A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted Maria Butina on a conspiracy charge and on a charge that she acted as a foreign agent of Russia.
The indictment comes a day after the Department of Justice unsealed a criminal complaint charging Butina with conspiring to act as a foreign agent. The grand jury, which is empaneled in Washington, D.C., added an additional charge against Butina of acting as a foreign agent.
Butina, 29, was arrested on Sunday. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum five year prison sentence and the charge of acting as a foreign agent carries a 10-year maximum
Butina is accused of attempting to infiltrate American political groups in an effort to advance Russia’s interests. The alleged scheme began in March 2015 and continued through 2017, according to an affidavit unsealed on Monday.
The complaint accuses Butina of working under the direction of a Russian official whose description closely matches that of Alexander Torshin, the deputy head of Russia’s central bank. The court filings do not identify the groups that Butina and Torshin cozied up to, but they are publicly known to have made close contacts to the National Rifle Association and in Republican political circles.
Butina sought guidance from and reported back to the Russian official, according to the government’s complaint.
Butina and Torshin touted a group they founded called The Right to Bear Arms. They billed the organization as the Russian equivalent to the NRA. They also attended NRA meetings and met frequently with NRA officials.
Though Butina and Torshin had clear connections to the NRA, the government’s complaint against Butina does not allege that the NRA colluded with her or Torshin for political purposes. Some Democrats have alleged that Torshin funneled money through the NRA to help Republican politicians, including President Donald Trump.
Butina and Torshin did have some contact with Trumpworld. In July 2015, Butina was able to pose a question to then-candidate Trump at FreedomFest, a conservative and libertarian conference held in Las Vegas. In May 2016, Torshin briefly met Donald Trump Jr. on the sidelines of the NRA annual convention.
The indictment also says Butina falsely claimed in an application for a student visa in August 2016 that she no longer worked for Torshin. She claimed that she stopped working for the Kremlin insider on May 20, 2016.
“Despite her attestation, BUTINA continued to act under the direction and control of the RUSSIAN OFFICIAL for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation after she entered the United States,” the indictment says. (RELATED: Activist Who Offered Trump Team Russian ‘Backdoor Overture’ Says He Was ‘Used’ By Alleged Russian Spy)
The indictment also references an American political operative who helped Butina make political contacts.
“U.S. Person 1 worked with BUTINA to arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics, including an organization promoting gun rights (hereinafter “GUN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION”), for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation,” the indictment reads. (RELATED: Russian National Linked To NRA Is Charged With Conspiracy)
The political operative has not been identified, but Butina is known to have worked closely with a longtime Republican operative named Paul Erickson.
In May 2016, Erickson sent an email to the Trump campaign offering to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In the email, titled “Kremlin Connection,” Erickson said that he was working with Russians who were “quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S.”
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