Mariia Butina, a 29-year-old Russian who recently received a master’s degree from American University, was arrested on Sunday and charged with conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian government.
Butina, whose first name is also spelled Maria, is said to have tried to forge a “back channel” communications channel to an unnamed U.S. political party that she wrote in a 2015 email would likely gain power in the 2016 elections and historically was “associated with negative and aggressive foreign policy, particularly with regards to Russia.” She allegedly wrote in an email that she sought to do so through a “gun rights organization” that isn’t named in the court filings.
Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, denied the charges in a statement published by the Washington Post and Russia’s state-owned Sputnik News, which described Butina in a headline as a “Russian student.”
Butina allegedly worked as an assistant to Russian politician Alexander Torshin, a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), and attended a number of NRA events with him as well as hosting NRA leaders on visits to Moscow, the Post reports.
Butina also tried to arrange meetings between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2016, the New York Times reports. Butina and Torshin met briefly with Donald Trump Jr. at a 2016 NRA convention, though he’s said the encounter was brief and not particularly memorable, according to the Post.
Butina’s NRA ties led many observers, including CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, to assume the NRA is the “gun rights organization” in question, while the political party is the Republican Party.
Today Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina was charged with acting as an agent of the Russian government. Paragraph 31 of the criminal complaint quotes an explosive email about establishing a “VERY private line of communication” between the Kremlin and GOP via the NRA: pic.twitter.com/X2VNHobBlQ
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) July 16, 2018
News of the arrest broke shortly after President Donald Trump held a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where he again questioned allegations of Russian hacking in the 2016 election.