The woman accused of attempting to infiltrate the NRA and coerce conservative political figures has pleaded guilty of being a Russian government agent.
Maria Butina, who graduated from American University, will be the first Russian national convicted for attempting to interfere with U.S. policy and influence the 2016 presidential election. Despite this connection her case will not be overseen by special counsel Robert Mueller.
As part of her plea, Butina will cooperate with investigators in their effort to expose Moscow’s desire to meddle in U.S. politics by means of propaganda, cyber attacks and human intelligence networks.
The 30-year-old admitted to purposefully aligning herself with Republican officials to gather information and reporting to the Russian government that she had “laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication” with the up and coming U.S. administration.
Despite her stating a willingness to cooperate, Butina was somber and stiff at her hearing, responding simply “yes” or “no” to questioning.
Butina’s infiltration began in 2015 before it was apparent that Donald Trump would win the presidency.
During that year she aided in the arrangement of NRA leaders to travel to Moscow, sharing with a Russian bank official that “We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later.”
The Russian agent also ingrained herself with 56-year-old Republican Paul Erickson. Prosecutors originally claimed that Butina fostered a romantic relationship with Erickson in order to cover her pursuit of political connections.
While Erickson is being investigated as well, courts are now turning away from the relationship between the two, even Butina’s plea deal calls for the accusation that she entered a sexual relationship in exchange from prominence be dropped.
Russia has turned Butina’s arrest into a diplomatic cause while President Vladimir Putin denies she serves any significance.
“She’s facing 15 years in prison. For what?” Putin inquired. “When I heard that something was happening to her … I started by asking all our secret service chiefs: who is she? Nobody knew anything about her!”