Maria Butina, a woman pleaded guilty in a U.S. court on Thursday to a single conspiracy charge in a deal with prosecutors and admitted to working with a top Russian official to infiltrate a powerful gun rights group and make inroads with American conservative activists and the Republican Party as an agent for Moscow, The Washington Post reported.
She became the first Russian to be convicted of working to influence U.S. policy during the 2016 presidential race and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Prosecutors allege she tried to make those contacts in the US at the behest of a “Russian official” and at least one other person. The Russian official is believed to be Russian central bank official Alexander Torshin, a longtime figure in Russian politics and avid gun-rights activist.
She was assisted in her efforts to make political contacts by a US citizen, who is identified in court documents as “US Person 1” and who is believed to be Republican political consultant Paul Erickson, according to NBC News.
Prosecutors say that with US Person 1’s assistance and the direction of the Russian official, Butina “sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence in US politics.”
They add that Butina made those contacts for the “benefit of the Russian Federation, acting through a Russian official.”
Prosecutors in the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia brought the charges, which are not connected to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
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.