Accused Russian agent pleads guilty

Maria Butina appears in a police booking photograph released by the Alexandria Sheriff's Office in Alexandria, Virginia

Maria Butina appears in a police booking photograph released by the Alexandria Sheriff's Office in Alexandria, Virginia   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Maria Butina admitted that she was acting as an illegal foreign agent in the U.S.

A Russian national who built a powerful network of Republican contacts via the U.S. gun rights lobby that reached into President Donald Trump’s circle admitted on Thursday acting as an illegal foreign agent.

Maria Butina — the first Russian convicted in the sprawl of cases arising from Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election — faces up to six months in prison, followed by likely deportation.

Prosecutors said she launched a plan in March 2015 to develop ties with the Republican Party with the aim of influencing U.S. foreign policy.

She worked together with her American boyfriend, Republican operative and National Rifle Association insider Paul Erickson, to pursue the plan, they said.

The plot was guided and financed in part by Alexander Torshin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin.

At Mr. Torshin's direction and with Mr. Erickson's assistance, prosecutors said Ms. Butina “sought to establish unofficial lines of communications with Americans who were having power and influence over U.S. politics”.

“Butina sought to use those unofficial lines of communication for the benefit of the Russian Federation,” they said.

Ms. Butina’s case was a spin-off from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election.

Ms. Butina’s contacts took her into the high echelons of the Republican hierarchy. She started by setting up her own Russian gun rights organisation, supported by Mr. Torshin, and then making contact with the NRA.

NRA connection

In April 2015 she joined the NRA national convention where she had her picture taken with prominent Republicans and was introduced to an unidentified Republican presidential candidate, according to prosecutors.

Eight months later she invited a number of current and former leaders of the NRA to Moscow where they were able to meet high-level Russian officials. Her contacts took her into close proximity with Mr. Trump.

At a Trump rally in Las Vegas in July 2015 she was selected to ask him a question about his plans for ties with Russia.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin rejected as unfounded the U.S. case against Ms. Butina. “We consider the accusations against her as unfounded,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he had “reasons to believe” the Russian had been kept in conditions designed to break her will and lead her to enter a false guilty plea.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 5:33:46 AM |

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