According to newly obtained documents, two Russians, one who is now barred from entering the U.S. and the other who is now a convicted spy, met with senior officials in the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve four years ago, NPR reports.
Then-Russian central banker Alexander Torshin brought Maria Butina, convicted of spying last month, to meetings with Treasury officials and with even the chair of the Fed at the time, but the contents of the meeting were not revealed until NPR obtained government documents through the Freedom of Information Act.
Butina told NPR in an interview on Thursday that the private conferences with politicians, government officials, and members of the National Rifle Association were “civil diplomacy, this unofficial channel of diplomacy.” She said that they talked in hopes of strengthening the U.S.-Russian relationship and promote peace.
Torshin and Butina, both of whom had life memberships in the NRA, hoped that their enthusiasm for gun accessibility would be a way to remedy tensions between the Russian state and powerful Americans.
"Because we were about a year into U.S. sanctions on Russia following their annexation of Crimea, we thought it would be interesting for Americans to hear from a Russian central bank official about the status of the Russian financial system," said then-executive director of the Center for National Interest Paul Sanders. Sanders helped connect the Russians to Treasury and Fed officials. “We were certainly not at that time aware of any derogatory information about Torshin."
According to a recently released account from a Treasury Department staffer, who detailed a 2015 meeting after the news that Butina was arrested years later, “The meeting was supposed to be about economics, but the guy just went on and on about how the Russians didn’t shoot down MH17 for an hour or so.”
"The guy was also a gun fanatic and said he was a 'life member of the NRA.' In fact I think he was even in town for personal business tied to the NRA."