Accused Russian agent Maria Butina, suspected of trying to influence US policy toward Russia, has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and cooperate with US authorities. She has likely taken a plea deal, reports said.
Maria Butina, the Russian gun rights activist who is alleged to have infiltrated the US National Rifle Association (NRA), is set to change her plea to guilty, according to court documents filed by her lawyers on Monday.
She had originally pleaded not guilty to acting as an illegal foreign agent after being arrested in July by counterespionage agents. The new plea likely means she has made a deal with prosecutors.
"The parties have resolved this matter,” lawyers for both sides wrote in a joint statement. Butina will appear in court for a change-of-plea hearing later this week.
A deal could see Butina deported to Russia in the coming months in exchange for her testimony about her activities for the Kremlin within the NRA.
Butina's star rises in Moscow
The US federal attorney's office that has charged Butina as not part of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, but Butina's work has been linked to the Kremlin's efforts to influence the vote in favor of President Donald Trump.
The firearms enthusiast ran a group in Russia called the Right to Bear Arms. It was funded in part by Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Torshin was present a May 2016 NRA event that was also attended by the US president's son, Donald Trump Jr.
Butina, 30, came to the US on a student visa and is alleged to have used her platform to make high-level contacts with the NRA, mostly through her personal relationship with Republican activist Paul Erickson. During the 2016 campaign, Butina had contact with a senior official in the Trump campaign, Rick Dearborn, trying to broker a meeting between Trump and Putin.
Butina's lawyers had argued that her activities fell within the bounds of free speech, but the US Justice Department said that she was a "covert Russian agent" who was trying "to penetrate the US national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation."
In the five months she's been imprisoned, Butina has increasingly been embraced by Moscow, where officials have promoted the narrative that she is an innocent
es/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)