The Russian government has responded to the indictment of 29-year-old Russian national Maria Butina, calling allegations that she is a Russian spy a “political put-up job” aimed at “whipping up anti-Russia hysteria in the U.S.”
“We are dismayed by the reported arrest of Russian citizen Maria Butina in the US on July 15,” Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a press conference.
“It looks as if the FBI, instead of carrying out their responsibility of fighting crime, is implementing a political put-up job set to it by forces that are whipping up anti-Russia hysteria in the US.”
Butina, who is from Siberia, was arrested on Sunday in Washington, D.C., where she is a graduate student at American University.
She was indicted by a federal grand jury on Tuesday on charges that she conspired and acted as a foreign agent of the Russian government. A criminal complaint accuses her of working for Alexander Torshin, the deputy chief of Russia’s central bank, to infiltrate political groups and organizations in the U.S. in order to advance Russia’s interests. (RELATED: Grand Jury Indicts Russian National Linked To NRA, Adds ‘Foreign Agent’ Charge)
The complaint does not identify American political groups by name, but Butina and Torshin had close links to the National Rifle Association and to Republican political operatives. Both attended NRA meetings and used a group they established called The Right to Bear Arms to host American gun rights activists in Russia. Butina and Torshin also made several attempts through American conduits to set up meetings with Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
There is no evidence that Butina and Torshin were able to meet with Trump, though Torshin did briefly meet Donald Trump Jr. at an NRA event in Louisville in May 2016.
The Butina case is being handled by the Justice Department’s National Security Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C. The special counsel’s office, which is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Kremlin, does not appear to be involved in the case.
The Justice Department’s complaint did not allege any wrongdoing on the part of any Americans, including with the NRA or Trump campaign. Democrats have alleged, without evidence, that Torshin funneled Russian money to the NRA in order to help Trump’s campaign. Some media outlets have reported that the FBI is investigating the NRA.
Tuesday’s indictment came just days after the special counsel’s office indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officials who allegedly hacked into the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign’s emails.
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