Maria Butina pleads guilty to US charge of conspiring to act as foreign agent

Maria Butina pleads guilty to US charge of conspiring to act as foreign agent
Maria Butina, the Russian woman arrested in July and accused of acting as a foreign agent within the United States has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy.

Butina was accused of acting as a Russian agent to infiltrate the National Rifle Association (NRA) lobby group which is closely linked to Republican politicians close to US President Donald Trump and to sway US foreign policy toward Moscow.

When asked by a judge whether the charges read by prosecutors were correct, Butina responded: "Yes."

By pleading guilty, Butina waived the right to a trial and appeal. Judge Tanya Chutkan said she found that Butina was "fully competent" to make the plea.

In a signed statement obtained by NBC News, Butina said that she had "sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over US politics" and that she did so on behalf of the Russian government.

Chutkan said she was satisfied that Butina was competent and accepted the plea. Depending on her level of cooperation with US investigators, Butina coud receive a lighter sentence before, probably, being deported to Russia. Acting as an unregistered foreign agent within the US can carry a sentence of up to five years in prison.

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Butina had been living in the US on a student visa and prosecutors alleged she had been working as an agent under the direction of a Russian banking official. Butina’s lawyers identified the man as Aleksandr Torshin, but he was not mentioned by name in the official plea document submitted to the court.

During the hearing, Butina said she understood that she could be deported following her conviction and sentencing, but Judge Chutkan told her that the decision on deportation would not be one made by her court. Chutkan said it would be up to her to determine a guideline sentencing range, even though both Butina's lawyers and the government had asked for no more than a five year sentence.

A sentencing date was not set yet, as Butina had cooperated with investigators, but a status hearing date was set for February 12.

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