Maria Butina, a Russian national, stands charged in the United States with espionage. The 29-year-old woman had cultivated relationships with Second Amendment advocates in the United States before standing in a federal courtroom on Monday in Washington D.C. She was arrested on Sunday in the District of Columbia and appeared on Monday before Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson in a federal district court. According to attorney Robert Neil Driscoll, his client’s home was searched by the FBI in April. Butina also testified before Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed session, earlier this year. Driscoll said that Butina has been “offering to cooperate with the government the entire time.” Butina gave her name to the court, but refrained from speaking further. On Wednesday, a detention hearing and preliminary hearing are expected.

Last week, 12 Russian intelligence officers were charged by the Department of Justice, which alleged that they had hacked the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign organization in 2016. Butina is accused befriending American politicians and a “gun rights organization,” none of which are named by the government. In an affidavit, FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson stated that Butin fried to “establish a ‘back channel’ communication for representatives of the Government of Russia.” The federal government noted that Butina sent a direct message on Twitter to an unnamed Russian official, who replied, “Your political star has risen in the sky.” The unnamed Russian official went on to state: “Now it is important to rise to the zenith and not burn out (fall) prematurely.” Butina and the official also planned a “Russia-USA friendship society.”

Butina’s counsel affirmed that his client recently graduated American University with a master’s degree in international relations. Driscoll said in a statement, however, that Butina is not an agent of Russia. Driscoll said that Butina “has been cooperating with various government entities for months regarding public allegations related to her contacts with various American and Russian individuals.” He claimed that she testified for eight hours before the Senate Intelligence Committee and provided “thousands of documents.” Driscoll said that the federal government is seeking to make Butina’s behavior appear as “nefarious acts.” Butina is the founder of a gun rights group in Russia, which is called the Right to Bear Arms. She is a former assistant to Alexander Torshin -- a Russian banker and life member of the National Rifle Association.

Butina started her campaign of contacting NRA executives and firearms enthusiasts in Moscow. Butina and Torshin attended a number of NRA events in the United States from 2014 onward. In July 2015, after Donald Trump announced his candidacy, Butina attended a FreedomFest conference in Las Vegas where Trump was speaking. She publicly asked Trump: “What will be your foreign politics, especially in the relations with my country?” “I know Putin and I’ll tell you what, we get along with Putin,” Trump said. Butina attended the FreedomFest in 2016, as well.

Butina attended an NRA convention in May 2016, where she and Torshin briefly interacted with Donald Trump Jr., the future president’s son. Paul Erickson -- a Republican political operative -- sought to secure a meeting for Torshin with future President Trump, calling Torshin “President Putin’s emissary.” The meeting did not happen. Butina later accompanied Erickson to Trump’s inauguration.

Butina tweeted in May 2016: "With past-president of gunsmiths NRA - David Keene, at the main office of the organization in Virginia."

Butina chaired a two-day conference in 2013 of civilian gun rights advocates in Moscow. Among those attending were Torshin and Second Amendment Foundation founder Alan Gottlieb. There were representatives from gun rights groups from numerous countries, as well as Russian provinces. A principal topic of the 2nd Annual Meeting of international gun rights organizations was the United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty. Former National Rifle Association President

David Keene also attended.

In Russia, citizens are allowed to own hunting rifles and shotguns and gas-powered pistols. However, cartridge guns, whether for home protection or concealed carry, are almost totally prohibited. Gun laws vary considerably from one province to another. Russian legislators have considered relaxing laws regulating pistols for possession outside the home. Following the deadly Sandy Hook mass shooting in 2012, Butina issued a statement defending the right to bear arms in the face of calls by many in the United States for a ban on so-called assault rifles. She wrote, "In this shooting six teachers died, six people who could literally use only their hands to defend children." She added, "The murderer planned this knowing that no one would be armed." The movement in Russia to allow firearms for self-defense was nearly non-existent before 2012, but has grown since then.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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