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Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina cooperating ahead of plea hearing Thursday

14 December 2018

A prosecutor said in court that she "sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over United States politics", according to CNN.

A Russian former graduate student at American University in Washington who publicly advocated for gun rights, she was accused of working to infiltrate a powerful gun lobby group, the National Rifle Association, and influence USA policy toward Moscow. Butina admitted that she traveled to the U.S.to attend an NRA convention, met members of the Republican Party and eventually asked her Russian official handler, believed to be Alexander Torshin, whether she should develop a relationship with President-elect Donald Trump's inner circle.

It's still unknown if there will be a plea agreement or if that agreement would include a cooperation agreement.

Prosecutors say Butina and her Russian patron, Alexander Torshin, used their contacts at the National Rifle Association to pursue Russian back channels to American conservatives during that campaign, when Republican Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

"Paul Erickson is a good American", it said.

Previously a student at the American University in Washington, Butina is a founder of the pro-gun Russian advocacy group Right to Bear Arms.

She is the first Russian citizen to be convicted of working to shape U.S. policy in the run up and through the 2016 election campaign, agreeing to co-operate with prosecutors for less prison time.

Butina told the judge that she understands she is likely to be deported back to Russian Federation after serving any prison sentence. "We get along with Putin", Trump told Butina, referring to the Russian president.

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
Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina cooperating ahead of plea hearing Thursday

"To me, this is nothing to do with espionage as we think of it", Galeotti told VICE News.

Although there are no sentencing guidelines for her specific crime, her lawyer, Robert Driscoll, estimated that under U.S. sentencing guidelines for similar crimes, she could face up to six months in prison. There is no suggestion in the documents that Butina was employed by the Russian intelligence services, but violations of the law are considered more serious than a separate law that requires registration by paid lobbyists for foreign entities. He has said his client was a student interested in American politics and wanted to see a better relationship between the USA and Russian Federation.

"Further, Butina opined that the circumstances were favorable for building relations with a certain USA political party", the filing reads. Under the deal, her defense agreed that she could face a recommended zero to six months in prison under federal guidelines, and could seek a lower sentence.

She also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Butina has been held in jail since her arrest and indictment, with a federal judge claiming in September that she "cannot imagine a scenario where it is not possible" that Butina would flee the country if allowed out on bail.

As part of the plea agreement, she is expected to cooperate with prosecutors during an ongoing investigation, according to USA media reports.

Earlier this week, after court filings indicated Butina was about to change her plea, Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned her in a Moscow meeting.

In the "Diplomacy Project," Butina suggested using unofficial channels to influence USA foreign policy. (AP) Mariia Butina poses with a pistol at a gun show.

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Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina cooperating ahead of plea hearing Thursday