Accused Russian spy pleads guilty to conspiracy

By Sommer Brokaw

Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Maria Butina, a gun rights activist accused of spying for Moscow and infiltrating U.S. political groups, pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of conspiracy.

Butina, 30, a Russian national, pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington, D.C., Thursday to one count of conspiracy to violate the law governing foreign agents operating in the United States, NBC News reported.


The plea means that she has confessed to conspiring with an unnamed American "to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics ... for the benefit of the Russian Federation," at the direction of a Russian official, according to a plea agreement.

Law enforcement officials identified the unnamed American as Paul Erickson, a Republican activist and romantic companion of Butina.

The Russian official has been identified as Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia, in a report by Democrats on the Senate judiciary committee, citing documents suggesting Russia used the National Rifle Association to secretly fund President Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

NBC News reported Torshin reached out to the Trump campaign seeking a meeting between Putin and Trump and met with Donald Trump Jr. in May 2016 at an NRA dinner.


Butina initially pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent after being accused of infiltrating political groups like the NRA, but pleaded guilty Thursday as part of a deal she made with prosecutors after a change of plea motion filed Monday.

The felony carries a five-year prison term, but estimated sentencing guidelines range from zero to six months in prison.

Butina was arrested in July on the charge of conspiracy to act as a Russian agent and has been held without bail. In the United States on a student visa, she could face deportation after serving prison sentence or supervised release if she stays in the country, Judge Tanya Chutkan said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C., charged Butina, so her case is not tied to special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Still, she is the first Russian national convicted of working to influence U.S. politics in the same time period.

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