‘Back channel’

Russian woman, 29, arrested and charged as covert agent in U.S. election meddling

Mariia Butina. (Twitter0

How do you try to coerce the most powerful man in the world?

You start by infiltrating the NRA. And the National Prayer Breakfast. Throw in some religious organizations, too.

That was the plan Mariia Butina allegedly attempted to carry out on behalf of Russian government officials during the 2016 election: to set up a “back channel” communication between Russia and the Republican Party in order to further pro-Russian policies, reports The New York Times.

The charges come on the heels of 12 Russian intelligence officers being indicted on charges of hacking into the DNC computers and one the same day President Donald Trump appeared in Helsinki, Finland, alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin. During a press conference at the summit meeting, Trump told reporters he believed Putin’s denials that Russia had any hand in meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. “My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others saying they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said at the press conference. The statement confounded many Republicans and Democrats and drew widespread condemnation.

Butina’s actions, according to court documents unsealed on Monday, were approved by Putin’s administration. During the election, Butina had previously tried to set up two meetings between the dictator and the president, neither of which came to fruition. And yet of course, all was not lost for the Russians, as Putin got his sit-down with Trump after all.

Butina, 29, came to the U.S. on a student visa in 2016 and prosecutors say she targeted high-level political, news media, and business officials with the help of an American political operative. Her orders allegedly came through Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian central bank who was sanctioned this year for “actions including trying to subvert Western democracies,” writes the Times. He also has close ties to Putin. Butina’s attorney denied she was a Russian agent, and at a detention hearing on Wednesday insisted she is not a flight risk, CNN reported. But the federal judge ordered Butina to remain in custody until her next court appearance, which is at least another three days away.

Butina at one point during the 2016 race even managed to ask then-candidate Trump a question at a campaign event. For more on the story, and to see the clip of her speaking to Trump, watch the video below.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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