The Washington Post is reporting that an alleged Russian agent who cultivated close ties with U.S. gun rights groups was also socializing with a former Trump aide in the weeks before the presidential election.
The paper said Maria Butina sought out interactions with J.D. Gordon, who served for six months as the Trump campaign’s director of national security and who was later offered a job with the presidential transition team. It said the two exchanged several emails in September and October 2016 and said Butina also attended Gordon’s birthday party in October 2016.
The Post says the new information puts Butina in closer contact with the Trump campaign than was previously known.
Prosecutors say Butina, 29, who was a graduate student at American University, attempted to infiltrate U.S. political organizations at the direction of a senior Russian official.
When asked by the Post for comment, Gordon said his contacts with Butina were innocuous.
“From everything I’ve read since her arrest last month, it seems the Maria Butina saga is basically a sensationalized click bait story meant to smear a steady stream of Republicans and NRA members she reportedly encountered over the past few years,” he said in a statement to the paper.
Federal prosecutors accuse Butina of conspiring with two American citizens, one of whom she cohabited with, and a top Russian official to influence U.S. policy toward Russia by infiltrating the National Rifle Association gun rights group and other conservative special interest groups potentially influential on the Trump administration.
Butina was charged last month with acting as an agent for the Kremlin, but was not formally charged with espionage, most likely because her role was not to steal state and military secrets but allegedly to insinuate her way into U.S. political circles to advance Russia’s policy aims.
Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, denied in a statement that she was “an agent of the Russian Federation.” He described Butina as a Russian national in the U.S. on a student visa.