Hello, readers. Yesterday’s list of revelations about Maria Butina, the accused Russian agent who used the National Rifle Association as a conduit to political influence, was enough to fill its own newsletter. But would the Bulletin stop there? It would not. Let’s dive in.
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MARIA BUTINA: THE LATEST REVELATIONS
NRA infiltrator Maria Butina had ties to Russian intelligence. In a court filing entered by the Justice Department to support Butina’s pre-trial detention, the government shared more findings from its investigation, alleging that she had ties to Russian operatives while living in the United States and was likely in contact with employees of the Russian FSB intelligence service, the successor to the KGB. The FBI also discovered messages between Butina and her handler, Alexander Torshin, in which Torshin compares Butina to a female Russian spy whose 2010 arrest became a sensation. “You have upstaged Anna Chapman,” the message reads. “She poses with toy pistols, while you are being published with real ones.” The 29-year-old Butina is facing a maximum of 15 years in prison on two charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent. Her lawyer maintains that she is innocent.
The FBI had been watching Butina since 2016. That year, she moved to the United States on a student visa under the guise of studying cybersecurity in a graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C. In 2017, she sought details on a civil rights group’s cyber vulnerabilities for what she said was a school project. The group contacted the FBI after she reached out.
Butina was reputedly romantically involved with the American conservative operative who assisted her influence campaign. When she was arrested, Butina may have been headed to South Dakota, the home state of her fixer-slash-paramour Paul Erickson, the Washington Post reports. But the government says her relationship with Erickson wasn’t true love: Rather, “she appears to treat [it] as simply a necessary aspect of her activities.” The government also alleges that Butina offered someone from an unnamed “special interest group” sex in exchange for a job that could have secured her a work visa and extended her stay in the United States. Erickson helped pay for Butina’s grad school and did some of her homework for her. Erickson set up an LLC for Butina in South Dakota in 2016, which he has said was to help pay for her studies. But, as the New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg has pointed out, LLCs can also be used as an under-the-radar way for dark money groups to make donations to tax-exempt organizations.
The Federal Election Commission has questioned Butina about “whether certain donations had been made to a political campaign.” That tantalizing disclosure was one of several made during yesterday’s hearing by prosecutors, who hinted that the inquiry into Butina and her associates is wider than the charges brought against her over the weekend. Previous reports have alleged that the FBI is looking into whether Russia funneled money to the NRA to help Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016. The NRA has insisted it has received dues from some Russian nationals, but has taken no political donations from them.
WHAT ELSE TO KNOW TODAY
A judge upheld a challenge to California’s ban on high-capacity magazines. In April, gun rights groups successfully sought a preliminary injunction against a California law, which prohibited magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The state appealed the decision but was denied on Tuesday, when a panel of judges upheld the temporary block until this fall, when the case will go to trial. Gun rights advocates say they expect the case to be appealed to a higher court regardless of the outcome, but that “by that time, the Supreme Court will likely have a new justice who respects the right to keep and bear arms as protected by the Second Amendment.”
The Navajo Nation tried to buy Remington, but was turned down. In May, the tribe submitted a cash bid of $475 million to $525 million to buy the gunmaker as it emerged from bankruptcy. The tribe planned to shift the company’s focus from consumer guns to defense and police contracts, and to invest in “smart gun” technology. Last week, officials at Remington rejected the bid, saying the company was “not prepared to engage with third parties” and needed more time to reorganize their business.
The Episcopal Church reversed its ban on investing in gun companies. The church is now pushing for “ethical investing” in the firearms industry in order to push for changes that could save lives. “We really feel this is the only way at this point that we have of engaging in this very important issue,” a Massachusetts bishop said.
The Department of Homeland Security put out a guide for K-12 school security. The guide includes a “school security survey for gun violence” meant to help schools assess their level of security and identify any points of vulnerability. It also presents a list of “evolving products and technologies for consideration,” which includes security cameras, gunshot detection systems, motion detectors, turnstiles, and smoke cannons. The document notes that schools must address the needs of students with disabilities when planning for gun violence. ICYMI: The Secret Service put out its own guidelines last week, which focused more on identifying students’ threatening behavior than on beefing up school security.
A 9-year-old was killed by a stray bullet. Police say the New Jersey girl was in bed when the bullet flew in from the street early Tuesday. She was rushed to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. “It could have been anybody’s kid who was in their bedroom or anyone in their house,” the police chief said.
ONE LAST THING
NRA report cards are out in Florida. The gun group handed out its letter grades for candidates in Florida’s late August primaries, awarding straight As to 60 Republicans, and doling out an F to 30 Democrats. Among the NRA’s A-rated politicians is Adam Putnam, whose gubernatorial campaign has been plagued by reports that his Department of Agriculture mishandled background checks for concealed carry permits for years, allowing hundreds of prohibited persons to obtain licenses. (Earlier this week, the Tampa Bay Times reported on a 2013 lawsuit in which a former employee raised concerns about the process. In the lawsuit, she says she was threatened with retaliation and that her bosses told her she “worked for the NRA.”) Notably, the NRA has not yet released grades for Florida’s U.S. Senate race. Republican Governor Rick Scott, who is seeking the seat held by Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson, has been a close NRA ally, but enraged the group’s famously vindictive lobbyist, Marion Hammer, by pushing for and signing gun restrictions after Parkland.