For years, Maria Butina has been working behind the scenes to establish direct lines of communication between members of the Republican Party and Russian government officials, according to an indictment unsealed by the Department of Justice on Monday.
The indictment alleges Butina and her Russian handlers used the National Rifle Association to help advance the interests of the Russian Federation.
Butina, who was arrested on Sunday, worked for Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian central bank who has close ties to Vladimir Putin and is accused of running massive money laundering schemes.
She is accused of working with her Russian handler “for the purpose of developing and executing a plan to identify and exploit personal connections with U.S. persons having influence in American politics who were in positions to advance the interests of the Russian Federation,” according to the indictment.
An unnamed American political operative is said to have “worked with Butina to jointly arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics, including an organization promoting gun rights, for the purpose of advancing the agenda of the Russian Federation.” The organization in question, though not named in the indictment or accompanying affidavit, is the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has longstanding ties to Torshin and Butina.
The Federal Election Commission has been scrutinizing the NRA’s financial ties to both the Trump campaign and Russian donors. After initially claiming the organization had received only one contribution from a Russian donor since 2012, they have since admitted to accepting contributions from more than two dozen Russian individuals.
The indictment also outlines a memo written by Butina for her Russian handlers in which she refers to a direct meeting with an unidentified political candidate during a 2015 meeting of the NRA.
Butina’s arrest comes just three days after the Department of Justice indicted 12 Russian officials for their roll in hacking the email servers belonging to multiple Democratic Party organizations and infiltrating the personal email accounts of members of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. It also comes just hours after Donald Trump said he trusts Vladimir Putin more than his own intelligence agencies.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information becomes available.