Maria Butina, accused in the United States of spying for Russia, had wider high-level contacts in Washington than previously known, taking part in 2015 meetings between a visiting Russian official and two senior U.S. officials.
The meetings, disclosed by several people familiar with the sessions and a report prepared by a Washington think tank that arranged them, involved Stanley Fischer, then Federal Reserve vice chairman, and Nathan Sheets, then Treasury undersecretary for international affairs.
Butina traveled to the United States in April 2015 with Alexander Torshin, then the Russian Central Bank deputy governor, and they took part in separate meetings with Fischer and Sheets to discuss U.S.-Russian economic relations during Democratic former President Barack Obama’s administration.
The meetings with Fischer and Sheets were arranged by the Center for the National Interest, a Washington foreign policy think tank that is supportive of efforts to improve U.S.-Russia relations. Paul Saunders, its executive director, in December 2016 urged then President-elect Donald Trump to ease tensions with Russia. In articles in its magazine, The National Interest, members of the think tank have also warned of the costs to the United States of confronting Russia or getting involved in Eurasian conflicts.
The meetings were documented in a Center for the National Interest report seen by Reuters that outlined its Russia-related activities from 2013 to 2015. The report described the meetings as helping bring together “leading figures from the financial institutions of the United States and Russia.”
Saunders, the think tank’s executive director, said Torshin spoke at an April 2015 event about the Russian banking system and Butina attended as Torshin’s interpreter. Saunders said people at the organization cannot recall details of Torshin’s presentation.
Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about the Center for the National Interest (CNI) hosting Donald Trump.
Here is a ProPublica piece entitled "Why Russian Spies Really Like American Universities."
Update from Politico on July 26: Spotted at the Center for the National Interest’s annual Distinguished Service Award Dinner honoring Secretary of Defense James Mattis last night at the Four Seasons Hotel: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Ret. Gen. Charles Boyd, Dimitri Simes, Paul Saunders, Dov Zakheim, Drew Gruff, Grover Norquist, Samah Norquist David Norquist, Suhail Khan, Jacob Heilbrunn and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.