US media reported in November that a convicted Russian influence agent with strong ties to the Republican Party and Donald Trump had become a member of the Russian parliament. The Daily Beast report details how Maria Butina used the National Rifle Association (NRA) to create illegal back channels between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign:
November 29, 2021 “Russian spy” Maria Butina, who joined the ranks of the Russian parliament last month, had an untraditional rise. In 2018, she pled guilty to conspiracy to act as a foreign agent after the FBI presented a case around her involvement in using the NRA to create illegal back channels between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign. Although the FBI’s affidavit fails to prove Butina’s formal employment by the Russian Federation, the document does paint a clear picture of an ambitious young woman motivated by power. The evidence shows how Butina sought to influence foreign policy due to her own idealism and desire to insinuate herself into elite networks. Butina wasn’t hired by the Kremlin to perform an influence campaign; she volunteered. […]
In 2011, Butina founded the gun rights organization, “Right to Bear Arms,” and soon after partnered with the NRA. She was later indicted for manipulating her relationships with the NRA to influence the 2016 US presidential election. Before her imprisonment in 2019, Butina was successful in intimately integrating herself in elite political networks within both the Kremlin and the Republican party. She was mentored by Aleksandr Torshin, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia, and became involved in a romantic relationship with Paul Erickson, a former US presidential campaign adviser.
Read the rest here.
The report notes that the ambiguous nature of Butina’s crime of “influencing” sets a dangerous precedent for any foreign nationals who are networking in the USA, especially in times where the social media influencer marketing industry is expected to be worth up to $15 billion in the United States by 2022.