Accused Russian agent pleads guilty to conspiracy

In this courtroom sketch Maria Butina left is shown next to her attorney Robert Driscoll before U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan during a court hearing at the U.S. District Court in Washington Thursday Dec. 13 2018. Maria Butina a Russian accuse

A woman accused of acting as a Russian agent to infiltrate a powerful gun lobby group and influence USA policy towards Moscow pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy in federal court on Thursday (Dec 13) in a deal with prosecutors that could give them insight into Russian meddling in American politics.

Federal prosecutors have claimed that Ms Butina was directed by a senior Russian official to infiltrate conservative political groups, including an unnamed pro-gun lobbying organisation that is presumed to be the NRA, which is close to Mr Trump's Republican Party.

"The reason I think she's pleading guilty is because one, she's never going to get out of the United States if USA law enforcement draw her as a spy", Nance said, pointing to Butina's legal jeopardy.

Erik Kenerson, an assistant U.S. Attorney from the U.S. Attorney's office, read from a statement of offense that Butina agreed to which outlines the conspiracy to develop a "backchannel" line of communications with people connected to U.S. politics, without notifying the Attorney General.

The plea agreement was originally suppose to take place Wednesday but will now take place Thursday.

Clad in a green jumpsuit with her red hair pulled back in a long braid, Butina replied "absolutely" when asked by Chutkan if her mind was clear as she prepared to plead guilty to conspiracy to act as a foreign agent.

Court documents show Butina lived with a USA man in his 50s who has been identified as Paul Erickson, a Republican activist and NRA member.

The long-term aim was to sway U.S. policy towards Russian Federation, they said.

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 pleads guilty to conspiracy

In an interview with CNN, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Ms Butina had been "tortured" in detention - without providing any evidence - and that the Russian government considered her a "political prisoner".

The case, which is separate from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, has offered insight into how Moscow seeks to influence American policy. The campaign declined a meeting, but documents provided to Congress show Butina and Torshin met briefly during the event with Donald Trump Jr., one of the president's sons.

One of the two Americans referenced in the prosecution's criminal complaint was Paul Erickson, a conservative U.S. political activist who was dating Butina. Erickson, who is referred to as "US Person 1" in court papers, has not been charged.

She will remain jailed while awaiting sentencing.

That Butina was going to change her plea to guilty comes as no surprise, as in recent days, there were reports that the accused Russian spy was going to change her plea. "For what?" Putin asked. "Nobody knows anything about her".

Butina was closely associated with the National Rifle Association.

Butina's case, brought by federal prosecutors in Washington, also comes amid a broader push by the Justice Department to enforce USA laws governing foreign agents, including those accused of working for Russian Federation.

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