Alleged Russian agent Maria Butina and the GOP operative linked to the NRA, RNC, Robert Mercer and Cambridge Analytica

Saul Anuzis — who met Maria Butina several times — has connections and experience that would have likely interested her

By Wendy Siegelman and Brian Brennan

Photo credit: @BrandonDillon75 on Twitter

Highlights on Saul Anuzis:

  • 2005–2009: Michigan GOP chair after Betsy DeVos.
  • 2012 timeframe: Led the RNC technology committee.
  • 2012–2018: On NRA Board Public Affairs Committee.
  • 2014: Set up a super PAC funded by Robert Mercer.
  • 2015: Worked for Ted Cruz when Robert Mercer backed his campaign.
  • 2015–2018: Saul’s son Matas worked at Cambridge Analytica.
  • 2015–2016: Matas worked on Cruz campaign at Cambridge Analytica.
  • 2016: Cambridge Analytica worked on NRA “Trigger the vote” drive.
  • 2015-2016: Met Russian agent Maria Butina at a handful of events.

Maria Butina: conspiracy & acting as a foreign agent

The evidence of Trump-Russia collusion has escalated quickly with the explicit public demonstration at the Trump-Putin press conference in Helsinki and with the arrest of Russian national Maria Butina by the DOJ on charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent working at the direction of the Russian government and with US persons. It feels like a tipping point that has brought the Trump-Russia scandal to a fever pitch not seen since the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Maria Butina is now under an intense microscope along with Alexander Torshin, the former politician with close ties to the Kremlin, who directed her activities, and US citizen Paul Erickson, who introduced her to the NRA, influential GOP leaders, and with whom she allegedly cohabited.

The affidavit for the criminal complaint for Butina released on July 16 describes the ‘RUSSIAN OFFICIAL’ (Alexander Torshin) who directed her activities, and how she met ‘U.S. Person 1’ (Paul Erickson) in Moscow around 2013 and who later arranged introductions to influential organizations such as the ‘GUN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION’ (NRA).

The criminal complaint describes one of the charges against Maria Butina as conspiracy to infiltrate organizations active in US politics in an effort to advance the interests of the Russian Federation. Her efforts were sharply focused on infiltrating the NRA, as well as elite GOP circles, and conservative religious organizations and events that brought them all together, such as the National Prayer Breakfast.

There is another big strand of the Trump-Russia story where Maria Butina’s name has not yet appeared — but where a few intriguing connections raise questions about whether or not Butina had any involvement with Trump’s data company, Cambridge Analytica.

Michigan GOP operative Saul Anuzis said in a Washington Post article that he had met Maria Butina a handful of times. Anuzis has served on the NRA Board’s Public Affairs committee since 2012, a group Butina would have been likely to interact with.

Anuzis has some significant connections to Cambridge Analytica. In 2014 he set up a PAC funded by Robert Mercer, the largest funder of Cambridge Analytica. In 2015 while Anuzis was working on the Cruz campaign, his son Matas started working at Cambridge Analytica as a project manager on the Cruz campaign. In 2016 Cambridge Analytica worked on the “Trigger the vote” campaign for the NRA. And Saul’s son Matas continued to work at Cambridge Analytica until they closed in April 2018.

While Saul only described a handful of meetings with Butina, given her goal to infiltrate organizations active in US politics and to further the interests of Russia, it seems likely that Butina would have been interested in the work of Cambridge Analytica, first for the Cruz campaign, and later for the Trump campaign. In 2017 Senator Dianne Feinstein was curious about this as well, and in a letter she sent to Cambridge Analytica requesting copies of communications with various people, one of the people Feinstein included was Maria Butina.

Maria Butina met GOP operative Saul Anuzis

In a Washington Post story on how Butina gained access to elite conservative circles, Saul Anuzis, a GOP political operative who met Butina at a handful of conservative events in 2016, said:

“She was like a novelty…she ran a gun rights group in Russia and, by definition, with the kind of repression under Putin, your assumption was that was kind of a revolutionary, radical thing.”

