Last weekend, the world learned that accused Russian spy gal Maria Butina met with Stanley Fischer, Janet Yellen’s number two at the Fed, and also Nathan Sheets, then Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, in 2015.
That news, originally reported by Reuters, was a rather stunning revelation and shed more light on the extent to which Butina, with the help of Alexander Torshin, was successful in connecting with high-level U.S. officials in her alleged capacity as a foreign agent of the Kremlin.
Butina, posing as a “student” and in the U.S. on an F-1 visa, worked through the NRA to gain influence in Republican circles. When she met with Fischer and Sheets, she was presumably acting in her capacity as a “special assistant” to the Russian central bank.
Her story reads like the plot of a James Bond film and for those interested in the Cliff’s Notes version on Maria, Torshin and the NRA connection, you can find it here.
Since her arrest and detention pending trial, the Russian foreign ministry has been at pains to spin this as a witch hunt (appropriately enough) and last week launched a social media campaign designed to marshal support for her release.
Anatoly Antonov, Russian Ambassador to the U.S., called her arrest “totally illegal” and recently told reporters in Moscow that the Kremlin will “demand that she can calmly go home.”
Good luck with that, Anatoly, although I suppose anything’s possible considering who’s sitting in the Oval Office.
Well, on Wednesday, the Daily Beast is out with a truly amusing account of Torshin’s connections to Tennessee attorney G. Kline Preston IV, a birther conspiracy theorist who in 2013 tweeted the following:
As long as U.S. is electing foreign-born presidents, I propose Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
The Beast goes on to detail Kline’s longstanding ties to Torshin. The following excerpts are from a Tennessean article published in March, and they provide a bit in the way of background information on this story.
Amid ongoing probes into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Nashville attorney G. Kline Preston, IV is gaining notice for his relationship to a Russian banker with Kremlin ties.
Among Preston’s Russian clients and longtime friends is Alexander Torshin, a prominent Russian politician who has close ties to President Vladimir Putin. Torshin is under scrutiny for illegally channeling Russian funds to the National Rifle Association in an effort to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Preston first introduced Torshin to then-president of the NRA David Keene in 2011 and the pair attended the NRA’s annual convention in Nashville in 2015.
Preston told the USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee that he and Torshin have also been close – friends for at least a decade. The two share a strong interest in gun rights.
When Torshin came to Nashville to attend the 2015 NRA convention, the pair enjoyed an evening at an Alan Jackson concert, Preston said.
You read that correctly. Torshin attended an Alan Jackson concert with a Tennessee lawyer. Write your own jokes.
The Beast also provides a link to a cached version of Preston’s website, which includes the following description of his activities related to Kremlin officials and the NRA:
Organized visit, participation and conference for Russian Government Officials to attend the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and meeting with the president of the NRA as part of a legislative project to grant Russian citizens the right to bear arms. Provided legal research and historical analysis to Russian Government Officials on the issue of granting Russian citizens the right to bear arms.
Details around exactly when and how Preston cultivated his relationship with Torshin are apparently sparse, but according to a Washington Post piece published in April of last year, Preston introduced then-NRA President David Keene to Torshin in 2011.
A year later, Rolling Stone provided a bit more detail in a lengthy piece entitled “Inside the Decade-Long Russian Campaign to Infiltrate the NRA and Help Elect Trump“. Here are two relevant excerpts:
By Torshin’s own account, his affiliation with the American gun lobby began around 2010, when he became a member of the NRA. His passion for firearms is genuine; Torshin counted Gen. Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the AK-47, as a friend, and has tweeted, “I love guns.” Nearly as soon as Torshin joined the NRA, he began targeting the gun lobby’s leadership, leaning on a friend, a Nashville lawyer named G. Kline Preston IV. “I’ve probably known him 10 years,” Preston says of Torshin. “He’s one of the finest people I know. He’s a very capable, intelligent, honest man, a very devout Orthodox Christian, very serious about his faith.”
Preston is a jovial Russophile. He studied abroad in Soviet Leningrad in the late Eighties on his way to an undergraduate degree in Russian language and literature. He has moonlighted as a vodka importer and a trader on the post-Soviet stock exchange. In 2006, Preston opened a sister law office in St. Petersburg, where his practice areas included “lobbying members of government bodies in the United States and the Russian Federation.” Torshin met Preston through mutual Russian contacts, and he invited the lawyer to speak to the Russian senate in 2009. “I’m very pro-Putin, honestly,” Preston says in a rich Southern drawl. “He’s been fantastic for Russia.”
Preston’s office is, according to Rolling Stone, decorated with a campaign banner from Putin’s 2012 election. Additionally, Russian nesting dolls are displayed on glass shelves along with other memorabilia and mementos.
Kyle Dean Reinford / The Tennessean
Preston told Rolling Stone that despite attending NRA meetings, he did not previously know Keene. Rather, Preston claims he randomly picked up the phone in order to make an introduction for Torshin.
