A new report by Politico reveals that Russian national and purported lifetime NRA member Maria Butina tried to meet then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in July 2015, nearly a year earlier than prosecutors have publicly reported. Paul Erickson, an NRA-affiliated political operative who is romantically linked to Butina, reached out to Trump campaign official Sam Nunberg to help arrange a meeting. According to Nunberg, Erickson “definitely” described Butina “in some capacity as Russian and being involved with the NRA.”It appears that the meeting did not take place.
To date, the NRA has not publicly commented on the arrest or indictment of Maria Butina.
“The suspected spy, Mariia Butina, routed the previously undisclosed request through her friend and longtime Republican political operative, Paul Erickson, who reached out to Trump campaign official Sam Nunberg, Nunberg told POLITICO. Erickson described Butina as a Russian involved with the National Rifle Association, according to Nunberg, who was one of a handful of people tapped by Trump to start up his campaign at the time. When Butina wasn’t able to meet with Trump, she showed up at a campaign event several days later to ask Trump a question about Russian sanctions during the Q&A session.
“To date, government court filings in Butina’s case have mostly detailed broader attempts by the young Russian to infiltrate and sway prominent Republican political organizations, including the NRA, and focused less on specific attempts to target the 2016 presidential campaign, especially in its initial stages. However, this early outreach illustrates the extent to which Butina — who officials say was being directed by the Kremlin and is now being held on charges of failing to register as a foreign agent — was intent on cultivating Trump and his campaign team months before most others were taking him seriously as a presidential contender.”
The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Donald Trump – nearly triple what the group spent during the 2012 presidential race. Most of that money was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors, and according to a McClatchy report from January, NRA spending may have actually exceeded $70 million during the 2016 election.