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US Charges Russian Woman With Conspiracy to Infiltrate American Organizations

By Masood Farivar July 16, 2018

An aide to a top Russian government official under U.S. sanctions was charged on Monday with conspiracy to infiltrate American organizations as part of Moscow's influence operations in the United States.

Maria Butina, 29, was arrested on Sunday on charges of conspiring to act as an agent of the Russian government in the United States without notifying the attorney general. Butina appeared before a federal magistrate in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Monday and was ordered held, pending a bond hearing on Wednesday.

According to an FBI affidavit, between 2015 and 2017, Butina worked as an assistant to a top official of the Russian Central Bank who previously served in the country's legislature. The affidavit doesn't name the official but says he was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in April.

In April the Treasury Department announced sanctions against 17 senior Russian government officials, including Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the country's central bank.

While posing as a student in the United States, Butina is accused of working at the direction of Torshin to advance Russian interests in the United States. As part of her efforts, she interacted with two unidentified American citizens to arrange meetings and dinners with influential Americans.

Butina met the first American in Moscow in 2013. The American worked with Butina "to jointly arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in Americans politics, including an organization promoting gun rights … for the purpose of advancing the agenda of the Russian Federation," according to the affidavit.

The second unidentified American citizen was included in a series of email communications in 2016 and 2017 that show Butina's efforts "to arrange a series of dinners in the District of Columbia and New York City involving Russian nationals and U.S. persons having influence in American politics," the affidavit alleges.

The affidavit describes Russia as "some of the leading state intelligence threats to U.S. interests, based on its capabilities, intent and broad operational scope."

On Friday, a grand jury in Washington indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers with hacking Democratic computer networks during the 2016 U.S. presidential election with the goal of disrupting the vote.

U.S. President Donald Trump told a joint press conference with the Russian President Vladimir Putin that while he had confidence in U.S. intelligence agencies, he believed Putin's denial that Russia interfered in the U.S. election.

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