Monday September 2, 2019
Much has been written about Maria Butina, the Russian “spy” who was accused of seeking to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and other organizations to try to gain a foothold in the Trump campaign and, later, in the White House. Much of it turned out to be nonsense. Butina wasn’t a spy. She wasn’t charged with spying. She wasn’t accused of being a spy. But that’s how the media branded her. The important thing is that there actually were spies around her. And they weren’t who you might have thought.
In the Butina case, the FBI and the Justice Department needed a scalp in the midst of the frenzy about the ultimaely unproven collusion theory of “Russiagate,” and so Butina was charged and convicted of “conspiracy to fail to register as an agent of a foreign government.” Seriously. Let me explain what that means. The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) was passed into law in 1938. It “requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts, and disbursements in support of those activities.” The law, the registration, and the database are meant to keep track of foreign lobbyists. Nothing more.
In realistic terms it means this: In 2008, I was hired by the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce to write a series of op-eds in support of doing business in the city. I wrote four op-eds and they paid me a fee. But I had to go to the Justice Department’s FARA website and register as a “foreign agent,” meaning that I was being paid by a foreign government. No problem. It didn’t mean that I was a “secret agent” for Abu Dhabi. It just meant that I was temporarily in the employ of a foreign government.