BREAKING NEWS : Man in critical condition after shooting in Fort Wayne Full Story

How Mark Sanford met Maria Butina

Rep. Mark Sanford, the South Carolina Republican and frequent critic of President Donald Trump, had his own run-in wi...

Posted: Jul 23, 2018 11:44 AM
Updated: Jul 23, 2018 11:44 AM

Rep. Mark Sanford, the South Carolina Republican and frequent critic of President Donald Trump, had his own run-in with accused Russian spy Maria Butina at his family farm last year.

Butina and her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, were two of roughly 300 guests attending a post-Thanksgiving barbeque last year that Sanford holds annually at his farm roughly an hour outside of Charleston, South Carolina.

Butina was charged this week with acting as a covert Russian agent in the US, conspiring with a Russian official and allegedly using sex and deception to build her network and expand her influence. Her efforts, according to prosecutors, were aided by an American political operative who helped her gain access to US political organizations and politicians. That person is not identified in court filings but the activities and description match Erickson, who has been involved in a years-long romantic relationship with Butina. Erickson has not faced charges in relation to Butina's case.

But to Sanford, Butina was the girlfriend of his business-school classmate who was trying to start the equivalent of the National Rifle Association in Russia.

"I did meet her, a few interactions were pleasant," Sanford told CNN in an interview. "It's the girlfriend of a guy I've known for 30 years. She seemed nice enough."

Sanford's run-in with Butina highlights the surprise felt from many around Washington when the charges against Butina -- and the involvement of Erickson -- were revealed this week.

Sanford said he met Erickson 30 years ago when they were both students at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. It was a relatively small school, he said, and he's stayed in touch with classmates there, including Erickson.

When he returned to Congress in 2013, Sanford said he saw more of Erickson, and he invited his classmate last year to attend his post-Thanksgiving celebration at his farm when he learned Erickson wasn't returning home to South Dakota.

"We always have a big crowd at our farm for Thanksgiving, sort of a family-plus event, and so I invited him to come down," Sanford said. "He brought his girlfriend."

Sanford said he remembers meeting Butina, though the conversation was light and not serious.

"He said she was starting an NRA equivalent in Russia," Sanford said, joking it sounded like an "oxymoron" for Russia.

The group Butina created in 2011 was the nonprofit organization "Right to Bear Arms" in Moscow, through which she most likely met Alexander Torshin, who CNN has learned is the Russian official prosecutors say Butina conspired with.

The group attempted to ease the Russian laws on gun ownership, without much success, and Torshin became one of the highest-profile supporters of this initiative.

"Right to Bear Arms" fizzled out around the same time Butina started frequently traveling to the United States in 2014. A former manager of the group told CNN earlier this year they've ceased almost all activities and do not have financial means to promote their cause anymore.

Sanford said that he, like others, was surprised to see Butina's name and picture in the news this week being charged with acting as a foreign agent for Russia.

"It wouldn't be what one would have surmised as to who's somebody's girlfriend is," he said.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 76522

Reported Deaths: 3086
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion16194731
Lake7742281
Elkhart495586
Allen4040163
St. Joseph361083
Hamilton2887104
Vanderburgh205313
Hendricks1943108
Cass18069
Johnson1794119
Porter136239
Clark130750
Tippecanoe124511
Madison103066
LaPorte93530
Howard92065
Kosciusko87212
Floyd82249
Bartholomew82147
Marshall79423
Monroe76732
Delaware76052
Vigo71411
Dubois71312
Boone69746
Noble69029
Hancock68839
Jackson5975
Warrick58830
Shelby56828
LaGrange56610
Grant53130
Dearborn51628
Morgan48934
Clinton4504
Henry41820
Wayne38810
White37711
Montgomery36021
Lawrence35727
Harrison35224
Decatur34232
Putnam3218
Daviess27920
Miami2772
Scott27310
Jasper2572
Greene25434
Franklin24715
DeKalb2384
Gibson2334
Jennings22812
Steuben2153
Ripley2138
Carroll2003
Fayette1957
Perry18713
Posey1800
Starke1807
Orange17824
Wells1782
Fulton1732
Wabash1715
Jefferson1662
Knox1640
Whitley1566
Tipton14912
Washington1441
Sullivan1411
Spencer1393
Clay1315
Huntington1273
Randolph1274
Newton12110
Adams1172
Owen1051
Jay920
Rush894
Pulaski821
Fountain762
Brown752
Blackford662
Ohio656
Benton640
Pike620
Vermillion590
Parke551
Switzerland530
Martin500
Crawford450
Union410
Warren241
Unassigned0208

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 104248

Reported Deaths: 3734
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin18965531
Cuyahoga13869512
Hamilton9844259
Lucas5512326
Montgomery448998
Summit3667224
Butler303364
Marion294245
Mahoning2623256
Pickaway240042
Stark1904142
Warren185039
Lorain183177
Columbiana168360
Trumbull1563110
Fairfield143232
Delaware136519
Licking134551
Clark121315
Lake114642
Wood109058
Clermont96211
Medina95936
Miami86839
Tuscarawas79714
Allen79446
Portage77664
Greene73012
Mercer64113
Belmont62726
Richland61912
Erie61028
Ashtabula57746
Geauga56144
Wayne55459
Ross5094
Madison50310
Darke41429
Huron4115
Ottawa40426
Sandusky39917
Hancock3973
Athens3612
Holmes3316
Lawrence3180
Auglaize2756
Union2731
Scioto2591
Muskingum2481
Jefferson2403
Seneca2344
Shelby2154
Knox2147
Preble2122
Putnam21217
Washington21122
Coshocton1967
Champaign1882
Morrow1792
Crawford1775
Hardin17512
Clinton1716
Highland1692
Logan1672
Ashland1553
Fulton1551
Defiance1544
Wyandot1519
Brown1502
Perry1483
Williams1373
Fayette1240
Henry1222
Hocking1229
Guernsey1197
Carroll1135
Monroe9418
Pike800
Jackson770
Gallia741
Van Wert732
Paulding700
Adams642
Meigs580
Vinton322
Morgan300
Harrison261
Noble170
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
66° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 66°
Angola
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 64°
Huntington
Broken Clouds
65° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 65°
Decatur
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 64°
Van Wert
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 64°
Storm Chances Friday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events