It might be easier than you think to run into someone accused of being a secret Russian agent these days.
Days after federal prosecutors charged 29-year-old Maria Butina on charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent on Tues. July 17, Congressman Mark Sanford of South Carolina told CNN that he unknowingly hosted the suspected Russian spy during a post-Thanksgiving barbecue last year.
Butina attended the event as a plus-one with Paul Erickson, Sanford’s college buddy at the University of Virginia.
“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 told the news outlet. “He brought his girlfriend.”
The annual BBQ takes place at Coosaw Plantation, Sanford’s family farm about an hour south of Charleston. [content-1] “I did meet her, a few interactions were pleasant,” Sanford told the news outlet. “It’s the girlfriend of a guy I’ve known for 30 years. She seemed nice enough.”
The Republican congressman, who represents Charleston in the U.S. House, has been vocal about his criticisms of President Donald Trump in recent months. On June 12, hours before the polls closed on the statewide primary, Trump endorsed his opponent Katie Arrington.
“Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA,” Trump tweeted at 4:12 p.m. on Election Day. “He is MIA and nothing but trouble. He is better off in Argentina. I fully endorse Katie Arrington for Congress in SC, a state I love. She is tough on crime and will continue our fight to lower taxes. VOTE Katie!”
Sanford lost the three-way Republican primary with Arrington garnering 2,600 more votes. [content-4]
Just one day before Butina’s indictment was made public, Trump downplayed Russia’s role in 2016 election meddling during a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“President Putin says it’s not Russia,” Trump said. “I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
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