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

Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina pleads guilty to engaging in conspiracy against US

Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday morning to attempting to infiltrat...

Posted: Dec 14, 2018 4:48 AM
Updated: Dec 14, 2018 4:48 AM

Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday morning to attempting to infiltrate Republican political circles and influence US relations with Russia before and after the 2016 presidential election.

Butina, 30, attended conferences of groups such as the National Rifle Association and the National Prayer Breakfast, and orchestrated gatherings where influential Americans could meet with Russians.

Continents and regions

Eastern Europe

Espionage

Europe

International relations and national security

Maria Butina

Misc people

National security

North America

Russia

The Americas

United States

2016 Presidential election

Alexander Torshin

Business figures

Conspiracy (criminal offense)

Corrections system

Crime, law enforcement and corrections

Criminal law

Criminal offenses

Donald Trump

Elections (by type)

Elections and campaigns

Firearms

Government and public administration

Guilty pleas

Investigations

Law and legal system

Law courts and tribunals

National Rifle Association

Paul Erickson

Political advocacy groups

Political candidates

Political Figures - US

Political organizations

Political parties

Politics

Prisons and jails

Russia meddling investigation

US Federal elections

US political parties

US Presidential elections

US Republican Party

Weapons and arms

"Butina sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over US politics," prosecutors said.

Butina admitted to acting "under direction of" a Russian official whom CNN has identified as Alexander Torshin, the recently retired deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia. While she was in the US, she pursued graduate studies at American University in Washington.

Her plea comes at a time of intense scrutiny over contact between Russians and the Trump campaign, but there is no indication Butina's case has been of central interest to special counsel Robert Mueller. The charges she pleaded guilty to Thursday came from a different prosecutor's office at the Justice Department.

Butina 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, but will likely receive zero to six months based on her plea agreement and has already been incarcerated for five months. Butina would likely be deported after serving her sentence. A hearing was set for February to discuss a sentencing date.

Her sentencing is on hold while she cooperates with federal prosecutors on other ongoing investigations, including into her American co-conspirator and boyfriend, Republican political operative Paul Erickson.

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 a Russian billionaire to attend conferences associated with the GOP -- particularly the NRA, which she believed "had influence over" the Republican Party, she admitted.

Twice in the description of Butina's admitted criminal conspiracy, prosecutors note how the Republican Party's candidates for president in 2016 were a backdrop to her actions.

At an NRA convention she attended in April 2015, prosecutors and Butina acknowledge she met "influential" Republicans, including "one of whom announced his campaign to run for the presidency of the United States shortly therafter."

That candidate was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. They took a picture together at the convention.

It was at a different event, FreedomFest Convention in July 2015, where Butina asked Trump a question at a public forum about foreign policy with Russia if he were elected.

"I know Putin and I'll tell you what, we get along with Putin. Putin has no respect for President Obama," Trump said.

The second reference to Republican candidates in 2016 comes in relation to a proposal she wrote outlining her master plan to build unofficial diplomatic goodwill between the US and Russia.

"Butina predicted that the candidate nominated by [the Republican Party] would likely win the upcoming US presidential election," her statement of offense said. In the court documents, the Republican Party is referred to as "Political Party #1."

Among Butina's other criminal admissions, prosecutors said NRA members received in 2015 her invitation to visit Moscow and meet with high-ranking Russian politicians. Torshin and "US Person 1", whom CNN identified as Erickson, helped her prepare for the trip. After the trip in December 2015, she said to Torshin, "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. 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 Trump.

Much of Butina's operation in the US was centered around her fervent support for gun rights, after she had founded a pro-gun organization in Russia.

On Thursday, Butina was advised that she will lose the right to possess a firearm in the United States, though she is likely to be deported and will never be able to return to the US on an immigration visa.

Taking the deal

In court Thursday before the judge accepted her plea, 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 Thursday.

She was in the confinement partly because of her discussions with other prisoners in the Alexandria, Virginia, facility, court papers said previously. On Thursday, the judge revealed prosecutors heard her on taped phone calls from jail with a journalist admitting that she had tried to get messages to the media, and potentially through her lawyer and through other inmates, even though she was under a court order not to speak about her case.

The Russian government had also claimed in recent days that she was tortured in custody -- though Driscoll said Butina was "doing well mentally."

In the courtroom Thursday, Butina's green jail uniform had rips at her elbows. She did not use a language interpreter, and, during the more than an hour-long proceeding, answered questions from the judge in English, though with a strong accent.

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. "Paul Erickson is a good American. He has done nothing to harm our country and never would," Hurd said after the hearing.

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. As he was exiting the courtroom, however, Hurd made a point of introducing himself to the prosecutor on Butina's case, Erik Kenerson.

"We may be talking based on various events," Hurd said to him.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to state that Butina planned to use $125,000 from an unnamed Russian billionaire to attend conferences associated with the GOP.

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
51° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 51°
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