Accused secret agent admits to infiltrating the NRA and political groups for Russia
Maria Butina, the woman accused of infiltrating several political groups and American organizations on behalf of the Russian Government, has pleaded guilty to engaging in a conspiracy against the United States.
Alleged secret agent Butina, who surreptitiously gathered intelligence on American officials and political organizations, pleaded guilty Thursday to a conspiracy charge.
Butina’s plea is part of a deal reached with prosecutors after she registered her willingness to co-operate with them.
The 30-year-old previously denied infiltrating the National Rifle Association and relaying intelligence on US politicians to a Russian government official.
When US District Judge Tanya Chutkan asked Butina if she was prepared to enter her guilty plea, however, she replied: “Absolutely.”
Prosecutors say she conspired with the Russian official and two US citizens.
According to Fox News, Butina, 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.
Federal Judge Tanya Chutkan said she found Butina “understands the nature of the charges against her and is acting on her own free will,” and accepted the guilty plea, which was part of an agreement with prosecutors.
Authorities charged that Butina’s work was directed by Alexander Torshin, a Russian government bank official now under sanction by the Treasury Department for his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Prosecutors claim Butina used her contacts with the National Rifle Association and the National Prayer Breakfast to develop relationships with U.S. politicians and gather information for Russia.
Prosecutors also have said that Butina’s boyfriend, conservative political operative Paul Erickson, identified in court papers as “U.S. Person 1,” helped her establish ties with the NRA.
In their filings, prosecutors claim federal agents found Butina had contact information for people suspected of being employed by Russia’s Federal Security Services, or FSB, the successor intelligence agency to the KGB.
Inside her home, they found notes referring to a potential job offer from the FSB, according to the documents.
Investigators recovered several emails and Twitter direct message conversations in which Butina referred to the need to keep her work secret and, in one instance, said it should be “incognito.”
Prosecutors said Butina had contact with Russian intelligence officials and that the FBI photographed her dining with a diplomat suspected of being a Russian intelligence agent.
Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, had previously decried the charges against her as “overblown” and said prosecutors criminalized her mundane networking opportunities.
He has said his client was a student interested in American politics and wanted to see a better relationship between the U.S. and Russia.
She will remain jailed while awaiting sentencing.
Butina, who was arrested in July, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and could be deported after her release.