Maria Butina Will Plead Guilty to Conspiracy Charge

Alleged Russian spy reaches deal with feds
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 11, 2018 6:50 AM CST
Updated Dec 11, 2018 7:00 AM CST
Maria Butina Will Plead Guilty to Conspiracy Charge
In this April 21, 2013, photo, Maria Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization in Russia, speaks to a crowd during a rally in support of legalizing the possession of handguns in Moscow, Russia.   (AP Photo)

An alleged spy accused of trying to infiltrate American organizations including the NRA might be on her way back to Russia soon. Maria Butina, a Russian gun rights activist who was arrested in July and is currently being held in solitary confinement at a federal facility in Alexandria, Va., has reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors, NPR reports. She has agreed to plead guilty to a charge of conspiracy to act as a Russian agent on American soil without registering with authorities—and to testify in front of a grand jury if federal prosecutors ask her to. More:

  • The sentence. Butina faces a maximum of five years in prison on the conspiracy charges, though she is expected to serve much less under the deal, which still has to be approved by a judge. Her lawyers are asking for a maximum of six months, CBS News reports. The charge is a felony, so the 30-year-old will likely be deported when she is freed.

  • The accusations. Butina—who founded a gun rights group in Russia—was accused of trying to advance Russia's agenda by cozying up to conservative leaders and NRA officials, as well as reaching out to candidates in the 2016 election, the Washington Post reports. She moved to the US in Sept. 2016 to attend graduate school at American University in Washington, DC.
  • Sex claims. Court papers show that prosecutors have backtracked from their depiction of Butina as a "sly seductress who traded sex to further the aims of her spymasters," the New York Times reports. Prosecutors acknowledged that she genuinely sought a graduate degree, instead of using her studies as a cover, and there is no mention of earlier claims that she tried to trade sex for access to powerful conservatives.
  • Her handler. Prosecutors say Butina worked with a Russian government official. Her lawyers have identified him as Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, the Guardian reports.
  • Efforts to infiltrate Trump circle. Butina met numerous prominent conservatives and NRA members, but she didn't get too far into President Trump's inner circle, the Post reports. She unsuccessfully tried to set up a meeting between Torshin and Trump at the May 2016 NRA convention. In September that year, she attended a Styx concert with Trump adviser JD Gordon. The next month, she went to his birthday party. He says they did not have any contact after that.
(Her lawyers called some of the allegations against her a "sexist smear.")

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