Russian firearms enthusiast Maria Butina admitted on Wednesday in US District Court in Washington that she conspired with an unnamed American to act at the direction of a Russian official "to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics…for the benefit of the Russian Federation."
After initially claiming innocence after her July arrest, the 30-year-old Butina accepted a deal with prosecutors and flipped her plea to guilty - agreeing to work with authorities who accused her of gathering intelligence on American officials as well as conservative political organizations. She has been in jail without bail since her arrest.
The American Butina worked with has been identified as Paul Erickson, a longtime GOP operative based in South Dakota with strong ties to the National Rifle Association and the Russian gun rights community. Erickson, who was in a romantic relationship with Butina, allegedly attempted to establish a backchannel between the NRA and Russian Government - while also reaching out to Trump campaign members Rick Dearborn and then-Senator Jeff Sessions in a 2016 email with the subject "Kremlin connection." The email sought a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at an annual NRA convention.
The Trump campaign declined the invitation, however Butina allegedly worked with Erickson to try and arrange a meeting between Trump and her boss, former Russian central banker Alexander Torshin - who is believed to be her handler.
Butina, a former graduate student at American University, became a fixture in conservative circles in recent years and a constant presence at functions organized by the NRA, a group closely aligned with Republicans lawmakers and President Trump.
The charges against Butina were brought by federal prosecutors in Washington, and her case was unrelated to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
However, the Siberian native, who twice met with a Trump campaign aide and has been photographed with Donald Trump Jr., has reportedly agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team of investigators. -NY Daily News
Following Butina's arrest, the Russian embassy complained that Butina was being subjected to unwarranted strip searches and denial of proper medical care in an effort to "break her will." Her defense attorney, Robert Driscoll, claims she has suffered health problems in jail and has been denied proper treatment.