Trump campaign/NRA influence peddler Maria Butina participates in career expo

Maria Butina, the FBI informant at the center of a months-long investigation that has expanded to include President Donald Trump’s inner circle, has elected to sit in Russia’s State Duma, a key step in her dreams of becoming a U.S. citizen.

Butina, 29, a native of Siberia who moved to the United States as a teenager and enrolled in American University, attended a career expo in Moscow on Monday. The expo, a gathering of hundreds of people looking to work in government, including Russian politicians, law enforcement officials and spies, was organized by the Moscow-based Heritage Foundation.

An attendee in the audience at the expo said that outside of the event Butina was interviewed and later met with state and local officials in the legislative branch who asked her questions about her time in the United States and American politics. She is still in Russia.

The woman, who like others asked not to be identified, said she was seated with Butina when she went to shake her hand after the question-and-answer session was over. “The next thing I knew there was a police car outside,” the woman said.

Butina is a Russian immigrant who gained infamy around the world after cooperating with the FBI and giving testimony during a broad and high-profile investigation into the inner workings of the Trump campaign that has appeared to focus on his associates’ interactions with Russian officials.

Butina arrived at the expo Monday with a friend. “She brought her friend because they don’t approve of standing on their own feet,” said Karen Zeiss-Epstein, a Russia expert at Heritage, who was on the panel where Butina spoke.

Zeiss-Epstein said that she was told the investigators used to question Butina about the behind-the-scenes operations of the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which is the law that requires registered foreign agents to reveal their work in America.

Butina was not a registered foreign agent at the time of her arrest on the charge of conspiracy. The U.S. State Department, which is required to register Americans who are residents of Russia or other countries but live outside those countries, has not publicly reported Butina, a native of Novosibirsk, as a Russian person living outside the United States.

Butina declined to comment about her politics or talks with the authorities. “I’m not talking about this,” she said.

After her arrest, Butina’s lawyers issued a statement saying she had spoken with federal investigators but had maintained her innocence. “The government’s complaint states that Ms. Butina “used her relationships and influence in the NRA (National Rifle Association) and with Mr. Trump to assist Defendants with their efforts to ‘influence U.S. foreign policy.'” That allegation is shocking, absurd and patently false,” they said.

The 27-page complaint, which was unsealed after her arrest, says Butina reached out to unidentified Russian businessmen and U.S. government officials to arrange meetings with Trump associates such as Donald Trump Jr. and Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater. In emails to the Russian businessmen and someone who used to work for a senior U.S. official, according to the complaint, Butina wrote that she had already used her connections in Trump’s campaign to arrange a meeting between the Republican nominee and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and explained that it was difficult to attain U.S. citizens’ permission to travel to Russia without prior permission.

In interviews in her Washington apartment after her arrest, Butina gave details about her interactions with Russians who she claimed had connections to officials inside the Kremlin. Butina said that a man she would later describe as a lieutenant in Russia’s military intelligence service had contacted her on Twitter and “asked if I wanted to help organize some events with him in America.”

Butina said that she never followed through with the proposal, though she did let the man know she was attending a Republican congressional retreat in Washington in January, hoping that they would have an opportunity to meet during the event. “He said he’d be more than happy to find a way to meet with me and meet with Senator Rand Paul,” she said.

Leave a Comment