A Russian woman accused of working for more than four years as a covert agent to sway political decision-making and promote pro-Moscow sentiment in the United States has been arrested and charged.
Maria Butina, 29, was charged just hours after the Trump-Putin summit on Monday with conspiracy and illegally acting as an agent of the Russian government.
Court documents lodged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) claim Butina tried to build ties within the National Rifle Association to influence a major political party. The affidavit also asserts Butina had been working for a top Russian central bank official and trying to advance the interests of the Russian state — all the while not registering as a foreign agent.
Butina had kept anything but a low profile during her time in the United States. Active on social media and successful in meeting high-ranking figures, the gun rights activists even asked Trump a question about Russian sanctions at a July 2015 event in Las Vegas.
News agencies reporting on the arrest also believe Butina was working alongside Russian official Alexander Torshin – who met with Donald Trump Jr. at an NRA event in May 2016.
Butina is the first Russian to be arrested related to interference in the 2016 US Presidential election. However, 25 other Russian nationals have faced charges over the influence campaign.
The New York Times reported the Justice Department charged 13 Russians and three companies in February with stealing the identities of American citizens, posing as political activists and using the flash points of immigration, religion and race to manipulate the 2016 campaign.
The indictment against Butina is not part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe – which is still investigating potential links between President Trump’s election campaign and the Russians.
Second Amendment Foundation member Alan Gottlieb met Butina at a formal networking dinner in 2013. He said his interactions with Butina were “totally above board” and that he was stunned to learn of her arrested.
He described her as “very aggressive, very assertive, very bright, very smart, obviously well-educated, speaking English very well, very flirtatious, always made sure her presence was known.”
Russian state news agency Tass reports the family of Butina has been unable to get in contact with her since the arrest.
Russian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Moscow considered the allegations against Butina to be groundless and politically motivated. The spokeswoman said Russia has been doing everything possible to protect the legitimate rights and interests of the arrested woman.
Russian Embassy officials were to meet with Butina on Thursday.