A central figure in Russia’s campaign to seduce the NRA – the subject of a Rolling Stone investigation in April – has been arrested in Washington, D.C.
Maria Butina is charged with “conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States.” A supporting affidavit alleges a Russian campaign “to infiltrate” a “GUN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION” (by all appearances the NRA) to “advance the interests of the Russian Federation.”
The criminal complaint alleges Butina and others conspired to “commit an offense against the United States.” The complaint describes Butina as working at the direction of a “Russian Federation official” who is not named, but whose detailed description aligns with Alexander Torshin, a former top Russian Senator and current Russian central banker, who was recently hit with U.S. sanctions.
Torshin is another key figure in the Rolling Stone investigation, which describes how the duo spent years gaining the trust of leaders of the National Rifle Association, and used those contacts, and the NRA’s annual meetings, to make overtures to top Republicans, including the Trump campaign. The FBI is investigating whether illicit Russian funding made its way into NRA coffers to help elect Trump.
Butina, who has been studying in the United States on an academic visa, was charged on the same day President Trump met with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, where Trump refused to confront Russia on its 2016 election interference.
The criminal complaint against Butina lays out the “objects of the conspiracy”:
- To act in the United States as an agent of a foreign government, specifically the Russian Federation….
- To act in the United States as an agent of a foreign government official, specifically an official of the Russian Federation….
- To exploit personal connections with U.S. persons having influence in American politics in an effort to advance the interests of the Russian Federation…. ; and
- To infiltrate organizations active in U.S. politics in an effort to advance the interests of the Russian Federation….
A 17-page FBI affidavit establishing probable cause for the criminal complaint relies on evidence seized from Butina’s laptop and iPhone – as well at Twitter direct messages. It paints a startling picture of collaboration between Butina, the Russian official believed to be Torshin and two unnamed Americans – referred to as U.S. Persons 1 and 2. The document also connects the dots to “POLITICAL PARTY 1” – which appears to be the GOP – and the “GUN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION.”
The affidavit reads in part: “The FBI’s investigation has… revealed that BUTINA and the RUSSIAN OFFICIAL took steps to develop relationships with American politicians in order to establish private, or as she called them, ‘back channel’ lines of communication. These lines could be used by the Russian Federation to penetrate the U.S. national decision-making apparatus….”
The FBI special agent continues that his investigation “has also revealed that BUTINA and the RUSSIAN OFFICIAL planned to advance Moscow’s long-term strategic objectives in the United States in part by establishing relationships with American political organizations, including the GUN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION…” The agent concludes: “I believe that BUTINA and the RUSSIAN OFFICIAL took these steps in order to infiltrate those groups and advance the interests of the Russian Federation.”
This is a developing story. Check back for continuing Rolling Stone coverage.