In a week of political scandals, it is important that this one doesn’t get lost because, although it doesn’t implicate Trump, it implicates the Republican Party as well as the Republicans’ source of campaign income, the NRA.
Butina was arrested in July after the FBI raided her apartment and was charged with conspiracy and acting as an agent of Russia. She allegedly spent years attempting to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and fostering relationships with high-level conservatives.
After initially pleading not guilty, she pleaded guilty yesterday in a federal courtroom and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. And boy, she seems to have a story to tell.
Today, we learn that in October 2013, Butina traveled to Israel to meet with members of a relatively obscure gun rights group called the Association for the Promotion of Weapons Culture. In a Facebook post after her presentation, the APWC wrote in Hebrew that Butina told them the Right to Bear Arms had “signed cooperation agreements with neighboring countries and with the American NRA,” adding, “We are probably next in line :)”
The NRA would not confirm whether or not it had entered into a cooperation agreement with Butina’s group. “The NRA says it is not aware of any such agreement,” a spokesperson for the gun lobbying group said in an emailed statement.
Butina was previously known to have mingled with NRA leadership both in the United States and in Moscow. She attended the NRA annual conference at least as far back as 2014, when she traveled to Indianapolis that April along with Torshin, who himself attended every NRA annual conference from 2011 to 2016. But a formal agreement with the NRA itself would represent a stronger link than previously known between the Russian operatives and the American gun lobbying group.
It would also be the earliest known link between the two. Butina’s first previously known contact with NRA officials occurred in Moscow in November 2013, roughly two weeks after the Israel speech, when NRA board member and past president David Keene attended the second annual meeting of the Right to Bear Arms. Longtime Keene associate Paul Erickson also attended that meeting, and became romantically involved with Butina. Prosecutors say Butina enlisted Erickson in her conspiracy, and he has reportedly been notified that he is the target of a federal investigation into foreign influence.