What’s Next for Maria Butina?
Jailed Russian national Maria Butina has reached a deal with federal prosecutors to plead guilty to a charge of conspiracy to violate a prohibition on undeclared foreign agents, ABC and the Daily Beast report.
In a version of the plea document to be filed with the court, Butina reportedly will admit that she “sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics.” Butina will also reportedly cooperate with prosecutors in ongoing investigations.
The details of the plea deal are yet sketchy. According to ABC, Butina will admit to acting with “Person 1” — previously identified as her boyfriend, the GOP activist Paul Erickson — in a conspiracy “with a Russian government official… and at least one other person… to act in the United States under the direction of Russian Official without prior notification to the Attorney General.”
The Russian Official has previously been identified as the former senator and central banker Alexander Torshin. As Rolling Stone reported in April, Torshin and Butina worked together for years to infiltrate the NRA to gain access to Republican power players, politicians and the Trumps.
The Daily Beast reports that the settlement paints Butina’s outreach to the NRA as duplicitous. It quotes a missive Butina sent to Torshin after the duo hosted the NRA at a gun rights conference in Moscow in 2015: “We should let them express their gratitude now,” Butina reportedly wrote of the NRA guests, “we will put pressure on them quietly later.” (This quote appears to indicate that the glitzy, boozy trip was part of a long-game influence operation.)
According to ABC, the plea deal also describes Butina and Person 1 as collaborating on a 2015 proposal — a “Diplomacy Project” — in which Butina claimed to have “laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration.” The proposal included a request for $125,000 in funding from a Russian oligarch, ABC reports, and was favorably received by the Russian Official.
Butina’s ongoing cooperation is a cause for concern for Erickson, who is under increasing scrutiny and reportedly received a “target letter” from the feds, often a precursor to an indictment. Erickson’s lawyer has not responded to questions from Rolling Stone.
Back in Russia, Vladimir Putin is now claiming he was in the dark about Butina’s activities. “When I heard that something was happening to her,” Putin said Wednesday, in remarks translated by the Moscow correspondent of the Financial Times. “I started by asking all our secret service chiefs: ‘Who is she?’ Nobody knew anything about her!”
(Putin’s disavowals may come as a surprise to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has made Butina the face of its Twitter account.)