Authorities have been investigating whether Mariia Butina and Alexander Torshin, both gun enthusiasts who attended NRA events together, were part of a plot to funnel Russian money through the NRA to the Trump campaign.
Federal authorities charged a Russian citizen living in Washington, D.C., with conspiracy to act as an illegal agent of the Russian government, including attempting to establish “back-channel” relationships with U.S. officials on behalf of the Kremlin, Politico reports. Mariia Butina, 29, was arrested Sunday in connection with what an FBI agent described as a “Russian influence operation.” U.S. officials allege that Butina, while attending a university, worked from 2015 until at least February 2017 as a Kremlin agent under the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government and Russian central bank. The complaint appears to refer to Alexander Torshin, an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin and longtime supporter of the National Rifle Association who reportedly also has ties to Russian security services and organized crime figures.
Authorities have been investigating whether Butina and Torshin, both gun enthusiasts who attended NRA events together, were part of a plot to funnel Russian money through the NRA to the Trump campaign, perhaps through NRA entities that were not required to disclose their funding sources. Butina’s lawyer denied that on Monday, and Torshin also has denied any wrongdoing. Butina’s arrest and the details disclosed in the complaint suggest that the investigation into ties between NRA officials and Russian operatives isn’t over and could figure into the broader probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. “The Maria Butina criminal charge strongly suggests that the Justice Department is far from done with the Russian Rubik’s Cube,” said Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor. Court filings unsealed Monday detail efforts by both Torshin and Butina to enable her to “act as an agent of Russia inside the United States by developing relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation.”