Threat Management

Russian gun rights advocate charged as spy


A Russian national and gun activist today was charged with acting as a Russian agent to develop relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrate organizations that influence American politics to benefit the Russian Federation, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Mariia Butina, 29, came to the U.S. in 2016 on a student visa and worked closely with U.S. citizens, cited as U.S. Person 1 and U.S. Person 2, and Russian officials to establish relationships and build influence prior to and shortly after the 2016 presidential election. An affidavit connected to the complaint recounts an Oct. 4, 2016, email from U.S. Person 1, who wrote “Unrelated to specific presidential campaigns, I've been involved in securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key POLITICAL PARY 1 leaders through, of all conduits, the [GUN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION].”

Butina has long been associated with the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The complaint said Butina conspired to “exploit personal connections with U.S. persons having influence in American politics in an effort to advance the interests of the Russian Federation without prior notification to the Attorney General.”

Indeed, in March 2015, long before Butina moved to the United States, U.S. Person 1 noted in an email with the subject line “Your Plan Forward,” that the contacts provided to her were top drawer. “If you were to sit down with your special friends and make a list of ALL the most important contacts you could find in America for a time when the political situation between the U.S. and Russia will change, you could NOT do better than the list that I just emailed you,” the person wrote. “NO one – certainly not the ‘official' Russian Federation public relations representative in New York – could build a better list.”

Court documents also show that Butlna and Russian delegates arranged to attend two National Prayer Breakfasts, one before the election and one shortly after Donald Trump took office.

In September 2016, Butina suggested to U.S. Person 1 and U.S. Person 2 that they schedule another Russian-American “friendship and dialogue” dinner in Washington for early October 2016. “We only have 2 month left before the US elections and it's the time for building an advisors team on Russia for a new president,” she wrote. “I am seriously worry that the candidates some upcoming day will suddenly realize that ‘now is the time to do something with Russia and will look for advisory among currently popular radically oppositional to Russia crowd of experts.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., tweeted that Butina's arrest "means Republicans can no longer ignore what has been in front of them for months: Russia used the NRA to infiltrate and influence U.S. politics.” He called for the GOP Congressional leaders to "finally join my investigation on the NRA's role in attacking our democracy and force the NRA to answer straightforward questions about its role in the 2016 election.”

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