Ever since the United States arrested Russian Marina Butina, it convinced a number of anti-gunners that somehow signaled the end of the National Rifle Association and the gun rights movement as a whole. After all, Butina portrayed herself as a gun rights activist from Russia, someone the pro-Second Amendment crowd could relate to.
Then she was arrested and things changed. Even more, she accepted a plea deal admitting to working for the Russian government.
The problem? Russian President Vladamir Putin says she doesn’t work for him.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denied Thursday that gun rights enthusiast Maria Butina — who pleaded guilty to acting as an agent of the Kremlinby trying to infiltrate US political groups — worked on behalf of his government.
In his end-of-year press conference, the Russian strongman claimed that Butina made the plea because of the threat of a lengthy prison sentence in what he declared was a fabricated case.
Butina, 30, pleaded guilty last week to a conspiracy charge as part of a deal with the feds for trying to infiltrate conservative political groups in the United States. She faces up to six months in prison followed by likely deportation.
“I don’t understand what she could confess to since she was not carrying out any government assignments … whatever she said was under threat of 10 to 15 years in jail,” Putin said. “I don’t understand what they jailed her for. There are no grounds.”
Butina admitted working with a US political operative — Paul Erickson — under direction of a former Russian senator to forge ties with officials at the National Rifle Association, conservative leaders and candidates in the 2016 presidential race, including Donald Trump.
Now, it’s not like Putin would admit Butina was working for him or the Russian government, regardless. Even if she was, admitting it isn’t how the game is played. Everyone spies on everyone else, but they all like to pretend they don’t. Admitting that yes, Russia was trying to influence U.S. elections wouldn’t be good for international relations.
What isn’t being argued, however, is whether or not she was successful.
Butina may have met with all kinds of high ranking people, but did her efforts have any meaningful impact on how the gun rights movement operated? Probably not. After all, the NRA and other pro-gun groups have been on the offensive for years, and little changed.
Then there’s another argument here. If Putin is lying and if she actually managed to influence anything, did anyone she influence actually know they were being pressed to do things by a Russian agent?
Anti-gun zealots who are so convinced this will destroy the NRA are forgetting that it’s not illegal to take advice from someone, especially if you have no reason to suspect them of having nefarious motives. At worst, the NRA and others taken in by Butina are gullible, not culpable.
Is Putin telling the truth, though?
I suspect not. While Butina is looking at a lengthy prison sentence, she’s spent enough time in this country to know our system works more or less. She knows they have to prove it, and that means she wouldn’t have accepted a plea deal unless they had a pretty good chance of a conviction.
So yeah, I think Putin is lying.
But, I still don’t think it matters all that much. I mean, yeah, I don’t like foreign governments meddling in American affairs, but unless someone can show they were successful in shifting American sensibilities in some way, I’m not going to begin to freak out over the attempt.
Instead, we should prosecute anyone who knowingly assisted and remember that Russia has never been our friend. Simple as that.