Accused Russian agent to plead guilty, help prosecutors

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Maria Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization in Russia, speaks to a crowd during a rally in support of legalizing the possession of handguns in Moscow, on April 21, 2013. (Photo by AP)

Maria Butina, who is charged and detained in the United States over conspiracy to act as a Russian government agent by developing ties with American citizens and infiltrating political groups, has reportedly agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with federal prosecutors.

Butina, suspected of trying to infiltrate the National Rifle Association (NRA) and influence US policy toward Russia, is expected to plead guilty this week following a deal between her lawyers and US prosecutors, according to court filings on Tuesday.

Documents obtained by US media outlets said Butina would admit she had conspired with an unidentified American to act at the direction of a Russian official "to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over US politics ... for the benefit of the Russian Federation."

The same documents talked about Butina's efforts to build ties with a "gun rights organization," and "Political Party 1," which is the Republican Party.

The documents also confirmed that the 30-year-old had been involved in arranging a trip by NRA members to Moscow in late 2015.

Lawyers for Butina and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors said a day earlier that they “resolved this matter” and she wanted to change her original plea of not guilty.

The plea deal stated that Butina "agreed and conspired, with a Russian government official ('Russian Official') and at least one other person, for Butina to act in the United States under the direction of Russian Official without prior notification to the Attorney General.”

The charge carries a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison, but prosecutors estimated a sentence up to six months. Butina also faces deportation after her sentence ends.

The Russian gun rights activist was arrested in mid-July in the US and stands accused of working as a Russian agent of influence. She was residing in the country on a student visa while completing a master’s degree in international relations at American University in Washington, DC.

Moscow has strongly criticized the US government for detaining Butina over the past several months, labeling the case against her “fabricated” and calling for her release.

Media reports said Butina's plea hearing – which was originally set for Wednesday – has been rescheduled to Thursday morning.

Butina not known to Russian spy agencies            

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that it was unclear to him why Butina was arrested in the US, because the chiefs of Russia's intelligence agencies had informed him they did not know anything about her.

"She risks 15 years in jail. For what?" Putin asked, noting, "I asked all the heads of our intelligence services what is going on. Nobody knows anything about her.”

Butina’s arrest in mid-July came days after the DOJ charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic officials in the US elections.

Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, has been running a high-profile investigation into allegations that Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton partly because Moscow had rigged the election in his favor.

US intelligence agencies claim Russia-linked hackers provided WikiLeaks with damaging information -- in the form of thousands of hacked emails -- about Clinton to skew the presidential election in favor of Trump.

Trump has repeatedly denied allegations that his campaign colluded with Russians and has condemned the investigations.

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