A photograph of Anuzis with Butina recently circulated on Twitter and Anuzis told the Detroit Free Press he recalled the “photo being taken in 2016 or 2015 at the FreedomFest, an annual conservative gathering in Las Vegas.”

According to the Detroit Free Press Anuzis said “ he has met Maria Butina a couple of times but has never had much of a conversation with her.”

While it is not known if Anuzis’s meetings with Butina were incidental, given the mission of Butina to influence US politics, Saul Anuzis had a unique combination of connections and experience that likely would have been of interest to her and to the Russian officials who directed her work.

Saul Anuzis GOP background and RNC tech work

Saul Anuzis, like many of the people in the Trump-Russia story, has a very full resume that combines business ventures, campaign consulting work and political roles. Anuzis’s areas of expertise range from telecommunications to political consulting to digital technology, campaigns and advertising — the latter work is strikingly similar to the work of Cambridge Analytica.

Anuzis is co-founder and co-owner of Michigan-based Quick Connect VOIP and Quick Connect USA. He is a Managing Partner of Coast to Coast Strategies, LLC.

On his website, wittily named thatssaulfolks.com, Anuzis describes early work with Newt Gingrich at American Solutions and for Jack Kemp’s 1988 Presidential campaign. He was chair of the Michigan Republican Party from 2005 to 2009, directly following Betsy DeVos who had been chair from 2003 to 2005.

In a February 2012 New York Times story on campaign advertising, Anuzis is cited as chairman of the Republican National Committee on Technology, and he described digital ad spends and how the benefit of microtargeting is that campaigns can spend their money more efficiently by finding a particular audience and they can “literally target the household.”

Saul Anuzis’ skill set at the RNC with digital advertising and campaign marketing is very similar to work carried out by Cambridge Analytica.

Anuzis served on the board of CampaignGrid, a campaign consulting group which worked with Ron Paul and Chris Christie, and he was on the board of Victory Solutions and RAP Index, a federal advocacy micro-targeting company.

In his bio on the Coast to Coast website, Anuzis describes diplomatic experience working as consul for the Republic of Lithuania, .

Anuzis’s connections within the GOP are far reaching, and in addition to his Michigan connection to Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, he appears to know another Trump cabinet member, Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior. Anuzis appeared in a photograph with Zinke, at a fundraiser for a Virgin Islands organization known as VIGOP, which was described in an October 2017 Politico story on how Ryan Zinke helped raise millions of dollars for questionable PACs.

Anuzis was briefly Michigan chairman of the presidential campaign of Ted Cruz, a significant client of Cambridge Analytica, before Anuzis switched his support to Trump when he became the nominee.

In April 2018, Anuzis was named president of the 60 Plus Foundation, a conservative free-market senior organization that is largely funded by the Koch brothers which has sought to privatize social security, end the federal estate tax, and strengthen gun rights.

Saul Anuzis NRA Board Public Affairs Committee

In 2012 Anuzis was appointed to the NRA Board’s Public Affairs Committee and per a recent 2018 announcement he is still serving on this committee.

His instagram account includes a photograph (below) from a January 9, 2015 NRA board meeting, which shows his namecard, and includes a woman in the back right who resembles Maria Butina (this has not been confirmed).

January 2015 NRA meeting attended by Saul Anuzis, with woman in back who resembles Maria Butina

Saul Anuzis founded a Mercer super PAC in 2014

According to Mother Jones, in 2014 Anuzis founded a super PAC funded by Robert Mercer:

“Anuzis formed the US Jobs Council early this year and then approached Mercer, knowing he had spent big in New York’s 1st Congressional District during the previous election cycle.”

Robert Mercer, who was the largest funder of Cambridge Analytica, gave $200,000 to Anuzis’s US Jobs Council in 2014. The bulk of the funds supported Republican candidate George Demos who ran for congress in New York district 1 in Eastern Long Island, where Robert Mercer lives.

In total Anuzis’s US Jobs Council PAC raised $215,000 and spent all but $9,000 on Demos. It’s not clear why Anuzis would have set up the PAC and then approach Mercer afterwards, to mostly fund one candidate who represented Mercer’s hometown.

