A Russian woman with close ties to both the NRA and the Kremlin was arrested Sunday on charges of “conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government,” according to a criminal complaint released by the Justice Department on Monday.
Previous reporting has suggested that this woman, 29-year-old American University graduate student Mariia Butina, tried to broker two separate secret meetings between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin during the 2016 campaign. The court documents unveiled Monday allege that Butina simultaneously worked to infiltrate American political organizations and establish “back channel” lines of communication with American politicians. “These lines could be used by the Russian Federation to penetrate the U.S. national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation,” the Justice Department wrote.
The indictment leaves the specific organizations and individuals in question unnamed. But several news outlets had previously uncovered Butina’s ties to the National Rifle Association, and to longtime Republican activists. 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. The FBI is reportedly investigating Torshin for illegally funneling money to the NRA so as to aid Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Butina is a firearms enthusiast, who founded the Russian gun-rights group, the Right to Bear Arms. Last year, the Daily Beast reported that Butina held a costume party in Washington, D.C., on November 12, 2016, which was attended by Trump campaign aides. At those festivities, Butina reportedly boasted about committing the crime that she was indicted for this week.
As chilled vodka flowed through an ice sculpture — a bottle imprinted with the Soviet hammer and sickle — she took some time to brag. She brazenly claimed that she had been part of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia, two individuals who were present said. On other occasions, in one of her graduate classes, she repeated this claim.
“She said so in my class. And she said so several times in the last semester,” Svetlana Savranskaya, Butina’s former American University professor and a staffer at the National Security Archive, told The Daily Beast. “She is a former journalist, so she keeps up her connections in Russia. And she also works and [claims to] keep connections with a member of the Russian Duma.”
Oddly, Butina also happened to get candidate Trump to promise to lift sanctions on Russia, during a question-and-answer session at Freedom Fest 2015.
The charges against Butina were not brought by special counsel Robert Mueller, but rather, by the Justice Department itself.
Earlier Monday in Helsinki, Finland, President Trump said that he saw “no reason” to believe that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election.