- A grand jury on Tuesday indicted Maria Butina, a Russian national with deep ties to the National Rifle Association.
- Butina is charged with conspiracy against the US and acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian government.
- A hearing for her case is set for Wednesday, the Justice Department said in an earlier press release.
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A federal grand jury in Washington, DC, indicted Maria Butina, a Russian national with links to the National Rifle Association, on two charges.
Butina is accused of conspiracy against the United States and acting as an unregistered foreign agent of the Russian government.
Butina was arrested on Sunday and made an initial court appearance Monday afternoon, the Justice Department said. A hearing in her case has been set for Wednesday.
Butina was not arrested as part of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election. But her arrest indicates that the US government as a whole is focusing more of its attention on Russia’s influence in domestic politics.
According to an affidavit submitted with the DOJ’s criminal complaint against Butina, she worked at the direction of a high-level Russian government official who was previously a member of the Russian parliament and later a top official at the Russian Central Bank. The official is not named, but the description in the indictment fits that of Alexander Torshin, a Russian gun-rights advocate and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Torshin was sanctioned by the US in April.
The DOJ also accused Butina of falsely reporting, when she applied for a student visa to the US, that she had already finished working for the Russian official. Instead, the DOJ alleges that Butina worked for this individual from at least 2015 through February 2017.
Both Torshin and Butina have deep ties to the NRA, and Torshin attended the NRA’s convention every year between 2012 and 2016, occasionally with Butina at his side. He has met every NRA president since 2012, according to NPR.
And when the NRA sent a delegation to Moscow in the winter of 2015, it was Torshin who received them on behalf of The Right to Bear Arms, the Russian gun-rights group that Butina spearheads.
Butina has been cultivating her own ties with American gun-rights activists, like Republican strategist Paul Erickson, whom she has been acquainted with since at least 2013.
Erickson appears to fit the description of an individual denoted as “US Person 1” in the affidavit.
The affidavit said Butina and this individual worked together to arrange introductions to other Americans who are influential in US politics, “including an organisation promoting gun rights … for the purpose of advancing the agenda of the Russian Federation.”
The affidavit outlines several emails Butina sent to US Person 1 that highlight the depth of her connections to the NRA and to GOP politics. It also said Butina and the Russian official worked to establish “back channel” lines of communication with US political operatives to penetrate the US national decision-making apparatus” and advance Russian interests.
The affidavit lists another individual, “US Person 2,” described as a US citizen who was included in a series of email communications in 2016 and 2017.
Butina allegedly told this person that the Russian official was “very much impressed by you” and that the “Russians will support the efforts from our side.”
In another email, sent on October 4, 2016, US Person 1 allegedly said to an acquaintance, “Unrelated to specific presidential campaigns, I’ve been involved in securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key [GOP] leaders through, of all conduits, the [NRA].”
The next day, Butina and the Russian official exchanged a series of Twitter direct messages in which Butina said they had “made” their “bet” and that she was “following our game.”
The official replied that it “is not about winning today’s fight (although we are striving for it) but to win the entire battle. This is the battle for the future, it cannot be lost! Or everyone will lose.”
Butina had a birthday party on November 12, 2016, four days after Donald Trump won the US election in a shocking upset. The gathering featured several top Trump campaign advisers,according to The Daily Beast. Erickson, who was also in attendance, reportedly told guests Butina was on the Trump transition team.
Two months later, Butina was one of several Putin-allied Russians who attended Trump’s inaugural celebrations.
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