Accused Russian agent pleads guilty to conspiracy

Posted December 14, 2018

Maria Butina, 30, pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy in a court in Washington on Thursday, admitting to working under the direction of a top Russian official to infiltrate the National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful gun rights group closely aligned with senior Republican politicians.

A Russian former graduate student at American University in Washington who publicly advocated for gun rights, she was accused of working to infiltrate a powerful gun lobby group, the National Rifle Association, and influence US policy toward Moscow.

Clad in a green jumpsuit with her red hair pulled back in a long braid, Butina replied "absolutely" when asked by Chutkan if her mind was clear as she prepared to plead guilty to conspiracy to act as a foreign agent.

Prosecutors say Butina's work was directed by a former Russian lawmaker who recently was penalized by the Treasury Department for his alleged ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to CNN, the prosecutor in this case told the court that "Butina sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over US politics". After the trip in December 2015, she said to her Russian backer, "We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later". On Wednesday she agreed to cooperate for a lesser prison sentence, as she now faces five years. We have no idea why she was treated like that.' The US attorney's office declined to comment.

She also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, though the defence noted on Thursday that federal sentencing guidelines recommend no time to six months. As part of the plea agreement with the government, prosecutors dropped the other count in the indictment originally brought against her, and agreed not to prosecute her for any other crimes they were made aware of during their plea discussions.

Erickson also tried to get Trump to meet Torshin when both attended the NRA's convention in May 2016, referring to Torshin as "Putin's emissary" in an email to a campaign official.

Robert Driscoll Maria Butina’s attorney leaves U.S. District Court in Washington Thursday Dec. 13 2018. Maria Butina a Russian accused of being a secret agent for the Russian government has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in federal court
Accused Russian agent pleads guilty to conspiracy

Russian officials have strenuously defended Butina, asserting that the US case was exaggerated or outright false. Erickson, who is referred to as "U.S. Person 1" in court papers, has not been charged.

Butina had served as an interpreter for Torshin, an NRA member, as he attended its annual conventions, and her profile as a self-made gun activist in Putin's restrictive Russian Federation charmed American associates.

Paul Erickson, Butina's boyfriend, is a veteran GOP activist who served as campaign manager for Patrick Buchanan's 1992 presidential run (Buchanan challenged President George H.W. Bush in a GOP primary and lost) and also worked on Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns of 2008 and 2012.

"Further, Butina opined that the circumstances were favorable for building relations with a certain US political party", the filing reads. She has been jailed since her arrest in July.

At a town-hall-style event in Las Vegas in 2015, Butina asked candidate Trump whether he would improve the US relationship with Russian Federation. Prosecutors say Butina was likely in contact with Kremlin operatives while living in the United States.

Butina's lawyer, Robert Driscoll, had previously decried the charges against her as "overblown" and said prosecutors criminalised her mundane networking opportunities.