Round-Up: Maria Butina’s Russian Fundraiser

— Round-up of news coverage re: Shooting the Messenger story about the Kremlin-backed company paying for Maria Butina’s legal expenses

Via “The Enigmatic Russian Paying Maria Butina’s Legal Bills” by Natasha Bertrand, The Atlantic, March 20, 2019:

Maria Butina, the first Russian to plead guilty to seeking to infiltrate and influence American policy makers in the run-up to the 2016 election, remains somewhat of a mystery. But her prosecution in Washington, D.C., last year shed light on yet another avenue through which Russia tried to influence American politics in 2016: namely, via an old-fashioned, on-the-ground operation, conducted not by experienced spies but by disarming political operatives. New revelations about Butina’s legal-defense fund in Russia shows that one of her backers has been trying to promote fringe separatist movements in the U.S. since well before 2016.

In 2018, Alexander Ionov, the founder of the NGO, called the Anti-Globalization Movement, began raising money for Butina through a fundraising website that says all proceeds will be “used to finance legal protection and to improve the conditions of Maria’s detention in prison.” The website was first discovered by freelance journalist Dean Sterling Jones. To date, Ionov has raised about 2 million rubles (approximately $30,000) to help pay her legal fees, he told me in a recent interview. The Russian embassy, which has been advocating for Butina’s release, did not return a request for comment.

Click here to read the full story.

Via “New Details Revealed About a Mysterious Russian Who Funds Maria Butina’s Defense” by Tana Ganeva, Raw Story, March 20, 2019:

Maria Butina, the Russian woman who’s alleged to have infiltrated gun rights and conservative circles to sway the outcome of the 2016 election, is still in custody awaiting her sentencing. She’s been in jail since July. According the Washington Post, Butina is cooperating with authorities

Ionov is raising money for Butina’s defense through a group called the Anti-Globalization Movement. The website, peppered with glossy photos of Butina, purports to tell “Maria’s story.”

“Help me change my situation,” it reads in Russian.  Freelance journalist Dean Sterling Jones first unearthed the site and detailed Ionov’s history and potential Kremlin ties.

Writing on his blog Shooting the Messenger, Jones observes that the group that’s hosting the site for Butina’s legal bills got a Russian presidential grant of 3.5 million rubles (approximately $53,000) to bring members of Texas and California secessionist groups to a Russian conference in September of 2016.

Click here to read the full story.

Investigate Russia and Law & Crime also picked up the story.

Update, via “Here are all the Russian interference efforts that didn’t make it into Barr’s letter” by Casey Michel, ThinkProgress, March 27, 2019:

Special counsel Robert Mueller may not have found the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, but plenty of Americans — wittingly or otherwise — have helped Moscow’s election meddling efforts in recent years. Secessionists, Jill Stein and her campaign, and members of groups organized around gun rights and far-right Christian movements have spent the past few years cultivating ties with those close to the Kremlin and using their platforms to promote Russia-friendly ideas.

None of these groups were mentioned by Attorney General William Barr, who issued a letter on Sunday confirming that Russia conducted coordinated campaigns to interfere in America’s elections…

Russian cultivation of American secessionists — for example, groups who look back fondly on the days of the Confederacy or advocate for states separating from the U.S. to form their own country — date back to at least 2014, in the midst of the Kremlin’s attempts to disintegrate Ukraine. Multiple conferences held in Moscow in 2015 and 2016 brought separatists from places like Hawaii and Puerto Rico to Russia, gathering supporters with other secessionists from Italy and Spain. They were hosted and feted by Alexander Ionov, the head of an organization called the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR)…

Ionov, meanwhile, has been busy. Not only has be apparently gained more cachet in Moscow — he recently had a meeting with the Venezuelan ambassador — but as journalist Dean Sterling Jones recently uncovered, he’s been helping raise money for Russian agent Maria Butina.

SCOOP: Maria Butina’s Russian Fundraiser Hosted and Boasted U.S. Separatists Prior to 2016 Election

— The Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia was paid by the Kremlin to fly Texas and California separatists to Moscow in September 2016

Maria Butina (source)

Maria Butina’s legal defense fund is being handled by a Kremlin-backed Russian company that hosted and boasted U.S. separatist groups shortly before the 2016 presidential election.

The Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR), which is accepting donations on Butina’s behalf through a fundraising website set up last year by her lawyers, received a Russian presidential grant of 3.5 million rubles (approximately $53,000) to fly the leaders of Texas and California secessionist movements to Moscow for a sovereign nation-building conference in September 2016.

