The Slatest

Woman Charged With Acting as Russian Agent Built Ties With NRA to Gain Influence Over GOP

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre speaks during the NRA Annual Meeting on May 4, 2018, in Dallas, Texas.
The NRA’s claims of patriotism may be even more tenuous than we thought.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A 29-year-old Russian woman was arrested in Washington on Monday and charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation, which included trying to establish backchannel communications with conservative political organizations, including the National Rifle Association. Mariia Butina (also referred to as Maria by the FBI), who was recently awarded a graduate degree from American University in the capital, tried but failed to broker a meeting between Trump and Putin during the campaign.* She is being held without bond in the case that began before the special counsel was appointed and is not being overseen by Robert Mueller and his investigation into Russian election interference.

From the Washington Post:

A former furniture store owner from Siberia and gun-rights activist, Butina was the first to publicly quiz President Trump about his views on Russia when she asked him a question at a town hall in July 2015… As early as March 2015, Butina emailed the American political operative about her belief that the Republican Party would likely win the White House in 2016, according to court papers. She proposed a special project to use the NRA to build relations with the GOP… According to the affidavit, the FBI found evidence on Butina’s computer that she kept an unnamed Russian official closely apprised of her activities. Descriptions of the official in the complaint match Torshin, a Russian central banker who has also built ties with the NRA.

“Over the weekend, law enforcement officials became increasingly concerned that Butina appeared to be planning to leave the Washington area, according to people familiar with the matter,” according to the Post. “Investigators were concerned such a trip could pose operational challenges for their work and decided to make an arrest, these people said.”

Update, July 17, 2018: This post has been updated to clarify the acceptable spellings of Mariia Butina’s name.