SEVERE WX : Red Flag Warning - Air Quality Alert View Alerts

Who is Maria Butina?

Maria Butina is a 29-year-old Russian who is accused of acting as a foreign agent in the United States and allegedly using sex and deception to build her network of influential international connections. CNN's Randi Kaye looks into her past.

Posted: Dec 14, 2018 5:05 AM
Updated: Dec 14, 2018 5:09 AM

Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday for conspiracy to act as an illegal foreign agent in the United States.

Butina, 30, was accused of working to infiltrate Republican political circles through groups such as the National Rifle Association to bolster Russian interests.

Butina said she acted "under direction of" a Russian official whom CNN has identified as Alexander Torshin, the recently retired deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia.

"Butina sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over US politics," the prosecutor said in a Washington courtroom.

Her guilty plea and agreement to cooperate comes with the hope that prosecutors will ask for a reduced sentence. 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.

She faces a maximum of five years in prison and will likely be deported after serving any time. A hearing was set for February to discuss a sentencing date.

In court, Butina said her mind was "absolutely clear." This comes in contrast to her lawyer's previous notice to the court that as of late November, she was in solitary confinement in jail and the conditions were "starting to have a profound psychological impact" on her.

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.

Work to infiltrate conservative circles

The conspiracy, as prosecutors described it in court, kicked off no later than March 2015 with a draft proposal Butina wrote to Torshin and others called the "Description of the Diplomacy Project."

It described her plan to become an unofficial conduit of communication between Russia and the US, especially through the Republican Party, at a time when the two governments were less willing to negotiate formally. She had also planned to use $125,000 from Torshin to attend conferences associated with the GOP -- particularly the NRA, which she believed "had influence over" the Republican Party, she admitted.

NRA members also received her invitation to visit Moscow and meet with high-ranking Russian politicians. Torshin and "US Person 1", whom CNN identified as Butina's boyfriend Paul Erickson, a GOP political operative, helped her prepare for the trip. After the trip in December 2015, she said to her Russian backer, "We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later."

She helped a US citizen host "friendship dinners" with other wealthy and influential Americans to talk about US-Russian policy, prosecutors said and Butina admitted in court.

Butina organized a delegation and oversaw invitations to attend the National Prayer breakfast in 2017. She noted to Erickson at the time that the people were "coming to establish a back channel of communication."

She also admitted that Torshin "did not believe" the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs would "go for it" when she asked him in November 2016 "how to create a dialogue with the then President-elect's advisers," prosecutors said in court, referring to advisers of Donald Trump.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Thursday that Butina took the deal "to survive."

"She used this option to survive," Zakharova told CNN. She has described Butina's arrest as politically motivated.

Erickson's defense attorney, William Hurd, attended the plea hearing. After the hearing, he said he would speak to his client before deciding whether to make a public statement. He said he did not know in which jurisdiction Butina would be helping a criminal investigation, if she does indeed cooperate with one involving Erickson.

Butina spoke from jail with journalist

US District Judge Tanya Chutkan began Thursday's court session by revealing why Butina was appointed a public defender.

Chutkan said that prosecutors had tapes of a call Butina made from jail with a journalist and that prosecutors flagged this to the judge as a potential conflict of interest. On the call, Butina referred to someone whom prosecutors believe could be her lawyer about acting as a go-between to pass messages to journalists.

Chutkan said she did not find that Butina's lawyer Driscoll acted improperly, but said it was why a public defender was appointed.

During the calls, the prosecutors also learned that Butina told other inmates to talk to her lawyer and to speak to the media on her behalf.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 224547

Reported Deaths: 2877
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah42425618
Washington28176259
Marion24842333
Clackamas20349243
Lane15401176
Jackson13240160
Deschutes1074187
Umatilla988394
Linn644882
Yamhill515882
Klamath498279
Douglas479594
Polk440457
Josephine438076
Malheur370967
Benton354822
Jefferson252842
Coos241040
Columbia213732
Union175924
Wasco160631
Lincoln159122
Crook144724
Hood River128934
Morrow125017
Clatsop123711
Baker116018
Curry86512
Tillamook7985
Grant5657
Lake4868
Harney46611
Wallowa2486
Gilliam881
Sherman872
Wheeler491
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 4003787

Reported Deaths: 64620
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles131165624721
Riverside3112424667
San Bernardino3095025265
San Diego3011003805
Orange2856205146
Santa Clara1245862183
Sacramento1178311790
Kern1143421428
Fresno1057321746
Alameda980131290
Ventura845891046
Contra Costa78084836
San Joaquin776151461
Stanislaus666191097
Tulare50731854
San Mateo45255588
Monterey44651528
San Francisco41758565
Solano36525261
Santa Barbara36106469
Sonoma33414331
Merced33321485
Imperial29333746
Placer25624307
Kings23790251
San Luis Obispo22356267
Madera17220249
Santa Cruz16779207
Yolo15149215
Marin15039243
Butte13523205
Shasta13179242
El Dorado11312121
Napa1055282
Sutter10343127
Yuba712950
San Benito632664
Tehama592766
Lassen590526
Nevada568575
Humboldt535154
Mendocino485652
Tuolumne469173
Lake440866
Amador395348
Siskiyou259640
Glenn248127
Colusa238118
Calaveras235658
Del Norte174710
Inyo148238
Mono13395
Plumas7926
Modoc5767
Mariposa5377
Trinity4696
Sierra1370
Alpine910
Unassigned810
Medford
Partly Cloudy
65° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 65°
Brookings
Mostly Cloudy
52° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 52°
Crater Lake
Partly Cloudy
65° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 65°
Grants Pass
Cloudy
65° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 65°
Klamath Falls
Partly Cloudy
51° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 51°
Very hot and smoky Wednesday
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events