The second annual Dialogue of Nations conference, financed by a charity overseen by Russian President Vladimir Putin, brought together representatives from around a dozen self-styled national liberation movements including Nate Smith, executive director of the neo-confederate Texas Nationalist Movement (TNM), and Louis J. Marinelli, co-founder of the Yes California Independence Campaign.

“[AGMR] supports the full sovereignty of nation-states including the sovereignty of Russia as an independent player on the political, economic and cultural world stage,” reads AGMR’s mission statement. “The movement aims to promote all aspects of the national security and traditional moral values. It opposes the attempts to impose a ‘new world order’ and the disastrous unification, which might result in the emergence of a single mega-totalitarian world state.”

The exact history of AGMR’s involvement with Butina—who in December pleaded guilty to engaging in a Kremlin-backed conspiracy to infiltrate prominent conservative groups in America—is unclear. But according to domain registration records, AGMR began its fundraising efforts in October with the launch of MariaButinaFund.ru, a Russian language mirror of Butina’s U.S. fundraising site, MariaButinaFund.com, launched two months earlier.

“The Maria Butina Foundation was created by her lawyers to collect donations in order to ensure her best possible protection in court,” reads a message on the Russian version of the site, which includes payment details for AGMR’s Alfa Bank account in Moscow.

Butina’s lawyer Robert Driscoll, listed as the fund’s co-founder, declined to comment for this item.

Gregory M. Wade, an Alexandria, VA-based bankruptcy attorney listed as the administrator of both sites, did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

AGMR was founded in 2012 by Alexander Ionov, a prolific Russian lawyer and businessman whose “work to strengthen friendship between peoples” has been commended by Putin himself. Ionov denies working at the behest of the Kremlin. However, a close look at his various pursuits, including a prominent position on the public council of Moscow’s interior ministry, suggests they enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship.

Alexander Ionov (source)

Ionov’s involvement with TNM and Yes California, for instance, came shortly after both groups were reportedly approached by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA), better known as the Russian troll factory, to participate in a series of anti-Hillary Clinton rallies. Yes California later relocated its headquarters to AGMR’s offices in Moscow.

In 2017, Ionov represented Russian hackers Pyotr Levashov and Stanislav Lisov against claims by Spanish security services that they’d used fake social media accounts to promote Catalonia’s independence from Spain, a cause both AGMR and the IRA have also actively helped to promote. The pair were later extradited to the U.S. where they pleaded guilty to various cyber crimes.

In December, Ionov even attempted to visit Paul Whelan, the U.S. citizen currently being detained in Moscow on spying charges. Experts in Russian politics, including former CIA officer John Sipher, believe Whelan was arrested in retaliation for Butina’s prosecution in the U.S., claims denied by Putin’s spokesperson.

Ionov’s other connections to Butina include Vladimir Ovsyannikov and Roman Khudyakov, high-ranking State Duma officials who helped support Butina’s gun rights group, the Right to Bear Arms (RTBA). The two men currently work under Ionov at his private contracting firm Ionov Transcontinental (IT), which provides a range of legal, financial and security services, as well as helping to facilitate business relationships between foreign clients and Russian government agencies.

Ovsyannikov, IT’s Vice President for Government Relations, became involved with RTBA in 2013 after giving a speech at one of its rallies. Khudyakov, IT’s Vice President and a former Russian presidential candidate, joined the group that same year in an initiation ceremony along with: Alexander Torshin, the former Central Bank governor who allegedly directed Butina’s activities in the U.S.; and David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association, one of many prominent conservative groups Torshin allegedly used to gain access to Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign.

When prosecutors indicted Butina last July, alleging, among other things, that she had traded sex for political access, Khudyakhov quickly rushed to her defense.

“She was friends with many men, with me, with other men, with men from all over the world,” he told Agence France-Presse.

Prosecutors later retracted the allegation.

Recently, Ionov himself has come out in support of Butina, describing her in an interview with Voice of America (which did not disclose their affiliation) as a “human rights activist…who did not (collaborate) with Russian state bodies.”

Ionov did not reply to multiple requests to comment for this story.

Butina is currently awaiting sentencing. To date, she has raised approximately $16,700 towards the cost of her legal fees, but still owes her lawyers $610,000, according to a recent interview with her father, Valery Butin.

Bad Fan Fiction (Redux)

— Prior to suing HBO, Michael Jackson’s estate hired a takedown lawyer to scrub erotic fan fiction from the web

source

Michael Jackson’s estate is suing HBO for $100m over the tell-all documentary Leaving Neverland.

