Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Recent AU graduate charged with acting as Russian agent in U.S.

Maria Butina, a gun rights activist and Russian citizen, graduated from SIS in May

Recent AU graduate charged with acting as Russian agent in U.S.

Maria Butina, a recent American University graduate and Russian citizen, was charged in federal court Monday with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the U.S.

Butina, a 29-year-old activist who lives in Washington, was arrested Sunday and made her initial court appearance this afternoon, according to a press release from the Department of Justice. The judge ordered Butina held without bond. She will face another hearing on Wednesday, according to the release.

In a criminal complaint filed against Butina on July 14, FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson wrote that Butina, along with a known Russian government official, “knowingly did combine, conspire, confederate, and agree together and with each other to commit an offense against the United States.” She committed these activities without disclosing her status as a Russian government agent, as required by law, according to the press release.

The complaint cited three specific “overt acts” Butina committed to further her conspiracy, including her entrance to the U.S. in August 2016 on an F-1 student visa for the “purported purpose of attending university full time in the District of Columbia.” In truth, Helson wrote, “Butina continued to act as an agent on behalf of the Russian Federation” and an unnamed Russian official.

She graduated from AU in May, the University confirmed to NBC Washington. A 2017 article, published on an AU website for the Carmel Institute of Russian History & Culture, described Butina as a master’s student in the School of International Service. A spokesperson for the University did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Butina’s connections to Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, have been reported by multiple news outlets in the past year. Butina, a prominent gun rights activist in Russia, worked as a special assistant to Torshin and appeared alongside him at several conservative political events, including National Rifle Association conventions in recent years and the National Prayer Breakfast in 2017, according to The Washington Post.

Torshin and Butina “methodically cultivated ties with leaders of the National Rifle Association” and used those connections over the course of several years to gain deeper access into American politics, NPR reported in March. 

According to the complaint, Butina attempted to establish “unofficial lines of communications with U.S. politicians and political organizations” as part of a plan to “identify and exploit” connections that could be used to “advance the interests of the Russian Federation.” 

In 2016, Butina twice attempted to set up meetings between then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, according to the New York Times. She had several other key interactions with the Trump campaign, the Post reported, including an appearance at a Trump town hall in 2015 and a brief interaction with the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr.

Butina’s attorney, Robert Neil Driscoll, said in a statement to the Post that Butina is “not an agent of the Russian Federation.” He added that she “has been cooperating with various government entities for months regarding public allegations related to her contacts with various American and Russian individuals.”

During the hearing, the Post reported, Driscoll said Butina’s home was searched by the FBI in April and that she had testified for eight hours before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed session months ago.

This story has been updated. 

hsamsel@theeagleonline.com


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