographical bullet points and color photos of most attendees. It’s unclear who compiled the guest list.
There’s nothing wrong with working for peace. There’s nothing wrong with brokering good relations with other nations, including Russia. But it’s clear that Butina, her immediate boss Alexander Torshin, and his boss Putin were working to turn their GOP connections into a tool through which they could manipulate American opinions and actions. O’Neill assisted in that goal … though it’s unclear at the moment to what extent he was aware of Butina’s larger purpose.
After all, one of the key factors in being a “useful idiot” is that you don’t know you’re an idiot.
Mark Sumner is the author of the nonfiction work “The Evolution of Everything” as well as several novels including “Devil’s Tower.”