Former Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who ran in the 2020 presidential race as a Democrat, is apparently putting a bow on her total transmutation to a hardcore conservative—complete with a donation from an alleged Russian spy. Okay, that’s not totally fair; the donation to Gabbard happened when she was still a Dem. But …
Elena Branson, aka Elena Chernykh, 61, is a dual Russian-U.S. citizen. According to the Department of Justice, she allegedly “corresponded with Putin himself” and was involved “in a wide-ranging influence and lobbying scheme with funding and direction from the Russian government—all while deliberately leaving the American people in the dark.”
Branson is facing six criminal counts for crimes such as visa fraud, making false statements to the FBI, and evading her legal responsibility to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), per a criminal complaint filed this week by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.
The odd thing is that in all of the decades Branson spent in the U.S. grooming American youth with her “I Love Russia” campaign and lobbying Hawaiian officials to enjoy Russia (we’ll get to that), she also only donated to one politician: Tulsi Gabbard.
But the choice to give to Gabbard is odd … and yet, not odd.
Gabbard has a long and strange history with pro-Russian sentiments. In 2015 when Russia began bombing Syria, she applauded the win as a fight against terrorism. (Although it was misguided because Russian troops were targeting Syrian rebel groups and not al Qaeda-aligned rebels.) Russia was simply defending itself. These are Russian talking points, as Vox writer Zack Beauchamp pointed out.
It was Gabbard’s visit with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in 2017 and her penchant for favoring Russian President Vladimir Putin’s involvement in the country that ended her relationship for good with the Democratic party. That and hiring an adviser with links to the Kremlin.
When Gabbard made her run in 2020, many of the same Russian sites that aided in interfering with the 2016 presidential election aligned with her, and her campaign received thousands from a number of Russian-connected donors in the U.S.
Branson also seemed to reach directly into Gabbard’s territory when she began lobbying officials in Kauai, Hawaii, in reference to a state park. She was in communication with an unnamed member of Congress called, in an FBI agent’s sworn statement, “Representative-1.”
Branson worked with several Russian diplomats to stop the name change of “Russian Fort Elizabeth” back to its indigenous name, Paʻulaʻula o Hipo. Hawaiians wanted the fort’s original restored, but Branson and her Kremlin-backed cohorts pushed back, offering “Hawaiian officials with messages from Russian officials and by organizing a trip for Hawaiian officials to Moscow to meet with high-ranking Russian Government personnel”—all of which defied federal lobbying laws since Branson never registered with FARA.
The Daily Beast reports that the FBI agent’s affidavit provides an email from Kauai County Councilwoman Felicia Cowden from “an individual working in the office of a member of the United States House of Representatives (Representative-1).” Cowden then asked the unnamed staffer whether the “Representative” would like to meet with “an extraordinary group of people regarding Russian diplomacy,” notifying the staffer that the group would include Branson and “two diplomats from the Russian embassy in Washington DC.”
Just a week and a half later, Branson donated to Gabbard the whopping amount of $49.95. A few months later, Cowden and a group of local officials from Kauai made the trip to Russia and met with Kremlin officials, which Branson arranged.
The fort’s name has not been changed, but Gabbard’s spokesperson provided a statement to the Daily Beast that read:
“Congresswoman Gabbard’s campaign has received thousands of contributions over the years, so she was not aware of Branson’s minuscule contributions ($10 and $49.95) to Tulsi Now, nor is she aware of having any interaction with her.” The spokesperson also claimed Gabbard was “not familiar with any park or fort or any other issues around this.”
The park is located in Gabbard’s home district.
“Despite the fact that Branson’s contributions were minuscule, on principle, Branson’s contributions will be donated to a charity that supports veterans, because it appears that Branson may be acting as an agent for a foreign country,” the spokesperson added.
But despite Gabbard’s denials, what can’t be denied is the number of times she appears as a guest on Tucker Carlson’s show—at least four times in the week Putin invaded Ukraine.
And what’s worse? Russian state television features translated clips of the interviews.
Just like former failed President Donald Trump who has yet to denounce Putin, Gabbard spends hours of her time bashing President Joe Biden. It plays right into the hands of Russia.
Either Trump and Gabbard are “Putin’s puppets,” as Hillary Clinton said years ago, or they’re not. Neither has proved the latter.
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