When federal prosecutors charged Maria Butina with infiltrating the conservative movement on behalf of the Kremlin, questions began to swirl around a Washington think tank that had published her pro-GOP writing—and hosted then-candidate Donald Trump’s Russia-friendly first foreign-policy speech.
The executive director of the organization, the Center for the National Interest, insisted that its interaction with Butina was “very limited.”
But previously unreported emails and direct messages between Butina and officials at the Center show her relationship with the think tank’s president—former Richard Nixon adviser Dimitri Simes—was closer than previously understood. The two didn’t just make plans to have dinner together. According to emails and Twitter DMs reviewed by The Daily Beast, Simes looked to use his connections with Butina and her associate, Russian Central Bank official Alexandr Torshin, to advance the business interests of one of the Center’s most generous donors.
These communications indicate that Simes tried to connect a top benefactor of his organization and one of the most powerful officials in the Kremlin.
The meeting never happened. But if anyone could have pulled it off, it might have been the Moscow-born Simes. A fixture of the D.C. foreign policy establishment, he worked at some of Washington’s most prestigious institutions—including the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies—before being selected by Richard Nixon to lead the Center for National Interest. Simes is widely viewed as one of the Washingtonians with the closest Kremlin connections. And his think tank argues for foreign policy realism, including warmer relations between Washington and Moscow.
Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post about Butina's ties to the Center for the National Interest.
Update: Daily Beat is now reporting that Dimitri Simes had early access to Trump's pro-Russia speech.