This is an interesting development in the story of the alleged Russian spy who authorities say infiltrated the National Prayer Breakfast.
For some context, this summer, Maria Butina was arrested and charged with illegally operating in the United States as a foreign agent. Prosecutors say she was working with the Russian government to infiltrate conservative-leaning groups like the NRA and get close to leaders at meetings like the National Prayer Breakfast.
Essentially, they say, she was attempting to “establish a back channel of communication.” In a message she allegedly sent to a Russian politician in 2016 while she was connected to the National Prayer Breakfast, she said, “We made our bet. I am following our game. I will be connecting the people from the prayer breakfast to this group. … Yesterday’s dinner showed that American society is broken in relation to Russia. This is now the dividing line of opinions, the crucial one in the election race. [The Republicans] are for us, [Democrats] — against- 50/50. Our move here is very important.”
Prosecutors say this is among the evidence that she was infiltrating the groups to sway the election in favor of candidates the Russian government approved of. Later that year, she assures a Russia contact that they were able to secure seats for a handpicked delegation of Russians “to establish a back channel of communication” at the National Prayer Breakfast. After attending the Prayer Breakfast, she emailed one of the organizers, saying she had “important information,” and requested a meeting.
Butina and the Russians have denied the allegations.
National Prayer Breakfast Organizer Doug Burleigh was recently a guest at Tacoma’s “Good News Church,” where the lead pastor is originally from Russia. After the sermon, he was asked about Butina through an on-stage Russian translator, and he gave a somewhat strange response.
1. Uh, so Doug Burleigh, the de facto head of The Family — the amorphous group who runs the National Prayer Breakfast — confirms he was contacted/visited by both the FBI AND the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding his connection Russian Mariia Butina. https://t.co/IM7TldFeZR
— Jack Jenkins (@jackmjenkins) September 6, 2018
He says that she’s accused of being a Russian spy, but said she came to the Prayer Breakfast as a translator for a leading Russian parliament member.
He says that a few weeks ago, the FBI paid him a visit, saying “that’s not a good day.”
He says they began asking about Butina. He also said that he had to hand over emails related to Russia to the Senate Foreign Intelligence Committee. Then, things take an interesting turn.
He insists he has done nothing wrong, and says, “Everybody is welcome to the Prayer Breakfast,” even though he now knows Butina was arrested for being a spy who infiltrated the prayer meeting. He then compares the situation to Peter accepting Jesus even though he didn’t know Him. He then reiterates that everyone is welcomed to the prayer breakfast—again, even though he now knows Butina has been arrested for spying.
And even though he said he’s done nothing wrong, he says he has had to hire a lawyer and compares the personal trial to that of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the Old Testament, who were nearly killed for their faith.
You can see the video below: