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Accused Russian Spy Wants to Change Her Plea

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on December 10, 2018 10:55 AM

It may seem silly to ask a spy to register as a spy. Their operations after that point wouldn't be so covert, would they? But under federal law, acting as a foreign agent without first telling the Attorney General can get you 10 years in prison.

Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina is hoping a new plea agreement can lessen that possible penalty. Butina has been charged with working in the U.S. at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government, using ties to the NRA and other conservative groups to advance Russian political interests. All without registering first.

Acting Foreign Agents

According to federal statute 18 U.S.C. § 951, anyone (other than diplomatic officials) who "acts in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General" is guilty of a felony. Butina and former member of Russia's Federation Council Aleksandr Torshin have been part of a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into the Russian government's attempts to help Donald Trump win the presidency.

Butina allegedly emailed Republican political operative Paul Erickson a plan to help the Republicans win the 2016 elections through the NRA. "The NRA went on to donate more than $30 million to Trump's 2016 campaign," according to Mother Jones. "The FBI and the Federal Elections Commission are now reportedly investigating whether any of this money came by way of Russian sources which, like all other foreign entities, are prohibited from contributing to US elections."

Plea Replacement

Butina originally pleaded not guilty to the failure to register charge. But today, her attorneys joined prosecutors in filing a Joint Motion to Set Change of Plea Hearing, leading many to speculate that she is now cooperating with that investigation. "The parties have resolved this matter," the filing reads, "and the Defendant Maria Butina remains in custody."

You can see the full filing below:

Butina Plea Hearing Motion by FindLaw on Scribd