On Sunday, gun rights activist Mariia Butina was charged as a Russian agent after years spent in the U.S. allegedly attempting to establish political ties with the Republican party through conservative groups to advance Russian interests.

According to court documents, Butina attempted to infiltrate the National Rifle Association as well as religious groups and the National Prayer Breakfast to establish “back channel” lines of communication with American politicians.

“These lines could be used by the Russian Federation to penetrate the U.S. national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation,” wrote the indictment.

Butina was allegedly working under the direction of Russian government official Alexander Torshin who currently serves as the deputy governor of the Russian central bank. He is a former member of the upper house of the Russian parliament and has been linked to organized crime. A series of emails and Twitter direct messages revealed conversations between the two in the run-up to the U.S presidential election. Following President Donald Trump’s election, Butina messaged Torshin via Twitter, “I am ready for further orders.”


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Butina was arrested and charged with conspiracy for acting as an agent of the Russian government without registering. The investigation was not carried out by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as it was already underway prior to the start of the Russia probe.

Possibly the most shocking discovery in this case was the conscious involvement of American operatives in assisting Butina with her covert efforts. Prosecutors pointed to a series of emails exchanged demonstrating that at least two American operatives knowingly guided Butina by identifying certain political, news and business officials to target.

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“I and your friends in America can’t make it any easier for you than that,” the political operative wrote.

Media reports have since speculated that one official was Paul Erickson, a GOP consultant with ties to the NRA. Erickson had previously met Butina in Moscow back in 2013 advocating for gun rights. Years later, Erickson attempted to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the annual NRA convention in May of 2016. On behalf of Putin, Erickson said in an email, “He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election,” noting that Russia was “quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S.”

Butina’s lawyer has since denied the accusations claiming that she is not an agent of the Russian Federation” and there “is simply no indication of Butina seeking to influence or undermine any specific policy or law.”

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