Matas Anuzis worked at Cambridge Analytica

Saul Anuzis’s Wikipedia page lists four sons including Matas. According to his LinkedIn profile, Matas Anuzis was a Project Manager at Cambridge Analytica from March 2015 until April 2018.

Saul Anuzis set up the US Jobs Council PAC for Robert Mercer in 2014, and in 2015 Anuzis worked for the Ted Cruz campaign which was funded largely by Robert Mercer and the campaign used the services of Cambridge Analytica. That same year, Saul’s son Matas started working as a Project Manager for Cambridge Analytica, and also worked directly on the Cruz campaign.

A website called angel.co includes a brief description of the work Matas did for Ted Cruz, including coordinating 23 professionals in three countries to advance Cruz’s campaign goals “at a revolutionary micro targeted level, particularly in the Iowa Caucus.”

US laws limit foreign involvement in US elections and prohibit foreign nationals from directly or indirectly participating in the decision making process. In 2014 Laurence Levy, attorney for Cambridge Analytica, sent a letter on this topic to Steve Bannon, Rebekah Mercer, and Alexander Nix. The Cruz campaign appears to have involved Cambridge Analytica staff in several countries outside the US per the angel.co description, however it is not known if the non-US staff was involved with decision making.

Highlights on Saul Anuzis:

  • 2005–2009: Michigan GOP chair after Betsy DeVos.
  • 2012 timeframe: Led the RNC technology committee.
  • 2012–2018: On NRA Board Public Affairs Committee.
  • 2014: Set up a super PAC funded by Robert Mercer.
  • 2015: Worked for Ted Cruz when Robert Mercer backed his campaign.
  • 2015–2018: Saul’s son Matas worked at Cambridge Analytica.
  • 2015–2016: Matas worked on Cruz campaign at Cambridge Analytica.
  • 2016: Cambridge Analytica worked on NRA “Trigger the vote” drive.
  • 2015–2016: Met Russian agent Maria Butina at a handful of events.

Maria Butina and Cambridge Analytica

Setting aside the connections of Saul Anuzis and his son Matas to Cambridge Analytica, Maria Butina had several opportunities where should could have interacted with the data company through her association with the NRA.

In 2015 Butina attended Gov. Scott Walker’s kickoff political rally for his presidential bid. Scott Walker was an early client of Cambridge Analytica, and Matt Oczkowski, who served as Chief Digital Officer for Walker’s failed presidential run, later went on to become Head of Product at Cambridge Analytica. However, there is no indication that Butina’s attendance at the Walker event had any connection to Cambridge Analytica.

However, the NRA which was Butina’s primary focus, was a client of Cambridge Analytica. In 2016 The Guardian reported that Cambridge Analytica worked with a DC-based consulting firm the Herald Group to implement the NRA’s “Trigger the Vote” drive to register new voters and get them to the polls. This was during the same period that Butina was making active inroads with the NRA.

And for some reason Maria Butina’s name was included in a letter Senator Dianne Feinstein sent to Cambridge Analytica.

On October 27, 2017 Senator Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Cambridge Analytica related to the firing of James Comey, improper influence in law enforcement investigations and Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Senator Feinstein requested information on communications Cambridge Analytica had with various people, including Maria Butina, Alexander Torshin, and Paul Erickson. Rick Clay and Johnny Yenason, also cited in the letter, had been involved with trying to coordinate a meeting for Alexander Torshin with candidate Trump.

It’s not yet known why Feinstein included Butina, Torshin, Erickson or the others s in the communication request sent to Cambridge Analytica.

Saul Anuzis served on the NRA Public Affairs committee, worked for Ted Cruz, set up a PAC for Robert Mercer, and his son worked at Cambridge Analytica and on the Cruz campaign. And in 2015–2016 Anuzis said he met Maria Butina several times.

However, Anuzis said he “never had much of a conversation with” Butina.

Given Anuzis’s ties to the NRA, RNC, Robert Mercer, and through his son Matas to Cambridge Analytica — all key parts of the Trump-Russia investigation — it seems likely that Saul Anuzis and Maria Butina would have had a lot to discuss.

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