Maria Butina: Alleged Russian spy admits to conspiracy against US to try and gain political influence through NRA

Case is separate from Robert Mueller's probe, but prosecutors hope Butina's cooperation will give them insight into Russian meddling in American politics

Chris Stevenson
New York
Thursday 13 December 2018 18:10 GMT
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Alleged Russian spy Maria Burtina has admitted engaging in a conspiracy against America to try to gain influence in US politics.

Butina, 30, appeared in front of a federal judge to sign a plea agreement after reaching a deal to cooperate with prosecutors. She has admitted to a single count of conspiracy.

Butina was charged in July with acting as an agent of Russia's government and conspiracy to take actions on behalf of Moscow. She had earlier pleaded not guilty before changing her plea the latest hearing.

Thursday's guilty plea means she is admitting to conspiring to act at the direction of a Russian official “to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics … for the benefit of the Russian Federation,” according to the agreement.

Her lawyer, Robert Driscoll, estimated at the hearing that she could face up to six months in prison. Butina has been in jail while she awaits trial.

Prosecutors have accused Butina of working to try to infiltrate the National Rifle Association (NRA) as part of an attempt to try and sway US policy towards Russia. The NRA, one of the most powerful lobby groups in the US, is closely aligned with a number of Republican politicians and has been praised by Donald Trump.

The case is separate from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling, but prosecutors hope Butina's cooperation will give them insight into Russian meddling in American politics.

Butina's lawyers have previously alleged the Russian official is Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia's central bank who was targeted with US Treasury Department sanctions in April.

Mr Torshin has denied any wrongdoing.

One of the two Americans cited in the prosecution's criminal complaint was Paul Erickson, a conservative political activist who was dating Butina.

After she was charged, Russia labelled the case against Butina “fabricated” and called for her release.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about Butina on Tuesday in Moscow, a day after US court filings indicated she would plead guilty in Washington.

“She risks 15 years in jail. For what?” Mr Putin asked. “I asked all the heads of our intelligence services what is going on. Nobody knows anything about her.”

Reuters

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