Russian woman arrested for conspiring to infiltrate U.S. political groups
Federal authorities Sunday arrested a Russian gun rights advocate accused of conspiring to infiltrate American political organizations at the direction of a senior Kremlin official, according to court papers unsealed Monday. Prosecutors charge Maria Butina with conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian government and she appeared Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Court papers say she worked on behalf of an unnamed Russian official, a former member of the Russian Federation’s legislature who was sanctioned by the United States, to influence senior U.S. politicians and develop relationships with other political organizations between 2015 and 2017, when she was a graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C.
According to an affidavit by an FBI counterintelligence investigator, Butina worked with an unnamed U.S. “political operative” and another U.S. citizen to arrange a series of “friendship and dialogue dinners” between Russian nationals and influential Americans. According to the same affidavit, Butina worked to establish relationships with unnamed American politicians to establish “back channel” lines of communication with the Russian Federation. Emails on Butina’s seized laptop computer also related her efforts to connect with leaders from an unnamed “gun rights organization” and her 2015 request for $125,000 to participate in “all upcoming major conferences” of an unnamed political party. According to media reports, Butina in 2011 founded the pro-gun Right to Bear Arms organization in Russia and hosted National Rifle Association executives and pro–gun rights conservatives at her group’s annual meeting in 2015. Her next hearing is set for Wednesday.
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