Even though Russian spy Maria Butina has been sent back to her native country, the impact from her actions continues. This latest discovery is part of an ongoing investigation into the Fellowship Foundation, often known as “The Family,” the covert organization that hosts the National Prayer Breakfast.
One of Butina’s first events in the United States was the infamous breakfast, which is nonpartisan but hosted by the far-right.
A senior executive ensured that Russian diplomat Alexander Torshin was added to the guest list for the occasion. He also assisted Butina in getting in.
Internal Fellowship Foundation records indicate that The Family’s participation at the time was largely unquestioned and larger than previously disclosed. The Family and the Fellowship Foundation are well-known homophobic and transphobic organizations. Chick-fil-A, which has continued to sponsor anti-LGBTQ groups, complements its anti-LGBTQ mindset.
Butina’s Washington contact was named as Tim Burchfield of Tennessee in a 2019 Senate Finance Committee minority report, although the report did not reveal that Burchfield was a longstanding Family insider. It also failed to reveal Burchfield’s previous role as an executive at Chick-fil-A, a corporation renowned for promoting Biblical principles, including resistance to LGBTQ rights.
Burchfield’s participation has not previously been publicized, and The Family’s role in Butina’s entrée into Republican politics has just lately been revealed.
Torshin initially approached the NRA in 2011. He met Butina in the same year.
“In an unpublished 2019 interview, a spokesperson for the Russian Evangelical Alliance stated, ‘Torshin, you know, has had the U.S. contact for 25 years probably. I never knew about the gun connection.’ The spokesperson, William Yoder, had written in 2013 that even then Torshin was already considered ‘a perennial‘ at the prayer breakfasts in both Washington and Moscow.”
Former CIA Russian operations chief Steve Hall explained that the two groups have a lot of common values. He stated, “that’s a natural point where a Russian can come in and say, ‘Oh, yeah, we feel your pain, America. We feel your pain, religious person in America, right-wing person in America, because, y’know, society is just all screwed up and we have all these gay people running around.’”
The Family’s Russia point people in 2016 to the National Prayer Breakfast were evangelical Republicans.
Torshin didn’t speak English, but Burleigh is proficient in Russian and Butina is fluent in English. Burleigh has spent years traveling back and forth between Russia and the United States as part of his role with The Family. He gave Torshin and Butina ten tickets to witness freshly elected President Donald Trump speak at his inaugural National Prayer Breakfast.
The records demonstrate that Butina’s place of origin was Russia and that she utilized a South Dakota postal address linked with Paul Erickson, who Butina eventually used.
The Democratic Senate Finance minority report mentions Chick-fil-A CEO Burchfield, but it focuses only on the NRA, and no mention of The Family or the National Prayer Breakfast was made, despite the fact that there are long-standing relationships that go beyond the NRA.
Burchfield has been a long-time member of The Family.
Burchfield’s employment as The Family’s coordinator for Tennessee was confirmed by the controversial fast-food chain to TYT. However, congressional disclosure records reveal that Burchfield has also participated in Family-sponsored excursions organized by Family friends in Congress.
All of his guests are Republicans, some are members of anti-LGBTQ organizations, and some believe Trump’s phony assertion that the 2020 election was stolen.
While Erickson obtained the tickets for Butina in 2016, he was not there to accompany her. So NRA millionaire Joe Gregory, a fellow Tennessean, approached Burchfield.
The Finance Committee received the following email request:
“Tim Burchfield, As you know, I have told you that two of my new good friends from Russia will be attending the National Prayer Breakfast this year & they are very excited about it,” the email says. “They are Mr. Alexander Torshin & Ms. Maria Butina. Their Bio’s [sic] are included with this email & Maria’s email address is included as well. Her cell phone number is [redacted]. At your permission, I have extended an invitation for them to join the East Tennessee contingent for dinner the night before the breakfast (Wednesday evening, 2/3). Tim’s cell phone number is [redacted]. I leave it in your capable hands to inform our Russian guests & arrange places & times for the Wednesday evening dinner & thank you for showing them the same hospitality that Jesus would show & that you have shown to me. I believe they may also be interested in Thursday mid-day & afternoon tour happenings & invitations if they don’t end up going to NRA headquarters. Thanks for your help with this! Best Wishes for another successful Breakfast & send my regards to Doug Coe & family & the Fellowship.”
The Finance Committee report refers to Burchfield as “an associate [of Gregory] from Tennessee,” ignoring his decades of experience with The Family and Chick-fil-A.
Tim Burchfield still owns Chick-fil-A restaurants in Tennessee, although he was named Honorary Consul to Guatemala in June 2018 and continues to identify it as his present career on his LinkedIn profile.
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