WASHINGTON — Russian national Maria Butina pleaded guilty Thursday to felony conspiracy charges, acknowledging that she attempted to infiltrate conservative organizations in an effort to exert influence on U.S. politics.
According to court filings, 30-year-old Butina conspired with Russia’s Deputy Central Bank Governor Alexander Torshin, identified as “Russian Official,” to serve as an unofficial conduit between the Russian government and U.S. power players.
Butina focused her influence in this regard by cozying up to figures in the Republican party as well as the National Rifle Association (NRA), both of whom are repeatedly, indirectly referenced in the court’s documents.
This included presenting herself as a pro-gun activist at the 2015 NRA convention, hosting lavish “friendship” dinners with key influencers and inviting NRA members to a conference in Moscow.
Butina said she was assisted in her efforts by her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, an American Republican figure. He has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing through his attorney.
As part of her guilty plea, Butina has agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in an effort to avoid the 5-year prison sentence that her infraction could bring.
The plea comes amid Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s ongoing probe into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, but is unrelated.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denied this week that he or his top intelligence officials had any knowledge of Butina’s operations.