Published: Thu, December 13, 2018
Worldwide | By Myra Stephens

Maria Butina, accused Russian spy, pleads guilty to conspiracy

Maria Butina, accused Russian spy, pleads guilty to conspiracy

Nevertheless, with a guilty plea, Butina became the first Russian citizen to be convicted of working to shape U.S. policy in the time period spanning the 2016 election campaign.

Maria Butina, 30, dressed in a green jumpsuit and with her red hair pulled back, appeared before a federal judge at a district court in Washington D.C. and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government.

Prosecutors have accused Butina, who was jailed awaiting trial, of working with a Russian official and two USA citizens to try to infiltrate the NRA, a group closely aligned with Republican politicians including President Donald Trump, and sway Washington's policy toward Moscow.

The 30-year-old purported gun rights activist came to the US on a student visa in 2016, and allegedly worked to develop and "exploit" relationships with politically influential figures and organizations, including the NRA. They said that her efforts to build friendships and contacts with USA political figures were genuine.

"It's easier for her to burn the network that she had in order to see that she gets a sweetheart deal and deportation (from) the United States, where they will laud her as a hero of the Russian Federation", he continued.

Butina's lawyer has argued she is simply a student interested in better U.S. -Russia relations.

This report contains material from The Associated Press. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, though the defence noted Thursday that federal sentencing guidelines recommend no time to six months.

Her admission added to the drumbeat of developments in investigations related to the 2016 presidential election, with indications that prosecutors are receiving information from several people close to President Donald Trump.

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
Maria Butina, accused Russian spy, pleads guilty to conspiracy

Butina admitted that she "sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over United States politics". Jeff Sessions, working as a Trump campaign booster, offering to use his NRA connections to establish a back channel between the Trumps and the Russian government.

She has also agreed to co-operate with investigators.

Driscoll told the court that while he remains concerned about the overuse of solitary confinement, he did not consider that a factor in her change of plea.

Torshin was a Russian government official who is reportedly retiring from his latest role as a deputy governor of the central bank. A hearing was set for February to discuss a sentencing date.

Butina has been held in jail since her arrest and indictment, with a federal judge claiming in September that she "cannot imagine a scenario where it is not possible" that Butina would flee the country if allowed out on bail.

During the calls, the prosecutors also learned that Butina told other inmates to talk to her lawyer and to speak to the media on her behalf. "Butina predicted that the candidate nominated by Political Party #1 would likely win the upcoming US presidential election".

Butina organized a delegation and oversaw invitations to attend the National Prayer breakfast in 2017.

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