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Russian operative Maria Butina pleads guilty to conspiracy

Russian operative Maria Butina pleads guilty to conspiracy

As part of that deal, she says she tried to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and relay intelligence on American politicians to a Russian government official.

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

On Tuesday Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed Butina's case at a meeting of a Kremlin council on human rights in Moscow, saying: "I asked all the heads of our intelligence services what is happening, 'Who is she?' No one knows a thing about her".

Her work as an agent took place from "as early as 2015 and continuing through at least February 2017", the department said earlier this year. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, though the defence noted on Thursday that federal sentencing guidelines recommend no time to six months.

She said: 'She did nothing wrong, she is not a criminal, not a terrorist.

Butina, who has been jailed since her arrest in July, agreed to remain behind bars pending sentencing.

Butina's work with her compatriots, meanwhile, continued. However, the descriptions given by prosecutors match up with Erickson's background and past activities. Erickson allegedly "agreed and conspired" with Butina to "establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over USA politics". And prosecutors also are accusing her of using sex and deception to forge influential connections.

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.

Those parties included Russian businessmen or Foreign Ministry officials, they said.

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
Russian operative Maria Butina pleads guilty to conspiracy

Maria Butina's plea comes as part of a deal reached with prosecutors after she indicated her willingness to co-operate with them.

The charge of conspiracy opens the possibility that other people could also be charged in the case.

Butina had originally pleaded not guilty to prosecutors' charges.

She told CNN: 'It's not about justice, it's not justice. She has described Butina's arrest as politically motivated.

Erickson's defense attorney, William Hurd, attended the plea hearing.

Butina's efforts, which continued after she moved to Washington as a graduate student at American University in 2016, included asking whether the Russian government was ready to meet her contacts.

"Guilty", Butina said with a light accent in entering her plea with U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan at a hearing Thursday morning in federal court in Washington.

Chutkan said that prosecutors had tapes of a call Butina made from jail with a journalist and that prosecutors flagged this to the judge as a potential conflict of interest. On the call, Butina referred to someone whom prosecutors believe could be her lawyer about acting as a go-between to pass messages to journalists.

"Butina opined that the circumstances were favorable for building relations with a certain US political party", it said.

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