The female Russian national charged for conspiracy and for failing to register as a foreign agent has reached a plea agreement with U.S. prosecutors and has agreed to cooperate.
It appeared that things were picking up in the case of Maria Butina in recent days, as there were reports that accused Russian spy was nearing a plea deal. Butina’s attorney situation also managed to raise some eyebrows. Earlier Monday, it appeared that either a plea deal or a simple guilty plea was in the works.
A joint motion was filed to set a “change of plea hearing,” and it was later announced that the hearing would occur Wednesday afternoon. Now, ABC News is reporting, we have a plea deal and a cooperation agreement in place.
Per ABC News:
[Butina] admits, as part of the deal, according to a copy obtained by ABC News that is expected to be filed to the court, that she and an unnamed “U.S. Person 1,” which sources have identified as longtime Republican operative Paul Erickson, with whom she had a multiyear romantic relationship, “agreed and conspired, with a Russian government official (“Russian Official”) and at least one other person, for Butina to act in the United States under the direction of Russian Official without prior notification to the Attorney General.”
Based on the description, the “Russian Official” appears to be Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under his direction, the agreement said, she “sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics.”
Butina reportedly signed the agreement to admit that her NRA-connected ex-boyfriend Paul Erickson “agreed and conspired” with the man said to be her handler, Alexander Torshin, a high-ranking official of Russia’s Central Bank who is considered a political ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The maximum penalty for Butina is 5 years, but, depending on her cooperation, she could see that number shrink significantly. Considering that Butina is admitting that Erickson was in on this, it appears cooperating against her former flame could be one of the requirements she needs to fulfill.
As Law&Crime mentioned in the opening, Butina has been accused of allegedly failing to register as a Russian agent and accused of conspiracy. The prosecution memorably had to walk back claims that Butina traded sex for insider access at the NRA. Butina’s lawyer, on the other hand, has maintained that messages taken to mean his client was secretly executing the Kremlin’s marching order were “taken out of context.” Butina’s lawyers previously chalked up statements to her being young and naive.
“[I]f fantasizing about a future career in diplomacy and jabbering about personal events and peace-building aspirations with others like a friend and mentor who happens to be an officer from some foreign government agency (whether or not that officer is then acting in an official capacity) makes one a foreign agent, then scores of people are unknowingly violating this statute,” Team Butina has argued.
As we noted, the defense has argued that Butina is innocent, so a change of plea was a clear indication that we would soon see a guilty plea, at a minimum. Butina is the first Russian national to plead guilty amid various probes of improper influence of U.S. politics and the 2016 election.
[Image via STR/AFP/Getty Images]