Background Briefing: July 18, 2018


Russian Effort to Infiltrate the NRA and the National Prayer Breakfast

We begin with the 29-year-old alleged Russian spy Maria Butina, who appeared in federal court in Washington D.C. today on charges of conspiracy and acting as an illegal foreign agent in the U.S. Naveed Jamali, a Senior Fellow in the Program on National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute who spent three years as a civilian double agent with the FBI and is the author of “How to Catch a Russian Spy: The True Story of an American Civilian Turned Double Agent” joins us. We discuss Butina’s efforts to infiltrate Republican politics under the guidance of Russian spies with support from an oligarch close to Putin and her use of a 56-year-old American activist in Republican and conservative circles who she lived with who provided political access. We explore how many tentacles there were and are to the on-going Russian operation to influence our elections and look into evidence that Butina was being used as a lure by her paymaster, the Russian oligarch Alexander Torshin, to infiltrate the NRA so that Russian money could be funneled into the Trump campaign. And given that the Russians hacked into the private data of the DNC, Hillary Clinton, and her campaign manager, we assess how that valuable information was likely used in real time by Americans yet to be identified who would have given Trump the ability to not just read Hillary’s private thoughts and strategies, but anticipate her every move and political message.


Ties Between America’s Religion Right and Russia’s Religious Right

Then we examine the efforts by Maria Butina to infiltrate a secret Christian political group of American Christian nationalists as well as gun rights groups to covertly promote Russian interests. Jeff Sharlet, a Professor of English at Dartmouth College and author of “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” and “C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy” joins us to discuss why Maria Butina was able to toss softball questions to candidate Donald Trump and try to set up meetings with him and Putin. And since she tried to infiltrate both the NRA leadership and the leadership of the National Prayer Breakfast which is organized by the secretive Fellowship Foundation, we investigate ties between America’s religious right and Russia’s religious right.


Europe Fines Google &5.1 Billion While US Anti-Trust Efforts Languish

Then finally, following a $5.1 billion fine levied against Google by the European Union, we will look into why anti-trust efforts in Europe are much more vigorous and effective than they are in the United States. Matt Stoller, a Fellow at the Open Markets Institute who previously spent six years on Capitol Hill, most recently as a senior policy advisor to the Senate Budget Committee, joins us to discuss the lobbying power of the tech giants and the need for the American people to recognize the growing power of tech monopolies and the dangers posed to us from the business models of surveillance capitalism practiced by Google and Facebook.