Maria Butina, a suspected Russian spy accused of trying to create a backchannel between Republican officials and the Kremlin, is suspected to have reached a plea deal with the Justice Department, according to court filings on Monday, The Guardian reported.
Butina had already begun to cooperate with prosecutors, citing one source familiar with the matter. US district judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington scheduled a hearing for 12 December.
A plea is not final until it is entered in court and accepted by a judge. Monday’s filing did not indicate to what charge Butina would plead.
Butina, a former American University graduate student, had previously pleaded not guilty to US charges in July that she was acting as an agent of the Russian government and conspiring to take actions on Russia’s behalf.
Prosecutors have accused her of working with a Russian official and two US citizens to try to infiltrate the powerful NRA lobby group that has close ties to Republican politicians including Donald Trump, and influence Washington’s policy toward Moscow. A native of Siberia, she founded a group to expand gun rights in Russia, a profile that allowed her to develop relationships with U.S. conservatives intrigued with her work. Prosecutors said Butina, 30, stepped up her activities after moving to Washington in September 2016 to attend graduate school at American University.
Her attorneys had said her interactions with the NRA and others were typical of an ambitious student anxious to network and eager to build better relations between the United States and her country. They had at one point argued her outreach should be covered by constitutional protections of free speech and noted that she was not accused of attempting to steal U.S. secrets or working with Russian intelligence.
Prosecutors said that her goal was to advance the foreign policy aims of the Kremlin and that she was acting at the direction of a Russian government official, Alexander Torshin, a former senator who until last month served as deputy director of the Russian central bank. The U.S. government imposed sanctions on Torshin earlier this year.
Butina has been jailed for nearly five months since her July arrest. In that time, her case had been embraced by the Russian government, which had vigorously protested that she was an innocent student whose incarceration was unjust. With the plea deal, Butina could be released in coming months and deported to Russia.