Accused Russian Agent Pleads Guilty in US Court

Accused Russian Agent Pleads Guilty in US Court

A Russian woman who schemed to build back-channel ties between the Russian government and the Trump campaign pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday to conspiring to act as a clandestine foreign agent.

Butina worked in concert with her boyfriend, GOP fundraiser Paul Erickson, and a Russian handler, Alexander Torshin, who also cultivated his own relationships with important conservatives in the United States.

Butina has previously maintained her innocence, pleading not guilty to charges that she was acting as a foreign spy for Russian Federation.

In 2010, Anna Chapman and nine other "sleeper agents" working secretly in the USA on behalf of Russian Federation pleaded guilty and were sent back to Moscow as part of a prisoner exchange.

"Once again, we demand that Washington observe her lawful rights and ensure her soonest release from custody", the spokeswoman said, adding that whatever decision Butina makes with her lawyers, "she would take them in order to be freed, considering that she is a political prisoner".

Erik Kenerson, an assistant U.S. Attorney from the U.S. Attorney's office, read from a statement of offense that Butina agreed to which outlines the conspiracy to develop a "backchannel" line of communications with people connected to U.S. politics, without notifying the Attorney General.

Russian officials have strenuously defended Butina, asserting that the USA case was exaggerated or outright false. She agreed to turn over any evidence of crimes she is aware of, submit a full accounting of her financial assets, sit for interviews with law enforcement (and waive right to counsel during those interviews) and testify before grand juries or in trials in Washington or elsewhere.

She faces up to five years behind bars, followed by deportation.

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

Court documents show Butina lived with a USA man in his 50s who has been identified as Paul Erickson, a Republican activist and NRA member. In 2015 she attended a Trump campaign event in Las Vegas, asking the presidential candidate about his views on United States sanctions against Russian Federation.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D., Texas) on Wednesday said it's possible the Russians influenced the 2016 election by funneling money through the National Rifle Association. Her cooperation could lead to a reduced sentence.

Prosecutors have charged that her work was directed by a former Russian lawmaker who was penalized by the Treasury Department for his alleged ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Butina, jailed since her arrest in July, had mounted an aggressive defence and tried to have the charges against her tossed.

Butina appeared in court Thursday with her hair - a duller shade of red - in a braid.

She told CNN: 'It's not about justice, it's not justice.

Butina's lawyer, Robert Driscoll, had previously decried the charges against her as "overblown" and said prosecutors criminalized her mundane networking opportunities.

Because of Butina's ongoing cooperation, the judge did not set a sentencing date but scheduled a status hearing for February 12.

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