The documentary, containing graphic allegations that the late singer sexually abused two young boys during the late 80s and early 90s, has caused outrage on all sides, from boycotts of Jackson’s music to counter-boycotts of the film by die-hard fans. Yet despite their steadfast devotion, recently it was the fans themselves being pursued by Jackson’s legal team.

Prior to the release of the documentary in January, Jackson’s estate hired notorious British takedown lawyer John Giacobbi, better known as “Web Sheriff,” to scrub Jackson fan erotica from the Internet. Giacobbi’s campaign, which took place over the period of a year between January 2017 and March 2018, sought to eradicate countless erotic descriptions and photoshopped images of Jackson from Google’s blogging platform.

John Giacobbi aka “Web Sheriff” (source)

In order to successfully remove the offending content, described as belonging to a subculture of “libellous innuendo” and “obscene and malicious falsehoods,” Giacobbi sent Google approximately 70 run-on, barely intelligible complaints, citing everything from the U.S. Digital Millenium Copyright Act to European privacy laws to United Nations anti-money laundering regulations.

Here’s a typical example of Giacobbi’s work courtesy of the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests:

WEB SHERIFF® Creative Protection™ Incorporating Entertainment Law Associates™ Tel : +44(0)208-323 8013 (UK) / / +1-424-238 4551 (LA) / +1-212-601 2723 (NY) Fax : +44(0)208-323 8080 (UK) / +1-434-238 4301 (LA) / +1-212-601 2601 (NY) websheriff@websheriff.com http://www.websheriff.com NOTIFICATION Pursuant to (as applicable) DIGITAL MILLENIUM COPYRIGHT ACT (COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT NOTICE) EUROPEAN UNION COPYRIGHT DIRECTIVE (COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT NOTICE) FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION E-COMMERCE REGULATIONS (VIOLATION OF CONSUMER PROTECTION REGULATIONS) EUROPEAN UNION E-COMMERCE DIRECTIVE (VIOLATION OF CONSUMER PROTECTION REGULATIONS) CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS (INVASION OF PRIVACY NOTICE) UNITED NATIONS ANTI MONEY LAUNDERING CONVENTION (PROCEEDS OF ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES NOTICE) INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION ON CYBER CRIME (PROCEEDS OF ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES NOTICE) – and – NOTICE OF BREACH OF ISP’S / HOST’S PUBLISHED TERMS OF SERVICE NOTICE OF BREACH OF WEB-SITE’S PUBLISHED TERMS OF SERVICE PORNOGRAPHY NOTICE *** PORNOGRAPHY ADVISORY – For the avoidance of doubt, the published images that are the subject of this complaint comprise, inter alia, images and artwork of our relevant client / principal that comprise pornography and defame our said client’s / principal’s legacy and, as such, any publication and / or broadcast and / or distribution of such images / pornography is a gross violation of our client’s / principal’s legacy and the rights of the Estate (and on a web-site that has no age or content warning). Additionally, the published images / pornography in question are featured in direct juxtaposition and conjunction with unauthorized and unendorsed advertising for third party goods and services, which de facto ‘product endorsements’ are entirely bogus and constitute infringements of our client’s / principal’s right-of-publicity, goodwill and all other pertinent rights of an intellectual property nature. Such activities also blatantly contravene and violate Federal, European Union and international consumer protection laws and Human Rights legislation and treaties. 

And so on.

It’s unclear why Jackson’s estate was moved to hire Giacobbi, as the offending blogs have since been deleted by Google. But as I documented in a previous post, one of the now-deleted blogs, titled MJ Fan Fictions, included “semi-erotic adventures” involving the blog’s owner, Trinette Rani Johnson, and Jackson’s character Daryl from the Bad music video.

Head of Russian Propaganda Site USA Really Calls It Quits

— Alexander Malkevich and his website USA Really were sanctioned for “attempted election interference” last year

Alexander Malkevich (source)

Alexander Malkevich, founder and Editor-in-Chief of Russian propaganda website USA Really, has quit the project after he and his site were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in December.

Malkevich, who currently leads Russia’s Civic Chamber of Mass Media, from which he advises the Kremlin on media policy, said he left USA Really at the end of last month to focus on his work in Russia, including writing “several books” on U.S. elections.

“I decided to turn into my numerous projects in the field of civil society both in Russia and abroad,” Malkevich explained in an e-mail. “I have also plan to write and publish several books about the US elections and about the history of elections in the Russian Federation. This year I also have to finish my doctoral dissertation in the political sciences so I have too much work and I don’t have time enough for the USA really.

