Accused Russian spy pleads guilty to conspiracy

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Accused Russian spy Maria Butina has admitted in federal court that she had worked with a Russian contact to infiltrate American politics.

"The reason I think she's pleading guilty is because one, she's never going to get out of the United States if USA law enforcement draw her as a spy", Nance said, pointing to Butina's legal jeopardy.

Prosecutors have alleged that Butina, who received a graduate degree from American University in Washington and who publicly advocated for gun rights, sought to build relationships with influential conservative political groups, including the powerful National Rifle Association.

Butina said she acted "under direction of" a Russian official whom CNN has identified as Alexander Torshin. Her lawyer has argued that Butina was a student interested in American politics and better U.S.

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

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

Nevertheless, with a guilty plea, Butina became the first Russian citizen to be convicted of working to shape USA policy in the time period spanning the 2016 election campaign.

In plea documents read by prosecutors in court Thursday, Butina admitted to undertaking a multiyear influence campaign coordinated through Torshin, a top Russian official, that she proposed in March 2015 as multiyear "Diplomacy Project".

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

She faces charges of conspiracy and failing to register as a foreign agent. (AP) Mariia Butina poses with a pistol at a gun show.

Since late November, Butina has been allowed time out of the cell at night and for other activities, including for church and to visit with a Russian orthodox minister, which has helped her mental state, her attorney Robert Driscoll said.

Butina's case is not related to the investigation led by former FBI chief Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.

One of the two Americans cited in the prosecution's criminal complaint was Paul Erickson, a conservative USA political activist who was dating Butina.

The actions Butina acknowledged taking occurred during the same time period that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded Russian Federation engaged in a campaign of propaganda and hacking to sow discord in the United States during the 2016 presidential race and boost Republican candidate Trump's chances against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. But on Thursday morning Butina is slated to appear in DC federal court to plead guilty to conspiracy as part of a deal with prosecutors. "For what?" Putin asked rhetorically.

The 30-year-old purported gun rights activist came to the US on a student visa in 2016, and allegedly worked to develop and "exploit" relationships with politically influential figures and organizations, including the NRA.

"I asked all the heads of our intelligence services what is going on - nobody knows anything about her".

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