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Accused Russian agent Maria Butina pleads guilty to attempting to sway US policy

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Accused Russian agent Maria Butina pleads guilty to attempting to sway US policyA Russian woman has admitted to acting as an agent for the Kremlin to get close to the Republican party in an effort to influence US policies.  Maria Butina, 30, pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy in a court in Washington on Thursday, admitting to working under the direction of a top Russian official to infiltrate the National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful gun rights group closely aligned with senior Republican politicians. She is the first Russian citizen to be convicted of working to shape US policy in the run up and through the 2016 election campaign, agreeing to co-operate with prosecutors for less prison time. 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 US citizens as a Russian agent from 2015 until her 2018 arrest.  Butina, a former graduate student at American University in Washington who publicly advocated for gun rights, was arrested in July and has been held in jail without bail ever since.  Maria Butina was said to be directed by Alexander Torshin, previously described as Vladimir Putin's “emissary” Credit: AP She initially pleaded not guilty to the charges against her but in the last week it was revealed she had reversed course and agreed to co-operate with prosecutors.   Her aim was to make contacts with officials at the NRA, conservative figures and 2016 presidential candidates in order to set up unofficial back channels with high-ranking American politicians. Butina is known to have met with the president's son, Donald Trump Jnr, during one of the NRA's conventions as well as reportedly hosting a party in Washington attended by Trump campaign aides in November 2016. Prosecutors told the court that Butina drafted a March 2015 “Diplomacy Project” that called for establishing unofficial channels of communication between high-ranking American politicians in order to help advance Russia's interests. In this courtroom sketch, Maria Butina, left, is shown next to her attorney Robert Driscoll Credit: AP To carry out the plan, Butina requested $125,000 (£98,000) from a Russian billionaire to attend conferences and set up “separate meetings with interested parties” such as other Russian businessmen or people with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they added. The prosecutors said Butina invited “powerful members” of the NRA for a visit to Moscow where they met with high-level Russian officials. Apparent photos of the NRA Moscow trip are posted on her social media accounts. After the visit, according to court records, she sent a Russian official a message apparently referencing the NRA saying, “We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later.” The alleged Russian agent was arrested in July Credit: Reuters Butina also hosted “friendship dinners” in the hope of establishing ties with people who “would have the ear of the next US presidential administration,” prosecutors said. After the 2016 election, she proposed creating a dialogue with President Donald Trump's advisors, but the Russian official told her he did not think the foreign affairs ministry would “go for it,” prosecutors said. The actions occurred during the same time period that US intelligence agencies have concluded Russia engaged in a campaign of propaganda and hacking to sow discord during the 2016 presidential race and boost Mr Trump's chances against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Butina was a gun rights activist Butina's lawyers previously identified the Russian official as Alexander Torshin, who was a deputy governor of Russia's central bank and was targeted with US Treasury Department sanctions in April.  One of the two Americans referenced in the prosecution's case was Paul Erickson, an conservative political activist who was romantically linked to Butina. His lawyer William Hurd said: “Paul Erickson is a good American. He has done nothing to harm our country and never would.” Russian officials hit back at the case, calling it a “modern political inquisition” in comments quoted by the RIA state news agency. She faces a maximum of five years in prison and deportation. As part of her agreement prosecutors dropped a second charge of violating a law that requires foreigners working for their government to register with the US Justice Department. Her lawyer, Robert Driscoll, estimated that under sentencing guidelines for similar crimes Butina could face up to six months in prison.  Because of Butina's ongoing co-operation, the judge did not set a sentencing date but scheduled a hearing for February 12.  

Source: Yahoo.com