Accused Russian spy Maria Butina has changed her plea to guilty in federal court for conspiring to influence U.S. politics through her connections with the National Rifle Association (NRA). This comes as the first Russian national to be convicted of attempting to impact American politics around the same time as the 2016 presidential election. As part of the deal, the federal prosecutors dropped the charge for Butina not filing as an unregistered foreign agent.
Butina Turning Evidence
Butina, a Russian gun activist, admits to operating "under direction of" a Russian official, and she will cooperate with investigators. Reportedly she has already shared the name of an American with whom she was conspiring, as well as the Russian official directing her activities.
Specifically, Butina admits to being involved in a Russian backed effort to open unofficial lines of communication with prominent Americans in the NRA and the Republican party, with her goal of convincing them that Russian government is their friend, not enemy. Butina, a thirty year old woman, has been tied to Paul Erickson, a fifty year old American man with whom she had been living. Erickson, a Republican activist and NRA member, has reportedly been sent a "target letter," informing him that prosecutors are considering charging him with acting as a secret agent for a foreign government.
Butina Could Get Released for Time Served
Conspiracy against the United States is a federal offense under 18 USC Section 371. The maximum penalty is five years. Butina has been in a Virginia jail since July, since she was considered an extreme flight risk, and has a scheduled sentencing date of February 12, 2019. It is believed that in exchange for the plea deal, she will likely get a shortened sentence, possibly as short as "time served," and then deported, according to court papers detailing the agreement.
Putin Performs a Sgt. Schultz "I Know Nothing"
According to Russian President Vladmir Putin, he does not know Butina, and claims the heads of Russian intelligence services don't know anything about this operation. According to Putin, "no one knows anything about her". However, Butina worked closely for years with Aleksandr P. Torshin, a Russian government official with ties to Russian Christian conservatives.
According to federal prosecutors, Butina also sought a "Russian Official's advice on whether to take meetings with certain people." Prosecutors added, "She asked him for direction on whether the Russian 'government' was ready to meet with some of those people." Perhaps more information regarding Russian officials will come to light prior to the February 12th sentencing.