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Accused Russian spy Maria Butina appears to reach plea deal with prosecutors

We don’t yet know whether she’s agreed to provide information to the government.

Maria Butina AP
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Accused Russian spy Maria Butina appears to have struck a plea deal with federal prosecutors. Prosecutors and Butina’s lawyers filed a joint motion to set a change of plea hearing on Monday, saying they “have resolved this matter.”

The 30-year-old Butina spent years building ties to the National Rifle Association, conservative activists, and the Republican Party before her arrest and incarceration this July. She was charged with conspiracy and acting as an agent of a foreign government, and initially pleaded not guilty.

The specifics of the plea deal are not yet known. One particularly interesting question is whether Butina has agreed to provide information to prosecutors.

She was not charged as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, but instead by the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

Prosecutors alleged that Butina was carrying out a plan to influence American politics on behalf of a Russian government official — Russian central bank official Alexander Torshin. Both Butina and Torshin were vocal advocates for gun rights, and they became fixtures at NRA events.

Butina also appears to have been advised by a Republican political consultant, Paul Erickson, on how she could influence US politics and the GOP in particular to be friendlier to Russia. She and Erickson lived together for some time.

There were also several curious incidents during the 2016 campaign that Butina was involved in.

  • In July 2015, Butina attended a conservative event at which Trump spoke, and the candidate called on her to ask a question. She asked about sanctions on Russia, and Trump responded that he knew Putin and he’d get along with Putin. “I don’t think you’d need the sanctions,” Trump continued. I think that we would get along very, very well.”
  • Erickson claimed to a Trump campaign staffer that he had a “back-channel to President Putin’s Kremlin” and offered to put the Trump campaign and Russia in contact.
  • In May 2016, the NRA held its convention in Louisville. Butina and Torshin attended, and they met Donald Trump Jr. at a dinner. Don Jr.’s lawyer has said that they only made “gun-related small talk.”

McClatchy has also reported that the FBI is investigating whether Torshin “illegally funneled money” into the NRA that was then spent to help Trump win — perhaps through a shell company Butina and Erickson set up called Bridges LLC.

Overall, though, the exact nature and breadth of what is being investigated related to Butina remains vague — making it unclear exactly how much legal jeopardy the NRA or the Trump camp may be in.

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