Accused Russian spy Maria Butina pleads guilty

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

Accused Russian spy Maria Butina pleads guilty

As part of that deal, she says she tried to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and relay intelligence on American politicians to a Russian government official.

In DC federal court Thursday morning, Butina admitted to working with an American Republican operative and a Russian official to establish unofficial lines of communication between U.S. politicians and Moscow, according to the Washington Post.

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. She agreed to turn over any evidence of crimes she is aware of, submit a full accounting of her financial assets, sit for interviews with law enforcement (and waive right to counsel during those interviews) and testify before grand juries or in trials in Washington or elsewhere.

Butina is likely to face only up to six months in prison when she is sentenced in 2019. Driscoll said accommodations had been made since that filing to allow her out of her cell more often and that Butina "is doing well mentally". She is being held at an adult detention centre in Virginia.

Maria Butina, in 2013, speaks to a crowd during a rally in support of legalizing the possession of handguns in Moscow, Russia.

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".

She was arrested over the summer after having been monitored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, including in meetings in Washington, D.C., with Russian officials.

Butina even asked Trump a question at a gathering of United States conservatives in Las Vegas in 2015 when he was running for president, querying him about American relations with Russian Federation and economic sanctions imposed on Moscow by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

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

The case, which is separate from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 USA presidential election, has offered insight into how Moscow seeks to influence American policy. While in the USA starting in 2015, she was actually working to advance Russia's interests, reporting regularly to a senior Russian official, according to her guilty plea. She noted to Erickson at the time that the people were "coming to establish a back channel of communication".

The prosecution's complaint against Butina did not mention Trump's campaign by name.

Torshin also asked Butina to help justify him attending a national NRA meeting in 2016 and Butina encouraged his attendance "partly because of the opportunity to meet political candidates", according to her plea agreement.

"She used this option to survive", Zakharova told CNN. After the hearing, he said he would speak to his client before deciding whether to make a public statement.

A sentencing date was not set yet, as Butina had cooperated with investigators, but a status hearing date was set for February 12.

A courtroom sketch shows Maria Butina, centre, before US District Judge Tanya Chutkan.

Prosecutors later withdrew the accusations, saying they were based on a misreading of some of Butina's text messages and emails.

Butina, according to prosecutors, has worked closely with Alexander Torshin-a prominent figure in United Russia, the political party that Vladimir Putin belongs to.

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