Top Stories
Top Stories
Politics

Alleged Russian agent Maria Butina sets stage for pleading guilty after accusations she plotted to infiltrate NRA

Key Points
  • Alleged Russian agent Maria Butina wants to change her not guilty plea in a pending criminal case, setting the stage for her to plead guilty soon, a court filing Monday shows.
  • Butina, who is charged with conspiracy and failing to register as a foreign agent, and federal prosecutors filed a joint motion in U.S. District Court in Washington to ask a judge to set a date for a change-of-plea hearing as soon as possible. Both sides noted they are available for such a hearing in the next several days.
  • Butina, who remains in custody, was arrested in July. She is a accused of plotting with her former boss to infiltrate American political organizations, including the National Rifle Association, to promote Russia's agenda.
Accused Russian agent Maria Butina speaks to camera at 2015 FreedomFest conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
Freedom Fest | Reuters

Alleged Russian agent Maria Butina wants to change her not guilty plea in a pending criminal case, setting the stage for her to plead guilty Wednesday, a new court filing hows.

Butina, who is charged with conspiracy and failing to register as a foreign agent, and federal prosecutors on Monday filed a joint motion in U.S. District Court in Washington to ask a judge to set a date for a change-of-plea hearing as soon as possible.

"The parties have resolved this matter," that motion says.

Hours after that filing, the hearing was scheduled for 3:15 p.m. Wednesday.

It is not clear if Butina, 30, who has denied being a Russian agent, has reached a cooperation agreement with prosecutors from the District of Columbia. But plea negotiations in the case have been going on since at least last month.

Gun activist Butina, who remains in custody, was arrested in July. She is a accused of plotting with her former boss to infiltrate American political organizations, including the National Rifle Association, to promote Russia's agenda.

Butina, who came to the United States in the summer of 2016 on a student visa, had lived with a man identified as Paul Erickson, a Republican activist and NRA member. Earlier this year, the McClatchy news service reported that the FBI was investigating whether the NRA received Russia money to help promote President Donald Trump's campaign.

Last week, the Daily Beast reported that a lawyer for Erickson was sent a so-called target letter informing him that prosecutors were considering charging Erickson with secretly acting as an agent for a foreign government. The letter, the news site said, also said prosecutors were weighing whether to charge him with conspiracy.

The New York Times has reported that Erickson wrote an email to Trump's campaign in May 2016 offering to arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

"Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump," Erickson wrote, according to the Times. "He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election."

Butina's move toward an expected guilty plea comes as the organization she is accused of trying to infiltrate has seen a decrease in its income.

Last month, the NRA said it had taken in $55 million less in income in 2017 than in the year before, when it was spending a lot of money to help Trump get elected. And the gun rights group spent significantly less money to support candidates in the recent midterm congressional elections.

During a bail hearing last summer, prosecutors said Butina has a "history of deceptive conduct," and "extensive foreign connections."

The FBI, in a court document, said that Butina had connections to an unidentified "high-level official in the Russian government," and that she had acted at the behest of that official.

NBC News has reported that Butina served as a special assistant to a Kremlin crony whose description in court papers matches that of Alexander Torshin.

Torshin is a former Russian senator and deputy head of Russia's central bank. He also is close to Putin.

The New Yorker last July, in an article about Butina, said that she "will go down in history as perhaps the first person to publicly ask" Trump "what his policy toward Russian sanctions would be if he were President." That question was posed to Trump at a public event in 2015.

"We get along with Putin," Trump answered. "I don't think you'd need the sanctions."