Maria Butina, the Russian operative accused of infiltrating the National Rifle Association and Republican Party on behalf of the Kremlin, pleaded guilty on Thursday to the charge of conspiring to act as a foreign agent. As part of her plea deal, she admitted to participating in an effort to influence powerful conservative groups and figures, including the NRA and Donald Trump, toward more Russia-friendly policies.
Her plea makes her the first Russian to be convicted of trying to influence U.S. policy as a foreign agent before and during the 2016 election, according to the Washington Post. She admitted to working for a Russian official identified as a former senator and deputy governor of the country’s central bank, but not officially at the direction of the Russian government. She also admitted she worked with Paul Erickson, a Republican political adviser she dated and worked closely with. Erickson tried to have Trump meet the senior Russian official—as “Putin’s emissary”—at an NRA convention in May 2016, but the campaign declined. Documents provided to Congress showed Butina and the senior official met briefly with Donald Trump Jr. Butina, who has agreed to fully cooperate with investigators, is expected to answer questions about Erickson’s actions. Investigators are looking into Erickson’s knowledge of Butina’s link to the Russian government, according to the New York Times.
Butina, who openly advocated warmer relations between Russia and the U.S., proposed in March 2015 a “Diplomacy Project” aimed at influencing the Republican Party. She attended NRA conferences, socialized with Republican presidential candidates, and hosted U.S.-Russia “friendship dinners” to ingratiate herself with leading conservative figures. She plotted under a senior Russian official to establish “unofficial lines of communication” with powerful Republican groups and officials and convince Republicans to perceive Russia as an ally.
Butina was prosecuted by the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C. If she serves more jail time than the five months she has already spent behind bars, she will likely get a relatively short sentence, and subsequently be deported back to Russia.