By Bob Davis
WASHINGTON — Maria Butina, the 29-year-old Russian accused of being an unregistered foreign agent, used her connections to a Russian central bank executive to attend meetings with U.S. government officials, including one with the vice chairman of the Federal Reserve in 2015.
Former Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer confirmed her presence at a meeting in April of that year. Ms. Butina was there as an interpreter for her patron, Alexander Torshin, who was then deputy governor of Russia’s central bank. Mr. Torshin has since been hit by U.S. Treasury sanctions for being part of the Russian elite involved in “destabilizing activities,” including seizing Crimea and menacing Ukraine.
“It was standard for members of the Federal Reserve Board to meet and talk with counterparts from other central banks,” Mr. Fischer said in an email. One thing that caught Mr. Fischer’s attention, he said: “Mr. Torshin mentioned that he would be attending the meetings of the National Rifle Association.” Mr. Fischer’s meeting with the two Russians was first reported by Reuters.
Ms. Butina was arrested last week and accused of trying to set up back-channel relationships with Republican politicians through the N.R.A. Ms. Butina, a student at American University, was charged with failing to register as a foreign agent in Washington, the Justice Department said.
On Friday a federal judge ordered that she be held without bond, saying she posed a flight risk.
The Butina case is separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, though the issues overlap. The affidavit used to arrest Ms. Butina describes an alleged influence operation between 2015 and early 2017 that was directed by a Russian official who isn’t named in court papers but is identifiable as Mr. Torshin.
Mr. Torshin and Ms. Butina also attended a conference in April 2015 put together by the Center for the National Interest, a Washington think tank that focuses on foreign affairs, especially Russia and China. Mr. Torshin discussed the Russian economy, said Paul Saunders, the Center’s executive director. He said Mr. Torshin described Ms. Butina as “an associate who would act as his interpreter.”
A career State Department official also attended the session, Mr. Saunders said. He added that the Center helped Mr. Torshin set up meetings with other government officials, which he said was “an entirely routine occurrence” at the time.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
July 22, 2018 19:17 ET (23:17 GMT)
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