Democrats sound the alarm over Bolton's ties to NRA-linked Russian spy


Top Democrats want to know if national security adviser John Bolton disclosed his work with alleged Russian spy Maria Butina on his security clearance application.

Top Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee want to know if Trump's national security adviser John Bolton disclosed his connections to Maria Butina, an alleged Russian spy with close ties to the NRA, prior to being appointed to a top position in the Trump White House.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee's ranking Democrat, and Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the panel’s national security subcommittee, wrote a letter Monday urging chief of staff John Kelly to turn over records that would reveal whether Bolton reported his work with Butina on his security clearance application or any other vetting documents.

Butina, a Russian citizen living in the U.S., was arrested last month and accused of infiltrating U.S. political groups, including the NRA, on behalf of the Russian government. According to an FBI affidavit, Butina worked as an agent of Russian banker and Putin ally Alexander Torshin "to advance Moscow’s long-term strategic objectives in the United States, in part, by establishing relationships with American political organizations, including [the NRA]."

In the letter, Cummings and Lynch cite a 2013 video showing Bolton — a former NRA official — appearing alongside Butina at a roundtable discussion about gun rights that was reportedly sponsored by the Russian organization Right to Bear Arms. During the discussion, Bolton expressed his support for amending the Russian constitution to broaden gun rights and offered his "encouragement" as Russia considered "embracing that freedom."

As NPR reported in March, "The Bolton video appears to be another plank in a bridge built by Russia to conservative political organizations inside the United States."

Citing that video as evidence that Bolton "worked directly with a Russian citizen who has now been charged by federal prosecutors with ... spying against the United States for years," the lawmakers pressed Kelly to produce records pertaining to Bolton's security clearance, as well any other related documents reviewed by the White House before appointing him as national security adviser.

"Given the alarming and unprecedented nature of these revelations — and the high-level position of trust Mr. Bolton now holds — we request that you produce documents relating to whether Mr. Bolton reported his previous work with this alleged Russian spy on his security clearance forms or other White House vetting materials prior to President Trump appointing him to his current position," the lawmakers wrote.

The congressmen voiced their concerns about the "widespread failures by the Trump White House to adequately vet top national security officials for their Russian contacts," noting that Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, lied about his contacts with Russian officials.

As the lawmakers wrote in the letter, Trump failed to take action to suspend Flynn's security clearance, even after the White House was notified that Flynn was under criminal investigation for lying about his communications with Russian officials. Flynn later pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

And he isn't the only top White House officials with a problematic history of concealing information on security clearance forms.

Jared Kushner failed to disclose a slew of contacts with foreign officials on his application, including meetings with Kislyak and Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who promised to deliver "dirt" on Hillary Clinton to help the Trump campaign.

Other top White House aides, like Rob Porter, have been granted access to sensitive information despite being in a position to be blackmailed.

As Cummings and Lynch explain, anyone seeking security clearance "must provide a wide range of information about their contacts with foreign citizens, foreign business and professional activities, foreign government contacts, and any advice they provided or consultancy arrangements they had with foreign entities."

Clearly, Bolton's work with Butina should have been reported as part of this process — and now Democrats want to see if he actually disclosed this information.

If he did disclose these ties, that would raise serious questions about how someone who worked closely with an alleged Russian spy made it through the White House vetting process. If he didn't disclose his work with Butina, that would raise serious questions about how another person who lied about their contacts with Russian officials made it through the White House vetting process to become Trump's national security adviser.

The request for information pertaining to Bolton's security clearance comes amid an uproar over Trump's politically motivated decision to revoke the clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan and threaten to strip clearances from a laundry list of other top officials associated with the Russia investigation.

It also comes just weeks after Senate Democrats requested records from the Treasury Department pertaining to financial ties between Butina and the NRA. Previous reports from congressional investigators suggest that the NRA could have been used to funnel illegal donations from Russia to support the Trump campaign.

Butina has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to act and failing to register as an agent of a foreign government. The charges against her allege that she secretly acted to advance Russian interests by cultivating relationships with influential groups, including the NRA, and individuals close to the Republican party.

The very idea that an acting national security adviser worked with an alleged Russian spy within the past five years would likely be grounds for immediate revocation of security clearance in any other presidential administration. But in the Trump administration, it seems that inappropriate contact with Russian officials is an asset, not a liability.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.