Alleged Russian Spy Maria Butina Pleads Guilty To Conspiracy
- Author: Sonia Alvarado Dec 16, 2018,
Dec 16, 2018, 2:10
In the statement of offense read aloud in court, one of the prosecutors said Butina had drafted a "Diplomacy Project" that called for establishing unofficial back channels of communication between high-ranking American politicians to help benefit Russian Federation.
Multiple outlets have reported that Butina's plea deal includes an agreement to cooperate with investigators.
She was to remain in U.S. custody until her sentencing, in February or later, and was expected to continue cooperating with investigations.
Butina appeared in court Thursday with her hair - a duller shade of red - in a braid.
Moscow has complained of Butina's treatment various times and reiterated the complaints on 12 December after diplomats visited her in prison. Prosecutors contend that her efforts were guided by Alexander Torshin, a Russian banker and former politician said to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Butina even asked Trump a question at a gathering of U.S. conservatives in Las Vegas in 2015 when he was running for president, querying him about American relations with Russian Federation and economic sanctions imposed on Moscow by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Prosecutors said that one of the two Americans was Paul Erickson, a conservative activist who was dating her. Prosecutors said Butina had contact with Russian intelligence officials and that the Federal Bureau of Investigation photographed her dining with a diplomat suspected of being a Russian intelligence agent.
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Maria Butina also sought to connect Moscow unofficially with other parts of the conservative establishment, including the National Rifle Association and the National Prayer Breakfast. She noted to Erickson at the time that the people were "coming to establish a back channel of communication".
In April 2015 she joined the NRA national convention where she had her picture taken with prominent Republicans and was introduced to an unidentified Republican presidential candidate, according to prosecutors. Erickson, a US citizen, has reportedly received a "target letter" from prosecutors and may be charged for acting as a foreign agent. With Torshin, she used pro-gun credentials to build relationships with top NRA figures.
Butina's work with her compatriots, meanwhile, continued.
Erickson's defense attorney, William Hurd, attended the plea hearing.
Butina has agreed to cooperate with investigators, likely in exchange for a promise that she'll be deported to Russian Federation.
"Guilty", Butina responded when asked by Washington-based U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkin how she'd plead. There is no suggestion in the documents that Butina was employed by the Russian intelligence services, but violations of the law are considered more serious than a separate law that requires registration by paid lobbyists for foreign entities. Butina's lawyer also declined to comment.
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.