Updated at 2:48 p.m. to add additional information
U.S. president: “Russian lawyer appears interested in ending the Mueller investigation.”
Maria Butina, who was arrested on a federal fraud charge on Oct. 30, met with senior lawmakers and presidential advisers last week. We take a look at her political history, and why Butina’s bid to become a Russian parliamentarian is being seen as symbolic of what’s at stake for President Vladimir Putin’s government.
What does Maria Butina want?
Born in Russia in 1983, Butina attended America’s Fordham University and graduated with a master’s degree in International Affairs in 2008. She was involved in the U.S. National Rifle Association and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), working as a part-time intern for various members of Congress. Butina moved to Washington, D.C., in 2012 and allegedly began her political career through gun rights activist groups, and is “chief executive of the American Project,” according to prosecutors.
Butina allegedly met up with Paul Erickson, who she worked with on the American Project, and with a U.S. Republican official who attended a closed-door 2015 meeting organized by Erickson to chat about political contacts in Washington, according to court documents. The American Project was allegedly set up to gain U.S. government access, since a government insider introduced them to potential officials.
However, Erickson reportedly asked a former president of the American Enterprise Institute to host a major fundraiser for Butina and later became her political adviser. Erickson also allegedly helped set up meetings between Butina and U.S. high-ranking officials. Butina is said to have already met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and key House Republicans, including Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.
Butina is not charged with any crimes in the U.S.
How she’s being viewed
Valdislav Seslov, a law professor at the Moscow State University of International Relations, said Butina’s being charged in the U.S. is an international affair, and that now Andrey Malchuk, an official from Russia’s Chamber of Foreign Economic Relations and a counselor with the Russian embassy, have been trying to circumvent that by representing Butina at a speech at Moscow’s National Assembly on Thursday.
He added that Russian president Vladimir Putin could be nervous about Butina being used as a political tool, but he said Andrey Chizhov, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s top diplomat in the U.S., “is not afraid of such lobbying and political propaganda from the pro-Kremlin lawmakers” and “has always been supportive of such initiatives.”
What Russia’s doing
Eugene Kaspersky, the CEO of Kaspersky Lab, Russia’s largest cybersecurity firm, has been defending his company after a congressional subcommittee released a report on Tuesday claiming a Russian spy network attempted to infiltrate the network and steal information. On Wednesday, three co-authors of the report issued an explanation on their website denying the charge that Russian hackers meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, pointing out they had relied on data stolen from an ill-informed source.
The Hill’s Michael Crowley also wrote a piece outlining what Russia has previously done to test the official reaction to reports of its spying activities, and how Congress must be wary.