U.S. President Donald Trump showed his true allegiances to the world as recently as Monday, when, after having met one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he downplayed Russian meddling in the 2016 United States elections and questioned whether or not it had even happened.
As time goes on, more indications emerge of that set-up being very, very off base and contrary to the U.S. national interest. Just hours after the press conference following that Trump/Putin meeting, U.S. officials revealed that Russian national Maria Butina had been arrested and charged with being a spy for the Russian government in the country.
— Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) July 16, 2018
She is one of the two Russians who has been revealed, as time has gone on, to be associated with the National Rifle Association. Butina is a former assistant to Alexander Torshin, who has worked both in the Russian legislature and in the Russian state central bank.
He’s the second Russian revealed to have cultivated close ties to the NRA, and his ties to the controversial American political organization have come under scrutiny in the past but through no means as serious and formal as Butina’s arrest. Earlier this year, reports emerged that federal agencies including the FBI and Federal Elections Commission were investigating the NRA thanks in large part to how at home Torshin had made himself in the group.
Their area of interest, according to reports, was what foreign money had gone into the NRA and what it had been used for. Butina’s arrest covers the broader scope of her and Torshin’s activities, which included successive attendance at years of NRA conventions and partnerships with the organization through a gun rights group founded in Russia. Butina also attended, among other events, at least two National Prayer Breakfast events.
Torshin also sought to use his NRA connections to meet with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, although that plan of his never materialized.
Underneath these activities, according to court filings made by the Justice Department, Butina sought to establish a “VERY private line of communication” between the Kremlin and interests in the United States.
In her efforts, she worked at the immediate direction of an individual identified in government court filings only as a Russian official; CNN notes that said official seems to be Torshin.
He wasn’t going it alone in his direction of Butina. As one example, the U.S. government is in possession of communications in which Butina claims to an unnamed U.S. individual that the Russian official — most likely Torshin — told her a representative of the Kremlin had approved “building this communication channel.”
Butina’s lawyer Robert N. Driscoll unsurprisingly denied the charges against his client, asserting her to not have acted as “an agent of the Russian Federation.”
The charges against her serve as another confirmation of Russian efforts to meddle in the U.S. political system. Trump and his associates at times deny the existence and significance of these efforts, but it gets harder to claim the whole thing a witch hunt as the pile of indictments gets bigger.
The charges against Butina come days after twelve Russian intelligence officers were formally charged with an array of crimes related to their efforts to hack into Democratic Party affiliated computer systems.
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