Maria Butina, a Russian gun rights activist who has ties to the National Rifle Association, was arrested Sunday and charged with conspiracy to act as an agent to the Russian Federation. She is being held without bond.
Butina, 29, was arrested Sunday and made her first appearance in U.S. District Court before Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson,according to a press release from the Department of Justice. Her attorney, Robert Neil Driscoll, told the judge that Butina’s residence was searched by the FBI in April, that she had testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed session several months ago. “We have been offering to cooperate with the government the entire time,” he told the judge.
Mariia Butina, who goes by Maria Butina, is a political activist and former assistant to Russian Senator Aleksandr Torshin, a Putin ally, and the founder of Right to Bear Arms, a gun rights group. Here’s what you need to know about Butina:
1. Butina Has Ties to Former NRA Presidents David Keene & Wayne LaPierre & Was Once Contacted by a Russian Official Who Stated “Your Political Star Has Risen in the Sky”
The Daily Beast and Mother Jones uncovered Butina’s ties to the NRA and former president David Keene. Court documents do not name any specific officials or organizations she was tied to, but also has ties with another former NRA President Wayne LaPierre.
Butina is accused of developing relationships with American politicians and a “gun rights organization,” none of which are named in the affidavit supporting the criminal complaint, according to the Washington Post. FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson wrote that Butina was attempting to “establish a ‘back channel’ communication for representatives of the Government of Russia.”
The affidavit also contains communications via direct messages on Twitter between Butina and the unnamed Russian official. “Your political star has risen in the sky,” the official told Butina. “Now it is important to rise to the zenith and not burn out (fall) prematurely,” and they later discussed the “Russia-USA friendship society.”
2. Butina’s Attorney Says She Has Been Cooperating for Months with Government Entities & the “Substance of the Complaint is Overblown”
According to the affidavit, in 2017, Butina and the official attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Discroll said during the hearing that Butina had recently earned a master’s degree in international relations from American University.
“Maria Butina is not an agent of the Russian Federation,” Driscoll said in a statement after the hearing. He also said she “has been cooperating with various government entities for months regarding public allegations related to her contacts with various American and Russian individuals,” testified for eight hours before the Intelligence Committee and provided “thousands of documents,” according to the statement.
“The substance of the charge in the complaint is overblown,” Driscoll said. He said the government was attempting to make such actions as attending the prayer breakfast into “nefarious acts,” when Butina was merely networking to develop relationships with Americans, the Washington Post reports.
3. She Founded a Russian Gun Rights Group Called “Right to Bear Arms” & Became Lifetime NRA Member Alexander Torshin’s Assistant
According to the Washington Post, Butina is a former Siberian furniture store owner and founded a Russian gun rights group called “Right to Bear Arms.” She became an assistant to a Russian banker and former senator Alexander Torshin, who is a lifetime member of the NRA, the Washington Post reports.
“She began reaching out to NRA members and other American gun enthusiasts in 2013, on several occasions hosting NRA executives and gun activists in Moscow, including one delegation that included former Milwaukee Sheriff Dave Clarke,” the Washington Post reports. She and Torshin also attended a series of NRA events in the United States starting in 2014.
Butina also attended an NRA convention in May 2016, where a Republican operative named Paul Erickson worked to get Torshin a meeting with Trump, according to the Washington Post. In an email to the campaign, Erickson referred to Torshin as “President Putin’s emissary.”
4. Butina Supported Trump’s Candidacy & Wrote a Column for the National Interest In Support of a Republican President Taking Office
Butina traveled the United States during the Trump campaign, supporting his run for office and even writing a column for the National Interest, a conservative magazine. The article suggested that “only by electing a Republican could the U.S. and Russia hope to improve relations,” reports the Washington Post.
During a town hall meeting in Las Vegas, less than a month after Trump announced his candidacy for presidency, she was able to publicly ask Trump: “What will be your foreign politics, especially in the relations with my country? And do you want to continue the politics of sanctions that are damaging of both economy [sic]? Or you have any other ideas?”
“I know Putin and I’ll tell you what, we get along with Putin,” Trump responded. This was the first of his “many campaign statements about his desire to build better ties with Russia,” according to the Washington Post.
Butina and Torshin had a brief interaction with Donald Trump Jr. at the event, although Trump Jr. claims the meeting was short and not memorable. Butina also attended Trump’s inauguration — one of many Russians who attended the event and “toasted to better relations between Russia and the U.S.”
5. Butina Has Several Ties to Republican Politicians & Has Worked Hard to Create Strong Ties Between the NRA & Right to Bear Arms
Butina and Torshin have worked to create strong ties between the NRA and Right to Bear Arms, her Russian gun organization. She has brought NRA officials to Russia to speak at Bear Arms events, and made several appearances with Republican politicians, including former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Senator Rick Santorum and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. She attended Walker’s short-lived presidential campaign launch in 2015 according to Rolling Stone.
Butina faces up to 5 years in prison if convicted. According to the Justice Department’s press release, “The investigation into this matter was conducted by the FBI’s Washington Field Office. The case is being prosecuted by the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the National Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.”
You can read the criminal complaint and an FBI affidavit filed in the case below: