Accused Russian agent Butina expected to plead guilty over NRA infiltration

Prosecutors accuse her of working with Russian official and US citizens to try infiltrate NRA

Maria Butina, then leader of a pro-gun organisation in Russia, pictured on April 21st, 2013 speaking to a crowd during a rally in support of legalising the possession of handguns in Moscow. Photograph: AP

Maria Butina, then leader of a pro-gun organisation in Russia, pictured on April 21st, 2013 speaking to a crowd during a rally in support of legalising the possession of handguns in Moscow. Photograph: AP

 

Accused Russian agent Maria Butina, suspected of trying to infiltrate the National Rifle Association (NRA) and influence US policy toward Russia, is expected to plead guilty this week following a deal between her lawyers and US prosecutors, according to court filings on Monday.

Exactly how the deal will be structured for Ms Butina was not immediately clear. US district judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington scheduled a hearing for Wednesday.

CNN reported on Monday that Ms Butina had already begun to co-operate with prosecutors, citing one source familiar with the matter. A representative for the US Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the case.

ABC News first reported that Ms Butina would co-operate with prosecutors.

Ms Butina, a former American University graduate student, had previously pleaded not guilty to US charges in July that she was acting as an agent of the Russian government and conspiring to take actions on Russia’s behalf.

Prosecutors have accused her of working with a Russian official and two US citizens to try to infiltrate the powerful NRA lobby group that has close ties to Republican politicians including president Donald Trump, and influence Washington’s policy toward Moscow.

Ms Butina’s lawyers previously identified the Russian official as Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who was hit with US Treasury Department sanctions in April.

One of the two Americans mentioned in the prosecutors’ criminal complaint was Paul Erickson, a conservative US political activist who was dating Ms Butina. Neither Mr Erickson nor Mr Torshin has been accused by prosecutors of wrongdoing.

Ms Butina’s co-operation will mainly focus on telling investigators about the role of Mr Erickson and her interactions with Russian officials, CNN reported.

The case against Ms Butina is being prosecuted by the US attorney’s office in Washington and the National Security Division, and not US special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US election and any co-ordination between Moscow and Trump campaign members.

The government’s complaint against Ms Butina did not explicitly mention Mr Trump’s campaign. Mr Trump has denied any collusion with Moscow occurred.

Reuters previously reported, however, that Ms Butina was a Trump supporter who bragged at parties in Washington that she could use her political connections to help get people jobs in the Trump administration.

In a December 8th, 2016, class project at American University, she gave a presentation titled “What Might President Trump’s Foreign Policy Be Toward Russia?” and listed several of Russia’s policy objectives, according to a copy reviewed by Reuters.

Whether she could help shed any light on contacts between Mr Trump’s campaign and Russia is not known.

Moreover, the prosecutors in her case have previously made mistakes, including erroneously accusing Ms Butina of offering sex in exchange for a position in a special interest group. The errors could possibly have helped give Butina more leverage in reaching a plea deal.–Reuters