Butina Pleads Guilty to “Conspiracy to Act as an Agent of the Russian Federation Within the United States Without Prior Notification to the Attorney General”
WASHINGTON ― Everytown for Gun Safety today released the following statement after purported lifetime NRA member Maria Butina pleaded guilty to “conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior notification to the attorney general.” According to the plea agreement, Butina sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over American politics, including a gun rights organization reported to be the NRA. At today’s hearing, “Butina agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as part of her plea deal, and a lawyer for the government said at her plea hearing that her cooperation was ‘ongoing.’” Much more information about Butina is available here and here.
To date, the NRA has not publicly commented on the arrest or conviction of Maria Butina, who is believed to have used the NRA and other conservative groups to gain access to prominent Republican figures.
STATEMENT FROM JOHN FEINBLATT, PRESIDENT OF EVERYTOWN FOR GUN SAFETY:
“It’s now official: An admitted agent of the Russian government was using the NRA to advance the Kremlin’s agenda. The American people deserve answers from NRA leaders, starting with why they gave an all-access pass to Butina. It’s time for the NRA to make good on its patriotic bluster and pull back the iron curtain on its relationship with Russia.”
This news comes just eight days after The Daily Beast reported that federal investigators are targeting Butina’s boyfriend, NRA-linked GOP political operative Paul Erickson, and considering charging him with acting as an unregistered foreign agent, the same charge pending against Butina. Erickson also faces a potential conspiracy charge.
- In 2011, then-NRA president David Keene formed a friendship with Russian banker and politician Alexander Torshin — Butina’s alleged handler. That same year, Butina formed a Russian gun rights group, which Torshin joined shortly thereafter, that federal authorities allege was a cover for her outreach to the NRA.
- In 2013, Butina’s gun rights group hosted Keene and NRA-linked Republican operative Paul Erickson at the Right to Bear Arms’ annual convention in Moscow. Days later, now-White House national security advisor John Bolton, a longtime friend of Keene’s, recorded a video for the group praising “a new era of freedom” in Russia.
- In 2014, Butina attended her first of three consecutive NRA conventions. Torshin and Butina’s attendance at NRA conventions gave them access to prominent Republican figures, including President Donald Trump, Governor Scott Walker, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal and others.
- Weeks after President Trump launched his presidential campaign and during a public question-and-answer session at FreedomFest, a libertarian convention in Las Vegas in July 2015, Butina asked Trump what he would do as president about “damaging” U.S. sanctions. Trump suggested he would get rid of them.
- In 2015, Butina’s gun rights group hosted another NRA delegation in Moscow, which included former NRA president David Keene, NRA and Trump campaign surrogate Sheriff David Clarke, charter member of the NRA’s million-dollar donor program Joe Gregory, and Pete Brownell, who would soon become NRA president. During the trip, the delegation met with then-sanctioned Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and visited a Russian gun manufacturer, whose weapons have been cited by the U.S. military as a threat to American troops. Clarke also claimed to have met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a meeting that emails show Butina worked to schedule.
- By 2016, “Torshin and Butina had become fixtures at the NRA’s high-dollar donor events, according to attendees,” even attending a dinner for the NRA’s million-dollar donor program, known as the Golden Ring of Freedom.
- In February 2016, Butina and Paul Erickson created a mysterious limited liability company in South Dakota and attended Trump’s inauguration together. Last year, the U.S. Treasury’s financial crimes unit collected suspicious activity reports from banks on Alexander Torshin, Maria Butina, Paul Erickson and Butina and Erickson’s South Dakota-based company, Bridges LLC. Buzzfeed uncovered that Bridges LLC, which has not publicly reported any financial activity, specifically triggered a suspicious activity report for its bank activity.
- In May 2016, Erickson reached out to the Trump campaign on behalf of Alexander Torshin, who Erickson described as “Putin’s emissary,” saying that Russia was “quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S.” and would try to use the NRA convention to make “first contact.”
- Donald Trump, Jr. met and spoke with Torshin and Butina at former NRA President David Keene’s birthday party in 2016, which was happening at the same restaurant as an event to which Trump, Jr. had been invited.
- Shortly after President Trump’s election, Butina hosted a birthday party at a restaurant in Washington, D.C. The party was attended by Trump campaign aides and Paul Erickson, who claimed to advise the Trump transition team. There, she claimed to have acted as a go-between between the Trump campaign and Russia.
- In January 2018, McClatchy reported that the FBI was “investigating whether Russian money went to [the] NRA to help Trump” get elected.
- In April 2018, Torshin was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury.
- In July 2018, Butina was arrested and charged by the Department of Justice with “conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior notification to the Attorney General.”
The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Donald Trump – nearly triple what the group spent during the 2012 presidential race. Most of that money was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors, and according to a McClatchy report from January, NRA spending may have actually exceeded $70 million during the 2016 election.