Published: Thu, July 19, 2018
Global | By Craig Ferguson

Diplomat emphasizes United States ‘espionage’ arrest timed to undercut Putin-Trump summit

Diplomat emphasizes United States ‘espionage’ arrest timed to undercut Putin-Trump summit

Maria Butina, an apparent pro-gun rights campaigner, took part in a "years-long conspiracy" to secretly work in America on behalf of the Russian government, USA prosecutors have claimed.

A 29-year-old Russian woman was arrested for "conspiring to influence USA politics" by cultivating ties with political groups, including the National Rifle Association.

"You have the impression that someone must have grabbed a watch and a calculator to determine when the decision on Butina's arrest should made in order to undermine the outcomes of the summit", spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing in Moscow.

Moscow on Wednesday slammed the arrest in the United States of a Russian national for conspiring to influence U.S. politics, saying it was meant to undermine the "positive results" of a summit between the USA and Russian leaders.

The Justice Department said Butina has been in contact with Russian intelligence operatives, kept contact information for several Russian agents and had a handwritten note in her Washington apartment asking how to respond to an offer of employment with a Russian intelligence agency.

"The defendant's legal status in the United States is predicated on deception", they wrote in a filing Wednesday. Her ultimate goal was to make American politics more sympathetic to Russian interests, according to court filings. However, one appears to be Alexander Torshin, a former Russian senator and deputy central banker who has been part of a years-long campaign to build connections between Russia's leaders and American conservatives. In the days leading up to her arrest, prosecutors said that Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance observed her taking steps to possibly leave the country.

A federal district court judge on Wednesday ordered alleged Russian foreign agent Maria Butina to remain in custody while she awaits trial.

In the email, Butina asked the unnamed Russian official for $125,000 to participate in "all upcoming major conferences" of "Political Party 1".

Butina and the official messaged each other directly on Twitter, prosecutors said.

Butina and Torshin founded the Right to Bear Arms, a gun advocacy organization modeled on the NRA, in 2012.

Trump has been accused of failing to stand up to the Russian leader over alleged meddling in the 2016 election in the United States, with many USA critics calling him a "traitor".

Alexander Torshin (center). AP Erickson first invited scrutiny a year ago, when The New York Times reported that he emailed Trump campaign aide Rick Dearborn in May 2016, with the subject line "Kremlin Connection", telling him that he could arrange a backdoor meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The document continued, saying that even if Butina was only planning on leaving the immediate DC area, US Person 1 was her "sole real tie" to the US. She cancelled her lease, sent US$3,500 to an account in Russian Federation and inquired about renting a moving truck, prosecutors said.

In October 2016, "U.S. Person 1" told Butina in an email that he had "been involved in securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key "Political Party 1" leaders through, of all conduits, the "Gun Rights Organization.'" Helson concluded that this email showed the American's "involvement in Butina's efforts to establish a 'back channel" communication for representatives of the Government of Russian Federation".

"The concern that Butina poses a risk of flight is only heightened due to her connection to suspected Russian intelligence operatives", prosecutors wrote.

Butina was likely in contact with the Russian Federal Security Service, known as FSB, throughout her time in the USA, prosecutors said.

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