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Charges against Maria Butina confirm 'infiltration' was part of Russian 2016 attack

18 July 2018

Torshin and Butina "methodically cultivated ties with leaders of the National Rifle Association" and used those connections over the course of several years to gain deeper access into American politics, NPR reported in March.

Butina, 29, was arrested on Sunday and appeared before a magistrate in Washington on Monday, according to the USA justice department.

Maria Butina has been arrested and charged with conspiracy to act as a Russian agent.

The Justice Department says Butina worked at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government. In addition, she worked as an assistant to the deputy chairman of the Russian Central Bank, Alexander Torshin, the former member of the Federation Council, the member of the Putin's political party allegedly associated with the Russian underworld.

The charges against Butina were filed by prosecutors from the Justice Department's national security division - not special counsel Robert Mueller's office - and offer yet another glimpse into the wide variety of methods Moscow employed to try to influence the U.S. political climate ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

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Butina was apparently very involved in U.S. politics, attending a Trump town hall meeting in Las Vegas (where she managed to ask Trump a question about U.S./Russia relations) as well as multiple NRA conventions and the National Prayer Breakfast in D.C. She was also reportedly a member of the NRA.

A federal judge in Washington ordered her jailed until a hearing set for Wednesday, according to a statement from the Justice Department and Jessie Liu, the USA attorney for the District of Columbia.

The charges against Butina were brought by the US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia and not by the Special Counsel. Trump Jr. has said the interaction was brief and not memorable.

"The move frees labor unions, issue advocacy organizations, veterans groups, and other nonprofits that do not receive tax-exempt money from meeting confidential disclosure requirements set in place decades ago", Reuters explained, which further guards the privacy of political groups' rich donors, who "have complained that the disclosures to the IRS, though not public, were susceptible to media leaks".

The complaint portrays Butina as active in promoting Russian interests in US politics, including an easing of sanctions imposed on Moscow in 2014, in the year leading up to Trump's election as president in 2016. Shortly after, Butina exchanged messages with the Russian official on Twitter, in which they discussed strategy and impressed upon each other the importance of their work. "We made our bet".

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For the most complete profile of Butina to date, read this from reporter Tim Mak, then at the Daily Beast, now at NPR.

American University spokesman Mark Story told Reuters that Butina was enrolled as a student there in the summer of 2016 and graduated in the spring of 2018 with a Master of Arts degree. An NRA spokesman did not reply to requests for comment.

Trump later said he knows the Russian president.

Newly unsealed court documents show that prosecutors indicated in a court filing on Saturday their investigation into the Russian foreign agent had more than one subject.

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Charges against Maria Butina confirm 'infiltration' was part of Russian 2016 attack