Thursday, July 19, 2018

Valuable Commentary on National Prayer Breakfast and Treasonous Behavior of GOP Leaders: "#Nationalprayerbreakfast Is All Over the Affidavit for Russian Spy Maria Butina"

I'm pleased to see that the important thread I identified three days ago in the unfolding story of the treasonous activities of top Republican leaders — the centrality of the National "Prayer" Breakfast to the story — is receiving a lot of media attention. Here's commentary I'd like to share with you:

In the run-up to the 2016 election, the passion for Russian values among America's religious extremists grew still more ardent. In 2013, Bryan Fischer, then a spokesman for the American Family Association, called Mr. Putin a "lion of Christianity." In 2014, Franklin Graham — the politically influential evangelist and vocal Trump supporter — defended Mr. Putin for his efforts "to protect his nation's children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda," even as he lamented that Americans have "abdicated our moral leadership." In December 2015, Mr. Graham met privately with Mr. Putin for 45 minutes. 
Although the religious right's affection for Mr. Putin appears to center on a shared disgust with "the homosexual agenda" and other so-called family issues, it is impossible to overlook the attraction that the Russian leader's authoritarian style has for his American admirers. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mike Pence hailed Mr. Putin as "a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country."

What people don't understand about the National Prayer Breakfast, is it's not a government event," Sharlet explained. "It's run by a private, sectarian, fundamentalist organiz[ation] called The Fellowship and The Family that believes in precisely this kind of action. In fact, the long-time leader of the organization has called it quiet diplomacy, back channel, back door interactions between international leaders, that they use the prayer breakfast to bring them together. As recently as a year ago, the current leader, Doug Burleigh, was predicting alliance between [President Donald] Trump and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. He predicted that that at a Russian prayer breakfast."

Isaac Chotiner, "The Most Explosive Revelation From the Charges Against Mariia Butina," interviewing Renato Mariotti, who makes the following statements: 

[There is] one paragraph [in the indictment against her[ about her being involved in securing a very private line of communication between the Kremlin and the GOP through the NRA. That's pretty explosive. It is very interesting that once Trump is elected, she suddenly adds, to a National Prayer Breakfast organizer, that she had "important information for you to further this new relationship." What is the information that she is conveying to this person? What's interesting and missing from here is what, if anything, the Americans are saying about their contacts with her. You certainly can understand now why the NRA has criminal counsel. You have to imagine that the National Prayer Breakfast folks have their own counsel as well. This could be the beginning of an investigation that could ensnare Americans.

Tara Isabella Burton, "How the National Prayer Breakfast plays into the indictment of an alleged Russian spy," interviewing Jeff Sharlet, who makes the following statements: 

The Family uses it [the National "Prayer" Breakfast] as the centerpiece — the one public event they do in the year. But it's only one-tenth of 1 percent of the iceberg [of their work]. As they describe it, it is a recruiting device to bring those whom they are interested in into what they describe as prayer cells, where they meet. And I’m quoting here [from Family documents]: where "you meet Jesus, man to man." Meanwhile, around the prayer breakfast — which is just one event on the first Thursday of February — is a week-long lobbying festival. 
You get the oil industry hosting events. You get defense contractors hosting events. So you look at the list of foreign leaders who are coming again and again from around the world. They're there for access to American power; they're there to cut deals. 
Michael Cromartie, a longtime conservative religious leader in Washington and no lefty, was critical of their lack of transparency. He says, "Look, I'm sure people use this to gain entrΓ©e. And entrΓ©e they do get." 
[Another source says] the National Prayer Breakfast is used by the Family to circumvent the State Department. They are arranging meetings with a real who's who of nasty figures — the kind of government leaders from foreign nations who might not otherwise have access to American power but [who] the Family, in pursuit of their strongman vision of Jesus, thinks are actually anointed by God for leadership.

According to the affidavit, Butina intended to use the 2017 prayer breakfast as a way to gather a group of influential Russians in the U.S. to "establish a back channel of communication” with Americans. She allegedly described the list of Russian attendees to the prayer breakfast as “populated by important political advisors to Russian President (Vladimir) Putin, university presidents, mayors, and substantial private businessmen." 
She also reportedly discussed with a colleague the possibility of bringing Putin to meet President Trump at the event, although that meeting did not ultimately occur. 
Using a religious event to broker unsanctioned political communication may seem like an unorthodox ploy. But evidence suggests sustained links between Russian officials and the National Prayer Breakfast that potentially opened the gathering up to exploitation.

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) revealed Tuesday that Republicans shut down any demands by Democrats to question Maria Butina, who was indicted Tuesday by federal prosecutors.

For additional pieces of commentary on these matters, see this subsequent posting adding to the articles cited above. 

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