Russian gun activist charged with spying in U.S. for Moscow

Maria Butina

A Russian woman accused of conspiring to infiltrate American political organizations - including the National Rifle Association - at the direction of an unnamed senior Kremlin official has been arrested, federal authorities announced Monday.

Ms Butina, who lives in Washington, was arrested on Sunday and was ordered held in jail pending a hearing set for Wednesday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a statement. She was charged with conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian government. Butina is a former assistant of Alexander Torshin - a top official at Russia's central bank, close ally of Putin, and alleged friend of the Russian mob.

Prosecutors say the Russian official has since been sanctioned by the U.S.

Maria Butina
Maria Butina

"The filings also describe certain actions taken by Butina to further this effort during multiple visits from Russian Federation and, later, when she entered and resided in the United States on a student visa", a news release from the department said.

The complaint lists (with redacted names) messages between Butina, a Russian official, and at least two US citizens.

Butina has been an outspoken activist for gun rights in Russian Federation, however. Her lawyer confirmed to the Post that she had recently earned a master's degree from American University.

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According to court papers, Ms Butina met with U.S. politicians and candidates, attended events sponsored by special interest groups - including two National Prayer Breakfast events - and organised Russian-American "friendship and dialogue" dinners in Washington with the goal of "reporting back to Moscow" what she had learned.

"Maria Butina is not an agent of the Russian Federation". The Russian official "said it was very good".

On Valentine's Day 2016, Torshin tweeted in Russian from his verified account about Butina talking to him about "D". Writes to me that D. Trump (member of NRA) is really for cooperation with Russian Federation. The meeting did not happen. In April, the USA sanctioned Torshin and a number of other officials close to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

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The affidavit also alleges that on October 4, 2016, U.S. Person 1 emailed an acquaintance and claimed to be involved in "securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin" and an unnamed political party.

In an email sent in March 2015, Butina explained that Republicans would likely obtain control over the U.S. government after the 2016 election and said the NRA plays a significant role in the party as it is the largest sponsor of elections to the U.S. Congress. She also attended an NRA convention in May 2016, where conservative activist Paul Erickson worked to get Torshin a meeting with President Donald Trump, the Post reported.

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