Accused Russian Secret Agent Pleads Guilty

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Russian operative Maria Butina pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to infiltrate conservative us political groups, including the National Rifle Association, with the goal of advancing Russian interests.

Media reports identified the Russian official as Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia's central bank who was targeted with USA sanctions.

Butina was charged by prosecutors in July with acting as an agent of Russia's government and conspiracy to take actions on behalf of Moscow.

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

"When I heard something was going on around her, for a start I asked the heads of our secret services, 'Who is she?' Nobody knows anything about her", President Vladimir Putin said in a televised appearance in Moscow on Tuesday, the day after Butina said in a filing she wanted to change her plea.

Erickson helped Butina target Republican officials and pave the way for access to an unnamed "wealthy and well-connected U.S. person" who hosted "friendship dinners where other wealthy and influential Americans discussed U.S. -Russia relations".

In a court filing connected to her plea deal, prosecutors stated that at least two other people, in addition to Torshin, aided in Butina's conspiracy.

On Thursday, she admitted to infiltrating influential political groups in the US on behalf of high-ranking Russian officials with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Butina's initiative came during what the USA intelligence community has said was a concerted Russian government effort to help elect Trump, including by hacking and distributing emails stolen from Democrats.

Appearing before Judge Tanya Chutkan, she admitted to conspiring to work with Alexander Torshin, a former deputy governor of Russia's central bank, and two USA citizens as a Russian agent from 2015 until her 2018 arrest.

In a statement Wednesday, Erickson's lawyer, William Hurd, said, "Paul Erickson is a good American". She agreed to turn over any evidence of crimes she is aware of, submit a full accounting of her financial assets, sit for interviews with law enforcement (and waive right to counsel during those interviews) and testify before grand juries or in trials in Washington or elsewhere. The campaign declined a meeting, but documents provided to Congress show Butina and Torshin met briefly during the event with Donald Trump Jr., one of the president's sons. It also described how Butina and a "wealthy and well-connected USA person"-previously identified as conservative writer and Rockefeller heir George O'Neill Jr. -hosted "friendship dinners", where she aimed to forge ties to politically connected Washingtonians with the ear of the Trump administration".

The court has not yet set a sentencing date, but set a status hearing for February 12, the Washington Post reported. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, though the defense noted Thursday that federal sentencing guidelines recommend no time to six months. He was hit with sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department in April.

"We arrested this young woman because we need dirt on Trump and Russian Federation".

There are Facebook photos showing her posing for pictures with the NRA. But prosecutors Erik Kenerson and Thomas Saunders left open the possibility they would write a letter seeking leniency for Butina depending on the extent of her cooperation.

Butina's time in prison has included solitary confinement.

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