A Russian woman living in D.C. has been charged for conspiring to work for the Russian government by establishing relationships and infiltrating organizations that have influence in U.S. politics, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Monday.
Federal authorities on Sunday arrested Maria Butina, a 29-year-old Russian citizen, and charged her “with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior notification to the Attorney General,” according to a DOJ press release.
The DOJ alleges that Butina acted with “the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation” at the direction a “high-level” Russian official.
“The court filings detail the Russian official’s and Butina’s efforts for Butina to act as an agent of Russia inside the United States by developing relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation,” the press release notes, citing the affidavit in support of the complaint.
“Butina worked at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government who was previously a member of the legislature of the Russian Federation and later became a top official at the Russian Central Bank,” the DOJ says, noting she did this work from as early as 2015 until at least February 2017.
Earlier this year, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee claimed that they had obtained documents that suggest Russia used the National Rifle Association (NRA) “to secretly fund Mr. Trump’s campaign.” Butina was named in the panel's preliminary findings.
The Democrats identified Butina and Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia, as two people of particular interest. Butina worked as an assistant to Torshin.
The DOJ press release alleges that Butina continued to work for this Russian official, who was sanctioned by the Treasury Department in April.
Butina is being held after appearing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Monday.
The charge comes just hours after President Trump cast doubt on Russia's involvement in election meddling during the 2016 election, an astonishing remark that came as he stood beside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a press conference in Helsinki.
“He just said it’s not Russia,” Trump said, repeating Putin’s denials of involvement in the 2016 presidential election. “I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
The remarks, made on a world stage, created a wave of astonishment that reverberated globally.
Members of the president's own party, who are usually reluctant to criticize Trump, fiercely rebuked his decision to side with the Kremlin leader over his own intelligence community, which has overwhelmingly concluded that Russia sought to meddle in the 2016 election.
The conclusions of the investigations led by the Senate and House Intelligence committees also support these findings.
The joint press conference with Putin comes just days after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee on Friday.
All 12 of the defendants are members of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.