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US officials arrest woman saying she is Russian agent

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors in Washington revealed Monday that they have arrested a 29-year-old woman and accused her of acting as a covert agent inside the U.S. on behalf of a senior Kremlin official.

The announcement of the arrest of Maria Butina came just hours after President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and just days after special counsel Robert Mueller charged 12 Russian intelligence officials with directing a sprawling hacking effort aimed at swaying the 2016 election.

Butina, a Russian national who has been living the U.S., was charged with conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian government and accused of working to infiltrate American political organizations, including the National Rifle Association. The charge was brought the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and do not appear to stem from Mueller’s investigation.

According to court papers, Butina met with U.S. politicians and candidates, attended events sponsored by special interest groups — including two National Prayer Breakfast events — and organized Russian-American “friendship and dialogue” dinners in Washington with the goal of “reporting back to Moscow” what she had learned.

Court papers do not name the Kremlin official. The person is described as a member of the Russian legislature who later became a top official in the country’s central bank. Prosecutors also note that the official has since been sanctioned by the U.S.

Butina is a Russian gun rights advocate who founded a pro-gun organization in that country, the Right to Bear Arms, in 2011 and who has been involved in coordinating in recent years between American gun rights activists and their Russian counterparts, U.S. media accounts have reported.

Butina hosted several leading NRA executives and pro-gun conservatives at her group’s annual meeting in 2015, according to the reports in The New York Times, Time and the Daily Beast. Among those who attended were former NRA President David Keene, conservative political operative Paul Erickson and former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, later a strong Trump supporter.

Associated Press writers Stephen Braun and Desmond Butler contributed to this report.

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