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Alleged Russian operative Maria Butina to plead guilty, help prosecutors

A plea agreement obtained by NBC News shows Butina will admit conspiring "to establish ... communication with Americans having power" for Russia's benefit.
Image: Maria Butina
Maria ButinaEmbassy of the Russian Federation to the U.S. via Twitter

WASHINGTON — Maria Butina, the accused Russian agent of influence who built ties to the National Rifle Association and influential Republicans, has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with federal prosecutors, according to a plea agreement obtained by NBC News. The case was not brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Butina, 30, will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the law governing foreign agents operating in the United States, a felony that carries a five-year prison term. The estimated sentencing guideline range is from zero to six months in prison. As a noncitizen, she would face deportation after serving any prison sentence.

The filing makes no mention of an allegation the government made in July — that Butina offered sex in exchange for a job. Butina has been held in jail without bail. She currently has a plea hearing scheduled for Thursday at 10:30 a.m.

According to the documents, Butina — a former graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C. — will admit to conspiring 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."

The unnamed American has been identified by law enforcement officials as Paul Erickson, a longtime Republican activist who was in a romantic relationship with Butina.

The Russian fits the description of Alexander Torshin, who recently retired as deputy governor of the Russian central bank. As NBC News has previously reported, Torshin reached out to the Trump campaign seeking a meeting between Putin and Trump. He met Donald Trump Jr. in May 2016 at an NRA dinner.

The documents describe Butina's efforts to build ties with a "gun rights organization," which has been identified as the NRA, and "Political Party 1," which the document makes clear is the Republicans.

The documents confirms previous reporting that Butina helped orchestrate a trip by NRA members to Moscow in December 2015.

During the Moscow trip, she helped set up a meeting between prominent NRA members and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

After that meeting, the agreement said, Butina sent Torshin a message, which was translated as saying, "We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later."

Butina also organized a Russian delegation to the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, the document states, and Torshin directed her "to include certain people in the delegation."

Butina hosted influential people at U.S.-Russian "friendship dinners," the court documents say, "to cultivate lines of communications with individuals she believed would have the ear of the next U.S. presidential administration."

Not included in the document was what happened in July 2015, at the Nevada Freedom Festival in Las Vegas, when Butina asked then-candidate Trump during an audience q-and-a about his plan for working with her country, and whether he would continue America's "damaging" sanctions against it.

"Obama gets along with nobody. The whole world hates us ...," Trump said. "I know Putin, and I'll tell you what: We get along with Putin. Putin has no respect for President Obama. Big problem."

"I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin… I don't think you would need the sanctions," he added. "I think we would get along very, very well. I really believe that."