A United States judge postpones plea agreement for Maria Butina

A United States judge postpones plea agreement for Maria Butina

The case is not directly linked to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 USA presidential election, as well as possible obstruction of justice and potential collusion between Trump campaign-related figures and the Kremlin.

The Russian national accused of illegally conspiring to influence American politics officially changed her plea to guilty as expected on Thursday.

The 30-year-old was arrested and charged in July, and prosecutors said she was acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian Federation.

According to her plea agreement, Butina's work was directed by Torshin, a Russian government bank official now under sanction by the Treasury Department for his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Butina admitted she worked with an American political operative "to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence of US politics". The operative, previously named as Paul Erickson, is a longtime GOP political adviser from South Dakota who managed the 1992 presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan. His lawyer released a statement, saying "Paul Erickson is a good American. He has never done anything to hurt our country and never would".

Prosecutors said Butina in March 2015 crafted something called the "Diplomacy Project" with help from "U.S. Person 1", and to carry out the plan, she requested $125,000 from a Russian billionaire to attend conferences and set up "separate meetings with interested parties".

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Prosecutors even wrote that "all available evidence indicates that Butina had interest in a graduate school education".

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova yesterday claimed she has been subjected to a "medieval inquisition".

The prosecutors in the Butina case are not from the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia's role in the 2016 United States election and whether Trump's campaign conspired with Moscow to help him win. Acting as an unregistered foreign agent within the United States can carry a sentence of up to five years in prison.

"To me, this is nothing to do with espionage as we think of it", Galeotti told VICE News. Butina also attended Walker's announcement that he was running for president.

The prosecution's complaint against Butina did not explicitly mention Trump's campaign.

The case was investigated by the FBI's Washington, D.C. field office, with charges brought by the USA attorney's office of the District of Columbia and the National Security Division of the Justice Department.

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Butina could be deported after doing time, but may also be eligible for supervised release if she stays in the USA, the judge suggested.

Butina faces a possible maximum prison sentence of five years followed by deportation.

In a surprising turnaround for the gun-toting Siberia native, she has struck a deal to cooperate with federal investigators.

Since then, she has spent much of her time in jail in solitary confinement.

Maria Butina, a gun-rights activist poses for a photo at a shooting range in Moscow, Russia.

In the "Diplomacy Project," Butina suggested using unofficial channels to influence USA foreign policy. With Torshin, she used pro-gun credentials to build relationships with top NRA figures.

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Because of Butina's ongoing cooperation, the judge did not set a sentencing date but scheduled a status hearing for 12 February.

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