Accused Russian Agent Maria Butina Changes Plea, Admits Guilt

Posted December 14, 2018

Maria Butina, who had earlier denied the charge, entered the new plea in a USA federal court in Washington on December 13, and also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

As Butina prepared to change her plea before a federal judge in Washington, DC, Thursday morning, the judge confronted directly questions raised about the stark conditions of her confinement-which this week has brought a rebuke from the Russian government.

No sentencing date was set.

Zakharova claimed Butina is a political prisoner and is innocent. Chutkan said it would be up to her to determine a guideline sentencing range, even though both Butina's lawyers and the government had asked for no more than a five year sentence.

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
Accused Russian Agent Maria Butina Changes Plea, Admits Guilt

One of the two USA citizens mentioned in the prosecutors' criminal complaint was Paul Erickson, a conservative USA political activist who was dating Butina.

In Russia, Butina had established a group that advocated for Russians to own firearms, something that is strictly proscribed under Russian law.

House intelligence committee Democrats quoted that message in their response to the GOP majority's report that said the contacts between people in the Trump camp and Russians in 2016 were "ill-advised" but not evidence of conspiracy. Paul Erickson, an American man and conservative activist identified as Butina's boyfriend, is also under investigation. Erickson, who is referred to as "US Person 1" in court papers, has not been charged.

The conspiracy, as prosecutors described it in court, kicked off no later than March 2015 with a draft proposal Butina wrote to Torshin and others called the "Description of the Diplomacy Project". Judge Tanya Chutkan said she found that Butina was "fully competent" to make the plea.

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"Butina opined that the circumstances were favorable for building relations with a certain US political party", it said. 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. He said Butina was a student interested in American politics and wanted to see a better relationship between the US and Russian Federation. They also said she used her role as a student at American University in Washington as a cover for her activities. Russian Federation is quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the USA that isn't forthcoming under the current administration.

Torshin has also been linked to Russian organized crime figures according to Spanish investigators who spent years tapping phones and monitoring Russians.

Maria Butina is in jail accused of acting as a Russian agent to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and influence USA policy toward Moscow.

Her defense lawyers had argued that the portrayal made by prosecutors was an exaggerated caricature.

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Prosecutors also say it is "very likely" that she will be deported from the United States after her sentence is completed.

The prosecutors in the Butina case are not from the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia's role in the 2016 USA election and whether Trump's campaign conspired with Moscow to help him win.

Although Torshin later met Donald Trump an event during an NRA convention, Butina and her colleagues were not able to broker a conference between then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Driscoll had asked that Butina be transferred to the general population of the jail where she is being held, as her detention status has her segregated from the rest of those incarcerated.

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