Alleged Russian agent Mariia Butina was indicted this week on two very serious charges: conspiring against the U.S. and acting as an unregistered foreign agent.
But the influence campaign Butina allegedly carried out over the past few years was so brazen that it was almost comical. The 29-year-old essentially made her very own “Where’s Waldo?” series out of the 2016 GOP presidential campaign.
Butina was captured on camera at a 2015 Las Vegas libertarian convention asking then-candidate Donald Trump about U.S. sanctions. She popped up at NRA events throughout the Midwest and at the National Prayer Breakfast in D.C. On the day of President Trump’s inauguration, Butina even sent a selfie to her alleged handler, Russian Central Bank official Alexander Torshin, of her beaming near the U.S. Capitol building.
Many of those interactions, like her run-ins with short-lived GOP candidates Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum, were just embarrassing photo ops for those politicians she was allegedly targeting. But some of the connections—like her intimate relationship with GOP operative Paul Erickson and her association with former NRA president David Keene—were involved and forged over years.
As the Washington Post and others have documented, Russia used religion and guns to make inroads with the American conservative community. According to court documents, Butina also used sexual favors as a lure, allegedly offering sex for a position at a special interest organization.
Infographic by Christine Frapech