Admitted Russian spy Maria Butina pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to conspiring with a senior Russian official to infiltrate conservative American circles on behalf of the Russian government, according to The Washington Post.
The 30-year-old Russian national, who pursued her goals from 2015 until her July arrest, is the first to be convicted of trying to influence the U.S. political process leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
Butina admitted to working with an American political operative and under the direction of a former Russian senator and deputy governor of Russia’s central bank to forge bonds with officials at the National Rifle Association, conservative leaders, and 2016 U.S. presidential candidates, including Donald Trump, whose rise to the Oval Office she presciently predicted to her Russian contact.
As part of her plea, Butina admitted seeking to establish and use “unofficial lines of communication with Americans having influence over U.S. politics” for the benefit of the Russian government, through a person fitting the description of sanctioned Russian central banker Alexander Torshin, prosecutor Erik Kenerson said.
Republican operative Paul Erickson, who managed Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign in 1992, is reported to be Butina’s American partner in the effort as well as her romantic partner.
In a statement Wednesday, Erickson’s lawyer, William Hurd, said, “Paul Erickson is a good American. He has never done anything to hurt our country and never would.”
Butina’s initiative came during what the U.S. intelligence community has said was a concerted Russian government effort to help elect Trump, including by hacking and distributing emails stolen from Democrats. Although Robert S. Mueller is investigating links between that effort and individuals in Trump’s campaign, Butina was prosecuted by the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington.
Under her deal, Butina agreed to cooperate “completely and forthrightly” with American law enforcement about “any and all” matters deemed relevant by the U.S. government, including participating in interviews and debriefings outside the presence of her lawyers, testifying and providing sworn, written statements.