“I would like to mention that Leo Savin [a Russian political analyst and former editor of pro-Putin think tank Katehon] will be the next face of this media outlet,” he added.

USA Really HQ (source)

Malkevich’s exit comes just a few months after U.S. prosecutors accused USA Really’s parent company, the Federal News Agency (FAN), of being involved in Project Lakhta, a Kremlin-backed, multi-million dollar social media disinformation campaign allegedly intended to “sow discord in the U.S. political system.”

USA Really’s alleged role in the campaign included “efforts to post content focused on divisive political issues,” according to a statement by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). “In June 2018, USA Really attempted to hold a political rally in the United States, though its efforts were unsuccessful.”

In November, Malkevich was briefly detained by the F.B.I. during a trip to the U.S. as “a public observer” of the midterm elections. During that same trip, he gatecrashed an election night party at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where he later claimed he was physically accosted by celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti’s entourage.

“This never happened and I don’t travel with an entourage,” Avenatti told Shooting the Messenger. “Putin must be so proud of this nonsense.”

Michael Avenatti with Alexander Malkevich (source)

Since December, USA Really has faced a number of setbacks after the Treasury Department prohibited U.S. individuals and businesses from transacting with the site.

In January, the site’s security certificate and PayPal account were revoked, restricting its ability to operate and do business within the U.S. Last month, Google followed suit and yanked the site’s analytics account, blocking its ability to access reporting data on its readers.

The sanctions also appeared to take their toll on USA Really’s American contributors, at least three of whom have since left the site, fearing possible legal repercussions. OFAC guidelines state that “fines for [violating sanctions] can be substantial” and “in many cases, civil and criminal penalties can exceed several million dollars.”

Despite those setbacks, Malkevich appeared resolute in comments last month to The Daily Beast, describing the sanctions as a “WITCH HUNT” and insisting that “ALL ANERICANS [sic] CAN WRITE ANYTHING FOR US.”

USA Really did not reply to a request for comment regarding Malkevich’s exit from the site.

Shooting the Messenger has followed USA Really since April last year, and in June scooped Malkevich’s involvement in the site.

Via POTUS Press Pool with Julie Mason, Sirius XM, April 19, 2018:

For those of you who are looking for a job, there’s a Russian troll farm that’s recruiting English-speaking journalists. Uh, you know, need a few extra bucks? It’s called the Federal News Agency, whichFederal News Agency used to be the name of, like, a transcription service here in Washington DC, so when I first saw that I was, like, “wait, what?” Anyway, Federal News Agency, a pro-Russian website linked to the Internet Research Agency, has been recruiting English-speaking journalists to work on its “Wake Up, America!” campaign. This is according to Shooting the Messenger. Here’s the adI’m going to read aloud from the ad:

“Due to the growing political censorship imposed by the United States, there remains less and less of information sources that are not under control of the U.S. authorities. In this regard, U.S. citizens cannot receive objective and independent information about events occurring on the territory of America and throughout the world.”

What!? Come on. “Under control of U.S. authorities”—Russia, come on, be smarter than that. Be smarter than a Russian troll, Russia. Anyway, so they are hiring. If you dream of working for a Russian troll farm, you can check it out.

Via “New Russian Media Venture Wants to Wage ‘Information War’ in Washington, D.C.” by Lachlan Markay, The Daily Beast, June 10, 2018:

A Russian government adviser who aims to wage an “information war” in the U.S. and Europe is running a new media venture a block from the White House that cybersecurity experts say has ties to the country’s infamous disinformation apparatus.

In April, Russia’s Federal News Agency (FAN) announced the creation of an American outlet called “USA Really.” Its website and accompanying social media pages sprang up in May and quickly began promoting a mid-June rally to be held in front of the White House in protest of “growing political censorship… aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation…”

USA Really’s “flash mob” protest was initially scheduled for June 14, in what it says was a recognition of Flag Day and President Donald Trump’s birthday. But rather than applying for a rally protest with D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), which oversees such events, it asked the city’s film and television office for a film permit, the type that movie studios obtain before taping scenes on D.C. streets.

The FAN posted a copy of an email from the film office, which referred USA Really to the MPD. “Your permit application is denied,” the email read, “since we’ve determined that this is a rally more so than a filming…”

MPD told Dean Sterling Jones, [an] investigative writer who’s followed the USA Really case for weeks and first reported Malkevich’s involvement, that it had received no requests for a rally permit from the group.