Russian operative Maria Butina (pictured) pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday morning to attempts to infiltrate Republican political circles and influence US relations with Moscow, before and after the 2016 Presidential election.
Butina attended conferences of groups such as the National Rifle Association and the National Prayer Breakfast, and arranged gatherings where influential Americans could meet with Russians.
She admitted to acting “under direction of” Alexander Torshin, who recently retired as deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia.
Butina agreed to turn over any evidence of crimes of which she is aware, submit a full accounting of her financial assets, sit for interviews with law enforcement and testify before grand juries or in trials.
Sentencing is on hold while Butina cooperates with federal prosecutors. The charges carry a maximum of five years in prison, but the operative will likely receive zero to six months based on her plea agreement, having already spent five months behind bars.
THREAD: What can we learn from the cooperation deal with Russian spy Maria Butina? (Answer: A lot.)
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) December 13, 2018
Infiltration or a Conduit of Communication?
In March 2015, Butina sent a draft proposal, “Description of the Diplomacy Project”, to Torshin and others, according to prosecutors.
The plan set out Butina’s steps to become an unofficial conduit of communication between Russia and the US, especially through the Republican Party, using $125,000 from a Russian billionaire to attend conferences. She focused on the NRA since it “had influence over” the GOP.
At an NRA convention in April 2015, Butina met “influential” Republicans, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a candidate for the Presidency. In July, she asked Trump a question at the FreedomFest convention, bringing his response: “I know [Russian President] Putin and I’ll tell you what, we get along with Putin. Putin has no respect for President Obama.”
Butina also acknowledged, working with Torshin and Republican operative Paul Erickson, organiing a December 2015 visit by NRA members to Moscow. Afterwards, she told Torshin, “We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later.”
Later initiatives included “friendship dinners” with wealthy and influential Americans to talk about US-Russian policy and organization of a delegation to attend the National Prayer Breakfast as “a back channel of communication”.
Butina’s claimed links with the NRA date to 2013, when she told an Israeli audience that the group that she and Torshin co-founded in 2010, the Right to Bear Arms in Moscow, had a “signed cooperation agreement” with the American organization.
“Trump Really for Cooperation”
Torshin tweeted in February 2016, “Maria Butina is now in the United States. Writes to me that D. Trump (member of NRA) is really for cooperation with Russia.”
Butina said in court that her mind was “absolutely clear” and her lawyer said she was “doing well mentally”, a sharp contrast to proclamations by the Russian Foreign Ministry that she has been tortured.
Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova insisted Thursday that Butina pleaded guilty “to survive”.