The Washington Post is out with a story about the American right’s ties to Russia and the article centers on the tale of accused Russian Mob boss and Russian Duma member Alexander Torshin and his red-headed friend, Maria Butina, which I’ve written about here.
In that post, I wrote that David Keene — opinion editor of The Washington Times editorial page and past NRA president — was a useful idiot who allowed a suspected Russian mobster to get close to the president.
Torshin is a member of the Russian Duma and, simultaneously, (while the Post story doesn’t mention it), he was accused by Spanish police of being a ranking member of the Moscow-based Taganskaya crime syndicate. He was slated to meet with President Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast until a White House national security aide noticed Torshin’s name and flagged him as a figure who had “baggage.”
The Post adds an important new detail: How Torshin met Keene.
At least one connection came about thanks to a conservative Nashville lawyer named G. Kline Preston IV, who had done business in Russia for years.
Preston said that in 2011 he introduced then-NRA President David Keene to a Russian senator, Alexander Torshin, a member of Putin’s party who later became a top official at the Russian central bank. Keene had been a stalwart on the right, a past chairman of the American Conservative Union who was NRA’s president from 2011 to 2013.
I never realized that Vladimir Putin had such open and effusive admirers in the United States like George Kline Preston.
Preston, born in 1966, is an expert on Russian law who displays a white porcelain bust of Putin in his office, according to the Post.
He believes that we have it backwards: Putin is the good guy in this story. He has told friends for years not to believe reports that Putin murdered journalists or political opponents. Here he is effusively praising Putin to his friend Torshin on Twitter.
Translation: “@torshin_ru Tomorrow is Presidents’ Day in the USA. I want to say that you are fortunate to have President Vladimir Putin.”
Preston’s relationship with Torshin goes back to at least 2009 when Preston briefed Russian legislators on the implementation of immunity agreements in Russia:
Mr. Torshin asked me to briefly describe the concept of a “deal with the investigation,” or, more precisely, the “plea bargaining”, as we used to call this term in the West. (source: archived web page of prestonkline.com)
Preston was an international observer during the 2011 Russian duma elections that led to mass street protests about election fraud. Preston said he concluded the Russian election system was “impressive” and “very well-organized,” but the Western view was overwhelmingly negative. The reason why, he said, lay in the fact the West does not like Vladimir Putin. Asked why, he speculated that “maybe because he’s a strong leader, maybe he’s done a pretty effective job:”
Interestingly, this video was posted to YouTube (and possibly made by) Johan Backman, a controversial Finnish academic. Backman is a Putin cheerleader and Kremlin propagandist (which is detailed in this lengthy expose). Preston was apparently didn’t know or didn’t mind that he was being used for propaganda purposes.
In 2012, Preston returned the favor and invited Torshin to be an election observer in Nashville. Both men appear in the picture below (Preston on the left, and Torshin in the middle). Torshin’s tweet below reads: “Standing in line at the polling place. As an ordinary American. 6:45 a.m.”
In contrast to his experience observing voting Russia, Preston said he saw violations of U.S. law during the presidential election: pro-Obama signs posted too close to a polling place.
Preston earned his bachelors degree in Russian language and literature at the University of Tennessee in 1989, the same year he studied in Leningrad via an Indiana University program at Leningrad State. He and earned his law degree at Nashville School of Law in 1994. For a time, Preston was involved in trading Russian/Ukrainian securities and importing Kievskaya Rus ultra premium vodka.
Preston’s law practice appears heavily focused on Russia. A version of his website archived in 2011 appears in both English and Cyrillic. On his office web page of is what appears to be a double-headed eagle, the symbol on the coat of arms of the Russian Federation.
A portion of the Preston’s practice involved assisting Americans in adopting children born in the Ukraine and the former Soviet Union. (Putin in 2012 signed into law a ban on adoptions of Russian children by Americans.) Preston also represented Bering Strait, a classically-trained Russian bluegrass and Russian scholar Mikhail Anikin, who claimed that author Dan Brown stole his idea for the “Da Vinci Code.”
On his Twitter feed, @gittinpaid, Preston often retweets Russian propaganda from RT, Pravda and other news outlets:
I’m not sure what happened to G. Kline Preston, but it’s hard to look at him and see a man who has turned himself, quite happily it seems, into another of Putin’s useful idiots.