Who is Maria Butina? The Russian national who was arrested Monday after infiltrating the National Rifle Association was called on by Donald Trump to ask him a question during a town hall in 2015. Maria Butina, a Washington, D.C.-based graduate student, is on video asking then-candidate Trump about his proposed policy toward Russia.
“I’m from Russia,” she began. “My question will be about foreign politics. If you would be elected as a president, what will be your foreign politics especially in relationship with my country? And do you want to continue the politics of sanctions that are damaging of both economy or do you have other ideas?”
Trump replied: “I know Putin, and I’ll tell you what, we get along with Putin. Putin has no respect for President Obama. Big problem. Big problem. I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin, OK? And I mean, where we have the strength, I don’t think you’d need the sanctions.”
Later, Trump denied knowing Putin.
Who is Maria Butina?
On Monday, Maria Butina was indicted for acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign country. A gun-rights advocate in Russia, she attracted the attention of Russian politician Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia’s central bank. Both became lifetime members of the NRA. Butina moved to the U.S. in 2015 and began being tracked by the FBI after becoming a fixture at conservative events, including the libertarian FreedomFest, when she was called on by Trump to ask a question.
Butina, who earned a master’s degree in international relations from American University in 2016, is alleged to have ingratiated herself into the National Rifle Association to advance Russian interests. Her arrest was not part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. It was conducted by the Virginia-area FBI.
The charging document released after her arrest has attracted notice for a bit of salacious detail: Butina allegedly was in a romantic relationship with a 56-year-old unnamed Republican operative, and she offered sex to another man in exchange for a prominent position in an interest group.
Authorities have been investigating whether the NRA laundered Russian money via contributions to the Trump campaign. The organization donated $30 million to Trump’s bid for the presidency.