Accused Russian spy Maria Butina pleads guilty to conspiracy

Washington — Maria Butina, a Russian national accused of spying, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy Thursday morning at the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., telling Judge Tanya Chutkan that she committed the crime that she's accused of and that she understands the plea agreement. Her attorney, Robert Driscoll, and attorneys for the government also acknowledged that Butina is in the process of cooperating with the government as part of her plea agreement. 

The 30-year-old Butina was indicted in July on charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent. On Thursday, she admitted to infiltrating influential political groups in the U.S. on behalf of high-ranking Russian officials with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Specifically, she pleaded guilty to working with a deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank, believed to be Alexander Torshin. 

In the original indictment, the government alleged that Butina and the Russian official, who were not registered as foreign agents or diplomats, met "for the purpose of developing and executing a plan to identify and exploit personal connections with U.S. persons having influence in American politics" to advance Russian interests. 

Butina pleaded guilty to the statement of offense, which said that early as March 2015 and until 2018, Butina worked with Russian officials to infiltrate and influence U.S. political groups, most notably the National Riffle Association.

The government alleged that Butina had told Russian officials that a candidate in "Party 1" was poised to win the 2016 presidential election and that she had come into contact with a U.S. official who later became a declared presidential candidate. No further details were given in court, however. 

As a part of the plea agreement, Butina also acknowledged that she arranged for a delegation to attend the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast. 

The case was investigated by the FBI's Washington, D.C. field office, with charges brought by the U.S. attorney's office of the District of Columbia and the National Security Division of the Justice Department. It is not related to special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

Butina has most recently been held in solitary confinement in a Virginia jail and will remain there until sentencing. A sentencing date has not been set yet because of Butina's ongoing cooperation with the government, but a status hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 12.  

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