Russian woman charged with conspiracy against the United States


A 29-year-old Russian woman has been arrested for conspiring to influence USA politics by cultivating ties with political groups including the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun rights lobby.

Court papers unsealed, July 16, 2018, photographed in Washington, shows part of the criminal complaint against Maria Butina. Butina is a former assistant of Alexander Torshin - a top official at Russia's central bank, close ally of Putin, and alleged friend of the Russian mob.

Federal prosecutors in Washington revealed Monday that they have arrested a 29-year-old woman and accused her of acting as a covert agent inside the United States on behalf of a senior Kremlin official.

Prosecutors say the Russian official has since been sanctioned by the U.S.

"Butina and [Torshin] took steps to develop relationships with American politicians in order to establish private, or as she called them "back channel" lines of communication, '" according to an Federal Bureau of Investigation affidavit.

According to court papers, Ms Butina met with USA politicians and candidates, attended events sponsored by special interest groups - including two National Prayer Breakfast events - and organised Russian-American "friendship and dialogue" dinners in Washington with the goal of "reporting back to Moscow" what she had learned.

The organization was not named but a senior USA official confirmed it was the National Rifle Association, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The FBI said in court papers Butina sought to establish relationships with a "gun rights organization".

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Butina was named in a report by Democrats on the Senate judiciary committee, citing documents suggesting Russian Federation used the National Rifle Association to secretly fund President Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

She allegedly worked at the direction of a high-level Kremlin official.

Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia's upper house of parliament, said Butina's arrest was a Russophobic backlash against the positive talks between Mr Trump and Mr Putin in Helsinki.

She and Torshin also attended a series of NRA events in the United States starting in 2014.

Walker's re-election campaign spokesman had no immediate comment Monday.

McClatchy previously reported that the FBI was investigating Russian attempts to funnel money to the Trump presidential campaign through the NRA, a claim the gun rights group has denied. The FBI is reportedly investigating Torshin for illegally funneling money to the NRA so as to aid Trump's 2016 campaign. The pair did, however, have a brief meeting with Donald Trump Jr. at a NRA event in May 2016.

Butina then accompanied Erickson to Trump's inauguration, one of a number of Russians who attended the festivities and toasted to better relations between Russia and the United States.