On Monday, federal prosecutors charged Russian national Maria Butina, a lifetime member of the NRA, with being an unregistered agent of the Russian government and accused her spying for Moscow while she studied in the United States.
The move comes as questions continueÂ to escalateÂ about the NRAâs Russian connections during the 2016 campaign.
The indictment was also unsealed just hours after Trump stunned world observers during his joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin. There, TrumpÂ acceptedÂ Putinâs word over the U.S. intelligence community and seemed to agree that Russia had nothing to do withÂ attackingU.S. elections in 2016.
According to the new spyingÂ charges,Â one goal of the conspiracy that Butina allegedly took part in was to âexploit personal connections with U.S. persons having influence in American politics in an effort to advance the interests of the Russian Federation.â
She allegedly used these connections to âinfiltrate organizations active in U.S. politics,âÂ theÂ criminal complaintÂ states.
One of the contacts she had was with an âorganization promoting gun rights,â which was identified as the NRA.
âI believe that Butina and the Russian official took these steps in order to infiltrate those groups and advance the interests of the Russian Federation,â FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson wrote in anÂ affidavitÂ accompanying the criminal complaint.
Butina is âknown as a protege of Alexander Torshin, a Russian former state banker, who met Donald Trump Jr. for dinner at the NRAâs 2016 convention,â The GuardianÂ reports. âTorshin was placed under sanction by the US in April this year.â
In a Tweet from November 2016, Torshin noted thatÂ Butina, âa Russian national who claimed she had been part of the Trump campaignâs communications with Russia, was, like himself, also a life member of the NRA,â NPR reported.
Butina arrived in the U.S. in August, 2016, just as Trumpâs presidential campaign was entering the general election. She attended American University in Washington, D.C., as a graduate student.
The NRA has been under a growingÂ cloud of suspicionÂ regarding its potential role in helping Russian operatives bolster Trumpâs campaign. Specifically, there are questions about whether the groupÂ was used to funnelÂ Russian funds to the Trump campaign, which would be against the law.
Back in April, the right-wing gun groupÂ had to admitÂ that it had accepted money from at least 23 Russian sources, after initially reporting just one Russian donor.
Meanwhile, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee haveÂ criticizedÂ their Republican colleagues for failing to investigateÂ evidence that the NRA served as conduit between Russia and the Trump campaign.
The Democratic intelligence report found that âAlexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia, with the assistance of his deputy, Maria Butina, have used their affiliation with the NRA to cultivate relationshipsâ with U.S. politicians.
Meanwhile, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) isÂ reportedlyÂ looking at whether Russian entities gave illegal contributions to the NRA that were designed to benefit the Trump campaign.
The NRA today represents one of the GOPâs most loyal political allies. And itâs drowning in allegations of having illegal ties to Russia.
Published with permission of The American Independent.