Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker earned the admiration of Maria Butina, a Russian gun rights advocate charged Monday with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation, in the early days of his presidential campaign. The two do not appear to have publicly interacted since 2015.
Butina, 29, was arrested Sunday in Washington, D.C., and charged Monday. The news of her charges came hours after President Donald Trump downplayed reports of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election during a news conference in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Butina's arrest also came days after the U.S. Department of Justice announced an indictment against 12 Russian intelligence officers for allegedly conspiring to hack Democrats' emails and computer networks during the 2016 elections.
Butina, formerly the owner of a furniture store in Siberia, is the founder of a Russian group called the Right to Bear Arms. Since 2013, she has formed connections with members of the National Rifle Association — including former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke — and attended NRA events in the United States. With Russian politician Alexander Torshin, Butina hosted a delegation that included Clarke in Moscow in 2013.
Articles by Rolling Stone and Mother Jones published this spring have laid out the timeline of Butina's and Torshin's relationship with the NRA and American politicians. The timelines in both stories include Walker, who was about to launch a presidential campaign when he first met Butina.
In April 2015, Butina posted photos on Facebook from the NRA's convention in Nashville, including several with Walker bearing the stamp of Our American Revival, the 527 organization that propped him up before he launched an official presidential bid.
Butina wrote on her Russian-language blog (translated via Google Translate) that meeting Walker "will remain in my memory forever."
"With genuine interest and ready to ask a question on the topic of Russian-American relations, I went to him. And then something happened that I did not expect: the first words in many, many days in Russian, I heard from the future nominee in the US presidency from the Republican Party, who, having learned that I from Russia with a smile said 'Hello!', And during the conversation he remembered another word: 'Thank you!'" Butina wrote.
"We talked about Russia, I did not hear any aggression towards our country, the president or my compatriots," Butina wrote about her conversation with Walker. "How to know, maybe such meetings are the beginning of a new dialogue between Russia and the US and back from the Cold War to the peaceful existence of the two great powers ?!"
She told the same story in a Facebook post accompanying a photo with Walker and Torshin.
According to both Mother Jones and Rolling Stone, Butina attended Walker's July 2015 campaign launch event in Waukesha. There do not appear to be any documented interactions between the two since 2015.
A Walker spokesman did not have an immediate comment when asked whether Walker remembered meeting Butina or whether they spoke beyond the April 2015 meeting.
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