Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina cooperating ahead of plea hearing Thursday

Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina cooperating ahead of plea hearing Thursday

A Russian woman accused of working as an agent for the Russian government to build ties to the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group in the United States and infiltrate Republican Party circles has pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court. While in the US starting in 2015, she was actually working to advance Russia's interests, reporting regularly to a senior Russian official, according to her guilty plea.

The 30-year-old Butina was indicted in July on charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent.

Butina laid out her plans in a document called "Description of the Diplomacy Project", according to court documents; she wrote that she believed Russian Federation could not reinvigorate ties with the United States through official institutions.

Maria Butina pleaded not guilty back in July.

Butina's lawyer has argued she is simply a student interested in better US-Russia relations.

Federal Judge Tanya Chutkan said she found Butina "understands the nature of the charges against her and is acting on her own free will", and accepted the guilty plea, which was part of an agreement with prosecutors. They alleged that her work in the United States was directed by a former Russian lawmaker who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for his alleged ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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According to CNN, the prosecutor in this case told the court that "Butina sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over USA politics". Erickson allegedly "agreed and conspired" with Butina to "establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over USA politics". Kramer told the court she had met with Butina before she signed the plea agreement, and Butina confirmed that she was waiving any conflict. Under the deal, her defense agreed that she could face a recommended zero to six months in prison under federal guidelines, and could seek a lower sentence. She posed for photos with prominent Republicans, including former presidential candidates, and snagged a picture with Donald Trump Jr.at a 2016 NRA dinner.

The case is not directly linked to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, as well as possible obstruction of justice and potential collusion between Trump campaign-related figures and the Kremlin. Driscoll had asked that Butina be transferred to the general population of the jail where she is being held, as her detention status has her segregated from the rest of those incarcerated.

In the "Diplomacy Project," Butina suggested using unofficial channels to influence USA foreign policy.

"She used this option to survive", Zakharova told CNN.

The court did not set a sentencing date pending Butina's ongoing cooperation with prosecutors but set another hearing for February 12 on the status of her case.

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

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