I just called him out of the blue. I told him, ‘Hey, I got a friend who is interested in the NRA, gun rights, that kind of stuff. Happens to be a Russian senator.’
Right. Because that’s what one does when one is a lawyer – randomly call up the President of the NRA and, completely unprompted, say “Hey, I’ve got a friend from the Kremlin who likes guns and ‘that kind of stuff’, want to meet him?”
G. Kline Preston IV at his desk in Nashville, Kyle Dean Reinford / Washington Post
Anyway, it turns out Preston is also a “the South shall rise again” type. His tweets are now protected (see below), but here’s Rolling Stones’ account of some of the “better” things the Nashville lawyer has tweeted:
Preston’s protected Twitter account, as of July, 2018
Preston is also an “accomplished” author. If you’re interested in learning about how to bankroll a law degree by importing Ukrainian vodka, you can get yourself a Kindle copy of Preston’s The Art of Gittin’ Paid on Amazon for the “bargain” price of $9.99.
Your purchase will be a bit of a flyer though, as there’s only one review, penned by “Todd”, who thinks every human being on the planet should read it:
This book, like driver’s training in most states, is a prerequisite for life. It’s a short but powerful book every small business owner, entrepreneur and human for that matter needs to read. Great real world examples and easy to read. Extremely practical advice that has definitely helped me. Highly recommend The Art of Gittin Paid!
As an aside, “Todd” also recommends the “Kyocera Advanced Ceramic Grater” if what you’re looking to do is shave some ginger.
Reviews by “Todd”, via Amazon
As you can see from the image below, Preston amusingly describes his book as “the contemporary financial companion to Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War”. That makes sense because everyone knows Sun Tzu’s original title was The Art Of Gittin To Fightin’.
Those interested in a preview of what you’ll get for your $9.99 should check out the following screengrab of the introduction.
Excerpt from Amazon
One certainly imagines that Preston is going to be getting a lot more media coverage than he bargained for going forward commensurate with the progression of the Maria Butina case.
There’s also a connection here to conservative Marsha Blackburn, a congresswoman running for the retiring Bob Corker’s Senate seat. As the Tennessean details in the same linked post above, Preston has represented Blackburn in various legal proceedings dating back to at least 2005. “Preston’s wife, Tiffany, worked for the Blackburn campaign, earning $25,100 between 2004 and 2006 for administrative work,” the article goes on to note.
When the Tennessean contacted Preston seeking comment for the March article, he was in Moscow serving as an “independent election observer”. Asked about Blackburn, he said this:
We’re family friends. Long time. My spouse is friends with the Congresswoman and her daughter.
Well, according to Think Progress, it goes a little deeper than that. Consider, for instance, these excerpts from a piece published early last month:
But as documents obtained by ThinkProgress reveal, Blackburn was far closer to Preston than has previously been reported. Preston not only listed himself as the “Campaign Finance Chairman” for Blackburn, but additionally worked for years as the president of Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc.
According to information now removed from his website, Preston says he served as president for Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc. through at least 2014, with official documents showing the work beginning in 2003. During the same time period, he also introduced Alexander Torshin, a now-sanctioned Russian official accused of mafia ties and massive money laundering in Europe, to then-NRA President David Keene. For good measure, documents filed show that Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc., also listed Blackburn’s husband as the registered agent, and listed Blackburn’s address as its own.
You might be asking yourself: Does Trump support Marsha Blackburn?
You bet he does.
In fact, the President held a rally for Blackburn less than two months ago at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville. Here’s how that went, as recounted by Politico:
President Donald Trump stormed into Tennessee on Tuesday night to campaign for Rep. Marsha Blackburn in her bid for the Senate, with Republicans facing headwinds in the midterm elections this fall.
Trump invited Blackburn onstage in Nashville and pilloried her Democratic opponent, former Gov. Phil Bredesen — or, as Trump referred to him, “Phil whatever the hell his name is.”
“We need Republicans and we need to get out and vote for Marsha,” Trump told the crowd. “If you want your communities to be safe, if you want your schools to be safe, if you want your country to be safe, then you have to go out and get the Democrats the hell out of office.”
Asked by the Tennessean to elaborate on her relationship with Kline Preston, a spokeswoman for the Senate hopeful said this:
Congressman Blackburn believes Russia is not our friend – and thinks we need to treat Russia like any bully: we need to be strong enough to prevent them from pushing the United States and our allies around, and we need to draw firm lines and show them that America is not to be trifled with.
Thanks for that.
You can chase this as far down the rabbit hole as you care to go – clearly, it’s pretty deep – but coming back to Preston, the Daily Beast notes that he continues to press the pro-Russia message on various social media outlets, including Facebook where he liked a 2015 picture of Maria Butina posing with Torshin.