How the Maria Butina plea deal could blow up the entire Republican Party

Maria Butina, the alleged Russian spy with confirmed links to the Kremlin, the NRA, and multiple key players in the Republican Party, has withdrawn her guilty plea today – meaning she’s cut a plea deal. In fact it’s now being reported that her deal specifically involves cooperation with the U.S. government. The thing is, Butina may be able to give up far more than just the NRA.

It’s recently been reported that the NRA spent at least $30 million in support of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. It’s no secret that the NRA has also provided campaign funding to just about every Republican candidate in politics. Further, it’s widely suspected that the NRA has been funded by Russia in recent years. This would mean that every Republican politician has taken Russian money from the NRA, whether they knew it at the time or not.

Let’s say you’re a Republican Congressman. Naturally you took NRA money, because your party is the pro-gun party. But then let’s say Russia reaches out to you and informs you that the NRA money you took was actually Kremlin money, and threatens to leak this tidbit about you unless you remain loyal to Donald Trump. You committed no crime by taking the money, because you didn’t know its true source. But taking Russian money would be enough of a scandal for you that it could cause you major political headaches, so you decide to simply go along with what the Russians are demanding.

There is no publicly available proof of such an arrangement. But when you look at all of the publicly available evidence, including the NRA’s status as an entity that helps fund every Republican candidate, the NRA’s ties to Russia, and Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, and the strangely cartoonish loyalty that so many Republicans in the House and Senate have been showing Trump even as his scandals and toxic unpopularity cost them reelection and ruin the party’s future, the Russia-NRA-GOP blackmail theory is certainly the most logical and likely explanation for what we’ve seen.

Maria Butina’s role in all of this appears to have been more narrowly focused. The Kremlin seems to have sent her to buddy up with certain middle aged men in the NRA and Republican Party, presumably to turn them into active and willing participants in the conspiracy. Now that she’s pleading out, we should end up seeing a few prominent GOP and NRA folks doing perp walks soon. But while that will be viscerally satisfying, the more important thing here may be that Butina’s plea deal will simply break the blackmail chain.

The thing about blackmail material is that it can’t be used anymore once it becomes public. The Maria Butina deal should expose just enough about Russia’s NRA-facilitated control over the Republican Party to blow the lid off it. If the Republicans in Congress who were unwittingly dragged into this mess are now left to conclude that it’s all going to come out anyway, they may see no further reason to honor Russia’s demands to continue standing with Trump.

If this theory is correct, and there’s a ton of circumstantial evidence to suggest that it is, then we should start to see some Republicans in Congress – the ones who are unwitting participants in this mess – begin inching away from Donald Trump in the coming days and weeks. Meanwhile, the Republicans who were active and willing conspirators in this plot will continue to publicly stand by Trump, at least for now.