Tuesday Open Thread | DOJ charges Russian national with espionage

Washington (CNN) The Justice Department charged a Russian national who, along with her mentor, aimed to set up backchannel communications during the presidential campaign between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, with conspiring against the US as a foreign agent.

Mariia Butina, also known as Maria, was arrested on Sunday and appeared in court in Washington, DC, on Monday, according to the Justice Department. She’ll be detained for three days until her next court appearance.

She and her mentor, Kremlin-linked banker Alexander Torshin, spent three years trying to make inroads with US political organizations and operatives to develop a more conciliatory approach to Russia among American politicians, according to court filings and CNN reporting. Torshin and Butina feared the end of the Obama administration in 2016, and targeted Republicans, according to court filings.

Their primary avenue of influence appeared to be the National Rifle Association, according to CNN reporting and court filings, though the organization is not explicitly referred to by name in the legal documents.

Torshin bragged both publicly and privately that he and Butina were the only Russians who were also lifetime members of the NRA, and they leveraged their relationship with the NRA’s leadership to foster relationships with Republican Party leaders, American politicians and business leaders. They even used their connection to try to establish a covert communications channel between then-candidate Trump and Putin.

The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.