Accused Russian spy pleads guilty in US federal court
Russian citizen Maria Butina pleaded guilty in a US federal court here Thursday to an espionage charge that carries a potential sentence of five years in prison.
Butina, 30, admitted her guilt to the crime of conspiring against the US and agreed to cooperate with US authorities.
She acknowledged her actions, in coordination with unnamed Russian officials, to weave a network of influence in US politics.
Wearing a green prison jumpsuit and with her long red hair in a braid, Butina entered the courtroom to admit her responsibility in the acts of espionage.
“Guilty,” she said before Judge Tanya Chutkan after on Monday her defense team filed a petition in which they requested a hearing so that she could change her plea.
During the hearing on Thursday, which lasted more than an hour, the confessed Russian agent confirmed that she was aware that after serving her sentence she could be deported or remain on parole in the US.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, the presumed Russian spy set up a network of influential contacts in the US to benefit the Kremlin in an operating launched in March 2015 and which continued into July 2018, ending only when she was arrested.
Butina - according to the list of facts she admitted to on Thursday - entered into a relationship with an American man, using the Google Translate service to hold conversations in English and present to him a “project proposal” before the 2016 elections.
She began her mission in Russia but in August 2016 she moved to Washington with a student visa.
The contacts Butina established in the US ultimately led her to the National Rifle Association, to which she presented herself as a Russian activist defending the right to bear arms.
Butina posed for photographs with NRA officials and with members of President Donald Trump’s Republican Party, with whom she sought to establish informal communications channels with an eye toward the 2016 presidential elections, according to the accusations against her.