It has now been one week since Russian national and purported lifetime NRA member Maria 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” after infiltrating the upper ranks of the NRA, and the NRA still has not made a public statement about Butina.
The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Trump – nearly triple what the group devoted to backing Republican Mitt Romney 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 McClatchy, NRA spending may have actually exceeded $70 million during the 2016 election.
On MSNBC’s AM Joy on Sunday, Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a part of Everytown, said:
“We know that NRA leadership traveled to Moscow. We know that they met with Kremlin officials. We know that they hosted an alleged Russian agent at their annual meetings. So, they need to come clean. They need to talk about this and they need to answer questions. The walls are closing in on the NRA and it’s time for them to be honest about what their relationship is with, not just Butina but Russia generally.”
Meanwhile, new information continues to come out about Butina’s alleged activity on behalf of the Kremlin here in the United States:
1. Maria Butina met with U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve officials. Reuters reported, “The meetings, disclosed by several people familiar with the sessions and a report prepared by a Washington think tank that arranged them, involved Stanley Fischer, then Federal Reserve vice chairman, and Nathan Sheets, then Treasury undersecretary for international affairs. Butina traveled to the United States in April 2015 with Alexander Torshin, then the Russian Central Bank deputy governor, and they took part in separate meetings with Fischer and Sheets to discuss U.S.-Russian economic relations during Democratic former President Barack Obama’s administration.
2. Maria Butina allegedly received financial support from Konstantin Nikolaev, a Russian billionaire with investments in U.S. energy and technology companies. The Washington Post reported, “Maria Butina, the Russian woman charged in federal court last week with acting as an unregistered agent of her government, received financial support from Konstantin Nikolaev, a Russian billionaire with investments in U.S. energy and technology companies, according to a person familiar with testimony she gave Senate investigators. Butina told the Senate Intelligence Committee in April that Nikolaev provided funding for a gun rights group she represented, according to the person.”
3. 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 also uncovered that Bridges LLC, which has not publicly reported any financial activity, specifically triggered a suspicious activity report for its bank activity.
4. In addition to meeting Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin reportedly have met two other members of Congress — Representatives Mark Sanford (R-SC) and Randy Weber (R-TX). A new CNN report reveals that “Butina and her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, were two of roughly 300 guests attending a post-Thanksgiving barbeque last year that Sanford holds annually at his farm roughly an hour outside of Charleston, South Carolina.” And during an April 2015 trip to the United States with Butina, Torshin met with Rep. Randy Weber, according to the Center for the National Interest’s documents.
5. In a phone call on Saturday, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov called on U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to release Butina. According to Reuters, “Lavrov said the actions of the American authorities, who arrested Butina ‘on the basis of fabricated charges,’ were unacceptable and called for her release as soon as possible.”
6. According to CNN, “‘Right to Bear Arms’ fizzled out around the same time Butina started frequently traveling to the United States in 2014. A former manager of the group told CNN earlier this year they’ve ceased almost all activities and do not have financial means to promote their cause anymore.”