The documents do not name Torshin, a member of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s party, but the “Russian Official” fits Torshin’s profile perfectly: He is a top official at the Russian central bank (check), a former member of the Russian legislature (check), Butina’s boss (check), and a participant in the National Prayer Breakfast (check).
In October 2016 in Twitter direct messages, again from the affidavit, Butina told the “Russian Official”: “I am following our game. I will be connecting the people from the prayer breakfast to this group.” The official responded, in part: “This is the battle for the future, it cannot be lost! Or everyone will lose.”
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as part of his probe into Russian influence in the U.S. election, is investigating whether Torshin channeled Russian money through the National Rifle Association to support Trump, according to the McClatchy news service. Mueller’s probe so far has resulted in dozens of indictments and several guilty pleas. The United States sanctioned Torshin along with dozens of other Russian officials and oligarchs early this year, and Torshin did not attend this year’s National Prayer Breakfast as a result. Butina did not attend either.
THE PURPOSE OF THE PRAYER BREAKFAST, and the Fellowship-associated organizers behind it, is to build relationships among the world’s powerful for Jesus, regardless of the clouds that may hang over a particular person. The rationale is that Jesus would spend time with anyone, no matter his or her sins.
The Fellowship has had some success with this approach; longtime Fellowship leader Doug Coe, who died last year, was instrumental in bringing Nixon “hatchet man” Chuck Colson to Christian faith. But the Fellowship also built relationships with bloody men, like the Indonesian dictator Suharto. The Fellowship ethos is that relational reconciliation can solve any geopolitical problem.
“You don’t bat a thousand with people,” said Fellowship associate Doug Burleigh, in reference to bad eggs coming to the breakfasts. “The thing I love about this work—Jesus, He worked with all kinds of disreputable people. Doug [Coe] worked with Muammar Qaddafi. Does Jesus love Muammar Qaddafi?”
Torshin has long had some reputation problems: Spanish investigators have accused him of laundering money for the Russian mob, a charge the Russian central bank denies. (The Spanish newspaper El País reports that Spanish police were planning to arrest Torshin in 2013 in Mallorca, where they were expecting him to attend a birthday party of an accused Russian mob leader, who has since pleaded guilty to money laundering. Torshin didn’t show up.)
“There’s probably all kinds of espionage practiced at the prayer breakfasts across the decades because of how international the prayer breakfast is and how many senior officials are there,” mused Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. “It would be natural for governments to seek out contacts.”
Burleigh, the former head of Young Life and son-in-law to Coe, knows Torshin and has spent decades of his ministry working in Russia. Burleigh still works closely with the Fellowship (the group denies that he is the head of the prayer breakfast, contrary to media reports) and explained the rationale. “How would you ever get something done if you don’t meet with people?” he said. “It’s not a political thing for me—if you meet together, good things happen. When you don’t meet together, usually bad things happen.”
He recalled several situations of successful spiritual diplomacy, like this year’s prayer breakfast in Kenya where the recently elected Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his election rival Raila Odinga hugged and apologized to each other for wrongdoing in the campaign. Odinga had previously alleged that the close election was stolen from him, and some of his supporters were killed in the aftermath.
“Never again shall a Kenyan die because of an election,” Odinga said at the breakfast. Breakfasts are “a place where reconciliation happens,” Burleigh said.