Maria Butina pleads guilty to conspiracy charge

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ABC News reported earlier this week that, as part of her deal, Butina admitted that she and an unnamed "U.S. Person 1", which sources have identified as longtime Republican operative Paul Erickson, with whom she had a multiyear romantic relationship, "agreed and conspired, with a Russian government official ("Russian Official") and at least one other person, for Butina to act in the United States under the direction of Russian Official without prior notification to the Attorney General".

Under the plea agreement, Butina said she would cooperate with federal prosecutors.

Prosecutors claim Butina used her contacts with the National Rifle Association and the National Prayer Breakfast to develop relationships with USA politicians and gather information for Russian Federation.

The US Justice Department said Butina entered the US on a student visa without officially disclosing the fact that she was acting as an agent of Russian government, as required by law.

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
Maria Butina pleads guilty to conspiracy charge

Under her deal, Butina agreed to cooperate "completely and forthrightly" with American law enforcement about "any and all" matters deemed relevant by the USA government, including participating in interviews and debriefings outside the presence of her lawyers, testifying and providing sworn, written statements.

Zakharova claimed Butina is a political prisoner and is innocent.

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.

The 30-year-old was charged in July with acting as an agent of the Russian government and conspiracy to take actions on behalf of Moscow.

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"It's easier for her to burn the network that she had in order to see that she gets a sweetheart deal and deportation (from) the United States, where they will laud her as a hero of the Russian Federation", he continued.

Depending on her level of cooperation with USA investigators, Butina coud receive a lighter sentence before, probably, being deported to Russian Federation.

The case against Butina was brought by federal prosecutors in Washington, not by the better-known effort led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Prosecutors say Butina worked to infiltrate the American gun-rights movement to gather intelligence on conservative political groups as Donald Trump rose to power.

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She will remain jailed while awaiting sentencing.

Before the plea, the Russian foreign ministry continued to support Butina, planning to send embassy personnel to her hearing and posting a statement on Twitter by spokeswoman Maria Zakharov, saying, "We demand that Washington observe legal rights of Maria Butina & release her as soon as possible". 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.

"I asked all the heads of our intelligence services what is going on - nobody knows anything about her".

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

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Torshin, a high-ranking official of Russia's Central Bank, is considered a political ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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