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News and notes on guns in America

Alleged Russian Spy Maria Butina and the NRA: A Photographic History

Maria Butina, a Russian national who launched that country’s version of the National Rifle Association — and hosted American gun rights advocates in Moscow in 2013 — was charged on Monday with spying for the Russian government.

Butina has claimed she was involved in communications between Russia and the Trump campaign, a connection senators are now investigating. (Here’s what we know so far about the NRA’s reported role as a channel for Russian overtures to the Trump campaign.)

The Department of Justice has charged Butina, 29, with “developing relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation.” The NRA was one of the groups with which she successfully cultivated ties.

The arrest of Butina is the most dramatic development yet in the government’s investigation of the NRA’s relationship with Russia. Here’s what we know about her history with the highest-ranking executives of the gun group:

In 2011, Butina was introduced to the NRA’s then-president David A. Keene, in her role as an aide to the powerful Russian politician Alexander Torshin. Butina posed with Keene when Torshin hosted him in Moscow in 2013.

The next year, Keene invited Butina to attend the 2014 NRA convention in Indianapolis, where she met with the gun lobby’s top leaders, including Wayne LaPierre.

At the convention, former NRA President Sandy Froman invited Butina to a women’s luncheon. Jim Porter, who succeeded Keene as president in 2013, presented her with a plaque.

For Butina, the now-alleged Russian spy, the NRA gathering was a veritable buffet of conservative networking. Here she is with then-Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

The photo of Butina and Jindal appears to have been taken while she attended an event for the NRA’s Ring of Freedom, the gun group’s million-dollar donors.

Also at the 2014 NRA convention, Butina was invited to ring the NRA’s replica of the Liberty Bell. “This is a rare privilege,” she tweeted.

After the convention, Butina visited the NRA’s headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. From the timeline of one of her Russian social media accounts:

Here’s Butina posing outside NRA headquarters with Keene:

Here she is at the NRA’s private shooting range.

Butina also attended the NRA convention in Nashville in 2015, a trip she documented in detail on her Facebook page.

At the convention, she met Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who, she writes, said hello to her in Russian. Here’s a photo of Walker flanked by Torshin and Butina, from one of Butina’s social media accounts:

In December 2015, Butina and Torshin hosted Keene in Moscow for a second time, along with future NRA president Pete Brownell; Joe Gregory, head of the NRA’s Ring of Freedom program; NRA benefactor Dr. Arnold Goldschlager and his daughter, Hilary Goldschlager, an NRA Women’s Leadership Forum executive committee member; and then-Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who’s been a spokesperson for the group. Also at the gathering: Russian journalist Pavel Gusev, a confidant of Russian president Vladimir Putin. 

In 2016, Butina told ThinkProgress that there are no financial ties between the NRA and gun rights organization she founded in Russia: “I’m sorry to disappoint you but there is no international conspiracy at work.”

But there may yet be more to this story: The FBI has reportedly been investigating whether the Kremlin funneled money through the NRA to help the Trump campaign. And CNN reported in April that the NRA has been preparing documents and bracing for further scrutiny from the feds. For the most complete profiles of Butina to date, read this from the Daily Beast, this from ThinkProgress, this from Rolling Stone, and this from Mother Jones.

One of the last photos Butina publicly posted on her Facebook page is this 2017 snap of her and Torshin at the Washington Hilton in D.C. It was likely taken while she joined conservative luminaries at the hotel for the National Prayer Breakfast, which Butina claimed Putin might attend.

The Washington Hilton is sometimes ruefully referred to as the Hinckley Hilton, after the gunman who opened fire on President Ronald Reagan in an attempted assassination in 1981. Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady, was paralyzed in the shooting, setting in motion the slow-moving reform bill that led to the creation of the modern gun background check system.