A Russian woman accused of being a secret agent admitted Thursday that she conspired to infiltrate the American gun-rights movement to gather intelligence on conservative political groups as Donald Trump rose to power. Maria Butina, 30, agreed to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge as part of a deal with federal prosecutors, the AP reports. The case, which is separate from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, has offered insight into how Moscow seeks to influence American policy. Federal prosecutors in Washington say Butina and her Russian patron, Alexander Torshin, used their contacts in the National Rifle Association to pursue Russian back channels to American conservatives during the 2016 campaign.
As part of her deal, Butina pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent and agreed to cooperate with investigators. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, though the defense noted Thursday that federal sentencing guidelines recommend no time to six months. She probably will be deported from the US after her sentence is completed. Authorities charged that Butina's work was directed by Torshin, a Russian government bank official now under sanction by the Treasury Department for his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prosecutors also have said that Butina's boyfriend, conservative political operative Paul Erickson, identified in court papers as "US Person 1," helped her establish ties with the NRA. Butina has been jailed since her arrest in July.
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