The scandal of Russian interference in the 2016 election keep getting weirder. And last weekend it expanded to include 29-year-old Maria Butina, who's been arrested for being a Russian spy.
Butina says she’s originally from Siberia but moved to Moscow in 2010 to start a new business. She eventually made her way to Washington, D.C., where she earned a degree from American University, though she lied on her 2016 student visa application, prosecutors say. At the same time, the FBI says, she created her own Russian guns rights advocacy group called Right to Bear Arms, connected with high-profile members of the National Rifle Association, and was in constant contact with the FSB, a Russian intelligence agency that took the place of the KGB.
In a complaint unsealed on Sunday, prosecutors claimed that she traded sex for political influence, dated and lived with a political operative she apparently didn’t even like very much, made inroads into the Republican Party through the NRA to push forward Russian interests, set up a trip to Moscow for NRA members, and arranged meetings for Russian political insiders in New York and D.C.
Here’s what else we know so far:
She pleaded not guilty to her charges
Butina has pleaded not guilty to two felony charges: conspiracy and acting as an agent of a foreign government without informing the attorney general.
“The defendant's covert influence campaign involved substantial planning, international coordination and preparation,” prosecutors wrote. “The plan for Butina also required, and she demonstrated, a willingness to use deceit in a visa application to move to the United States and bring the plan to fruition.”
Prosecutors argued that Butina was an “extreme flight risk,” and she has been jailed without bond.
She says she loves the Second Amendment
Butina founded a Russian gun rights activist group the Right to Bear Arms and became an active activist with the NRA. In 2013, John Bolton recorded a video message on gun rights for her group, and the following year, TownHall ran an interview with her titled: “Meet the woman working with the NRA and fighting for gun rights in Russia.”
She allegedly used the connections she made in both of these groups to push forward a Russian agenda in the U.S.
She was compared to the Russian spy Anna Chapman
“Good morning! How are you faring there in the rays of the new fame? Are your admirers asking for your autographs yet? You have upstaged Anna Chapman,” an unnamed "Russian official," believed to be Russian central bank deputy Alexander Torshin, texted her, according to court documents.
Prosecutors believe she was preparing to flee
According to the New York Times, Butina was arrested after agents observed her moving money out of the country and packing up her home, the lease on which she had recently terminated.
She allegedly used her love for guns to connect with the GOP
Butina is accused of utilizing her connections with the NRA to make inroads into the Republican Party and advance Russian interests. She reportedly met Donald Trump Jr. with Alexander Torshin — who isn’t named in court filings was reportedly the “Russian official” who gave her orders, according to The New York Times — at an NRA dinner, and even bragged about connected the Trump campaign with Russia.
She allegedly offered sex for power
Butina was in a relationship with an older man she allegedly slept with and lived with, but didn't appear to like all that much. The man, referred to in the filing as “US Person 1,” has been identified as longtime Republican political operative Paul Erickson.
According to the filing, Butina expressed “disdain” for having to live with the operative, even offering another unnamed man “sex in exchange for a position in a special interest organization,” despite her ongoing relationship with Erickson.
According to the New York Times, however, she did get something out of it for herself — she allegedly had him do her homework for her classes at American University, where she maintained a 4.0 GPA.
You can read the full filing below:
Cover image: Mariia Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization, speaks on October 8, 2013 during a press conference in Moscow. STR/AFP/Getty Images.