Friday 20 September 2019

Russian 'agent' admits she tried to infiltrate gun lobby in run-up to 2016 election

Accused Russian agent Maria Butina. REUTERS/Bill Hennessy
Accused Russian agent Maria Butina. REUTERS/Bill Hennessy

Rozina Sabur in Washington

A Russian woman has admitted to acting as an agent for the Kremlin to get close to the Republican party in an effort to influence US policies.

Maria Butina (30) pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy in a court in Washington yesterday, admitting to working under the direction of a top Russian official to infiltrate the National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful gun rights group closely aligned with senior Republican politicians.

She is the first Russian citizen to be convicted of working to shape US policy in the run-up to and through the 2016 election campaign, agreeing to co-operate with prosecutors for less prison time.

Appearing before Judge Tanya Chutkan, she admitted to conspiring to work with Alexander Torshin, a former deputy governor of Russia's central bank, and two US citizens as a Russian agent from 2015 until her 2018 arrest.

Butina, a former graduate student at American University in Washington who publicly advocated for gun rights, was arrested in July and has been held in jail without bail ever since.

She initially pleaded not guilty to the charges against her but in the last week it was revealed she had reversed course and agreed to co-operate with prosecutors.

Maria Butina: She met with the US president’s son, Donald Trump Jnr. Photo: REUTERS
Maria Butina: She met with the US president’s son, Donald Trump Jnr. Photo: REUTERS

Her aim was to make contacts with officials at the NRA, conservative figures and 2016 presidential candidates in order to set up unofficial back channels with high-ranking American politicians.

Butina is known to have met with the president's son, Donald Trump Jnr, during one of the NRA's conventions as well as reportedly hosting a party in Washington attended by Trump campaign aides in November 2016.

To carry out her plan, Butina requested $125,000 (€110,000) from a Russian billionaire to attend conferences and set up "separate meetings with interested parties".

Her lawyer estimated that under sentencing guidelines for similar crimes Butina could face up to six months in prison. Because of Butina's ongoing co-operation, the judge did not set a sentencing date but scheduled a hearing for February 12.

Irish Independent

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