Mariia Butina, the Russian graduate student and gun enthusiast indicted in July for acting as an unregistered foreign agent, pursued a plan to deliver a massive amount of jet fuel to the United States from Russia in cooperation with a former NRA president and his wife, a prominent lobbyist, the New York Times reported Sunday.
Butina’s boyfriend, the Republican strategist Paul Erickson, was also deeply involved in the attempted fuel shipment, which never bore any fruit.
“It might be a novel someday,” Erickson wrote at one point to the lobbyist, Donna Keene, per the Times. Keene’s husband is the former NRA president and influential conservative David Keene.
Butina’s lawyer told the Times the deal was “just further evidence that she wasn’t here on any mission on behalf of the Russian Federation. She was essentially operating on her own account.”
The Times, reporting on the attempted jet fuel deal based on interviews with people involved and “hundreds of pages of previously unreported emails,” noted that Butina, Erickson and the Keenes — in addition to “a pair of Pakistani-American businessmen, an Israeli-American salesman for a Virginia-based lawn care and sprinkler equipment company and a purported international fuel broker with no record of successful deals” — appeared to be in way over their collective heads.
Butina had no experience in the jet fuel business, the Times said, and Erickson wrote many of her emails to the Keenes for her.
The search for five million barrels of jet fuel — nearly double of the total amount exported monthly from all of Russia’s refineries, the Times noted — began when Donna Keene contacted Butina and offered $1 million if she could connect an unnamed buyer in the States with a Russian refinery who could supply the fuel.
Butina offered to connect the buyer with multiple smaller refineries rather than the Russian giant Gazprom, the Times reported, and pressed for $25,000 up front. That, apparently, would not work.
Two months later, Keene arranged for Erickson and Butina to meet a Virginian jet fuel broker named Roger Pol. Erickson would later say in an email that Pol “seems to lack any operating history in his own name or that of a company he controls.”
Butina kept trying, contacting Russians of all sorts in search of a source for the massive jet fuel order.
One final meeting arranged by Keene ended ironically: An unnamed person familiar with it said the potential partners Keene had provided “feared it was some kind of scam,” in the Times’ words, and reported Butina and Erickson to the FBI. The bureau, as it happened, was already tracking Butina.
Read the Times’ full coverage here.