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How Mark Sanford met Maria Butina

Rep. Mark Sanford, the South Carolina Republican and frequent critic of President Donald Trump, had his own run-in wi...

Posted: Jul 23, 2018 10:44 AM
Updated: Jul 23, 2018 10:44 AM

Rep. Mark Sanford, the South Carolina Republican and frequent critic of President Donald Trump, had his own run-in with accused Russian spy Maria Butina at his family farm last year.

Butina and her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, were two of roughly 300 guests attending a post-Thanksgiving barbeque last year that Sanford holds annually at his farm roughly an hour outside of Charleston, South Carolina.

Butina was charged this week with acting as a covert Russian agent in the US, conspiring with a Russian official and allegedly using sex and deception to build her network and expand her influence. Her efforts, according to prosecutors, were aided by an American political operative who helped her gain access to US political organizations and politicians. That person is not identified in court filings but the activities and description match Erickson, who has been involved in a years-long romantic relationship with Butina. Erickson has not faced charges in relation to Butina's case.

But to Sanford, Butina was the girlfriend of his business-school classmate who was trying to start the equivalent of the National Rifle Association in Russia.

"I did meet her, a few interactions were pleasant," Sanford told CNN in an interview. "It's the girlfriend of a guy I've known for 30 years. She seemed nice enough."

Sanford's run-in with Butina highlights the surprise felt from many around Washington when the charges against Butina -- and the involvement of Erickson -- were revealed this week.

Sanford said he met Erickson 30 years ago when they were both students at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. It was a relatively small school, he said, and he's stayed in touch with classmates there, including Erickson.

When he returned to Congress in 2013, Sanford said he saw more of Erickson, and he invited his classmate last year to attend his post-Thanksgiving celebration at his farm when he learned Erickson wasn't returning home to South Dakota.

"We always have a big crowd at our farm for Thanksgiving, sort of a family-plus event, and so I invited him to come down," Sanford said. "He brought his girlfriend."

Sanford said he remembers meeting Butina, though the conversation was light and not serious.

"He said she was starting an NRA equivalent in Russia," Sanford said, joking it sounded like an "oxymoron" for Russia.

The group Butina created in 2011 was the nonprofit organization "Right to Bear Arms" in Moscow, through which she most likely met Alexander Torshin, who CNN has learned is the Russian official prosecutors say Butina conspired with.

The group attempted to ease the Russian laws on gun ownership, without much success, and Torshin became one of the highest-profile supporters of this initiative.

"Right to Bear Arms" fizzled out around the same time Butina started frequently traveling to the United States in 2014. A former manager of the group told CNN earlier this year they've ceased almost all activities and do not have financial means to promote their cause anymore.

Sanford said that he, like others, was surprised to see Butina's name and picture in the news this week being charged with acting as a foreign agent for Russia.

"It wouldn't be what one would have surmised as to who's somebody's girlfriend is," he said.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 610839

Reported Deaths: 7749
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1266401800
Ramsey53172911
Dakota47328475
Anoka43323465
Washington27717296
Stearns22703227
St. Louis18297319
Scott17719139
Wright16561153
Olmsted13549103
Sherburne1215696
Carver1075749
Clay829692
Rice8261111
Blue Earth771944
Crow Wing689599
Kandiyohi670885
Chisago627654
Otter Tail591187
Benton586698
Goodhue486174
Douglas479281
Mower478233
Winona464652
Itasca463168
Isanti446667
McLeod435161
Morrison428462
Beltrami410763
Nobles410150
Steele401419
Polk390772
Becker389457
Lyon365554
Carlton356958
Freeborn352134
Pine337823
Nicollet334545
Mille Lacs315456
Brown308840
Le Sueur300127
Cass288633
Todd288633
Meeker266244
Waseca241023
Martin237233
Roseau212421
Wabasha20843
Hubbard198341
Dodge19023
Renville183946
Redwood178541
Houston175916
Cottonwood168224
Wadena165223
Fillmore159710
Faribault157220
Chippewa154138
Pennington153920
Kanabec148028
Sibley147410
Aitkin139437
Watonwan13629
Rock129219
Jackson123112
Pipestone117226
Yellow Medicine115420
Pope11406
Swift107618
Murray107410
Koochiching96819
Stevens92611
Clearwater89317
Marshall88917
Lake84520
Wilkin84013
Lac qui Parle76122
Big Stone6094
Grant5958
Lincoln5863
Mahnomen5669
Norman5509
Kittson49122
Unassigned48793
Red Lake4037
Traverse3835
Lake of the Woods3484
Cook1740

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 374664

Reported Deaths: 6109
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58891646
Linn21448342
Scott20426250
Black Hawk16680319
Woodbury15319230
Johnson1473686
Dubuque13595213
Dallas1144099
Pottawattamie11307177
Story1082848
Warren592092
Clinton564393
Cerro Gordo562297
Webster538996
Sioux519174
Muscatine4920106
Marshall491479
Des Moines478275
Jasper452073
Wapello4366123
Buena Vista431040
Plymouth404982
Lee392658
Marion369177
Jones301257
Henry301037
Bremer292763
Carroll286252
Boone271234
Crawford270841
Benton262755
Washington259851
Dickinson250745
Mahaska232551
Jackson225842
Kossuth219166
Clay217327
Tama213372
Delaware211743
Winneshiek200636
Buchanan196734
Page195422
Cedar192923
Hardin191144
Wright189140
Fayette188243
Hamilton186851
Harrison181973
Clayton173057
Butler167835
Madison167719
Floyd164642
Mills163824
Cherokee161538
Lyon160941
Poweshiek159036
Allamakee155552
Hancock153134
Iowa148324
Winnebago145731
Calhoun143113
Cass140855
Grundy139333
Emmet136741
Jefferson134535
Sac132620
Shelby131838
Louisa130249
Union129535
Appanoose128049
Franklin127823
Mitchell127243
Chickasaw125717
Guthrie124532
Humboldt124526
Palo Alto114924
Montgomery106738
Howard105322
Clarke102424
Monroe100633
Keokuk99932
Ida92735
Adair89632
Davis86825
Pocahontas86822
Monona85931
Greene79111
Osceola79017
Lucas77423
Worth7568
Taylor67112
Decatur6629
Fremont64810
Ringgold56824
Van Buren56718
Wayne56323
Audubon52913
Adams3494
Unassigned90
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