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Iran Press TV

Russian woman arrested in Washington, charged with spying for Moscow

Iran Press TV

Tue Jul 17, 2018 03:16PM

A Russian woman has been arrested and charged in the United States with conspiracy to act as a Russian government agent by developing ties with American citizens and infiltrating political groups.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a press release on Monday that Maria Butina had been charged "with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior notification to the Attorney General," through establishing relationships and infiltrating organizations that have influence in US politics.

The DOJ alleged that Butina, 29, who studied at American University in Washington and is a founder of the pro-gun Russian advocacy group Right to Bear Arms, had acted with "the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation" at the direction of a "high-level" Russian official, who was not named in reports.

"Butina worked at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government who was previously a member of the legislature of the Russian Federation and later became a top official at the Russian Central Bank," the DOJ said. "This Russian official was sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control in April 2018."

US prosecutors also claimed in a statement that Butina had engaged in spying for Moscow in the US between 2015 and February 2017 by infiltrating the National Rifle Association (NRA) in an attempt to influence the Republican Party and American politics. They added that the FBI had signed an affidavit against Butina, claiming she was working to establish a "back-channel" between the Kremlin and the NRA.

The Russian national was arrested on Sunday and jailed pending a hearing scheduled on Wednesday.

Robert Driscoll, an attorney for Butina, rejected the accusations and said his client "is not an agent of the Russian Federation," adding that Butina had been cooperating with US authorities and had previously appeared voluntarily behind closed doors for eight hours before the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, producing "thousands of documents" to the lawmakers.

Charges against Butina are "simply a misuse of the Foreign Agent statute, which is designed to punish covert propaganda, not open and public networking by foreign students," Driscoll said in a statement.

The announcement of Butina’s arrest came hours after US President Donald Trump met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in the Finnish capital of Helsinki, and defended the Kremlin against claims of meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

"He just said it’s not Russia," Trump said at a joint press conference in Helsinki, repeating Putin’s denials of interference in the vote. "I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be."

Trump’s remarks created a wave of astonishment in the United States and within his own party for siding with Putin over his own intelligence community, which has overwhelmingly concluded that Moscow sought to meddle in the 2016 election.

Butina’s arrest also came days after the DOJ charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic officials in the US elections.

Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, has been running a high-profile investigation into allegations that Trump won the 2016 presidential election against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton partly because Moscow had rigged the election in his favor.

US intelligence agencies claim Russia-linked hackers provided WikiLeaks with damaging information -- in the form of thousands of hacked emails -- about Clinton to skew the presidential election in favor of Trump.

Trump has repeatedly denied allegations that his campaign colluded with Russians and has condemned the investigations.

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