Accused Russian Agent Pleads Guilty in US Court

9. Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai

Butina told the judge that she understands she is likely to be deported back to Russian Federation after serving any prison sentence.

A Russian woman has pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to act as a foreign agent in a case that the US government said highlighted Moscow's efforts to influence Washington's foreign policy.

(AP) This courtroom sketch depicts Maria Butina, in orange suit, a 29-year-old gun-rights activist suspected of being a covert Russian agent, listening to her attorney Robert Driscoll, standing, as he speaks to Judge Deborah Robinson, left, during a hearing in federal court in Washington, Wednesday, July 18, 2018.

Clad in a green jumpsuit with her red hair pulled back in a long braid, Butina replied "absolutely" when asked by Chutkan if her mind was clear as she prepared to plead guilty to conspiracy to act as a foreign agent.

According to her plea agreement, Butina's work was directed by Torshin, a Russian government bank official now under sanction by the US Treasury Department for his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Butina admitted to working with an American political operative and under the direction of a former Russian senator and deputy governor of Russia's central bank to forge bonds with officials at the National Rifle Association, conservative leaders, and 2016 US presidential candidates, including Donald Trump, whose rise to the Oval Office she presciently predicted to her Russian contact.

Ahead of Thursday's hearing, a spokeswoman with the Russian Foreign Ministry told reporters in Moscow again called for Butina's "soonest release from custody" and said the Russian government "will support any decision she might take aimed at her liberation".

Prosecutors say she worked with a Russian official and two U.S. citizens to try to infiltrate the NRA lobby group and influence Washington's policy towards Moscow.

Butina, jailed since her arrest in July, initially mounted an aggressive defence and tried to have the charges against her tossed.

Butina is expected to enter a guilty plea. Prosecutors did not agree on any guidelines range, but agreed to request leniency if she provides "substantial assistance". The most frequently cited quote contained in the trove of exchanges is one which came a few days after the 2016 USA presidential election, in which Butina said she was "ready for further orders". He said Butina was a student interested in American politics and wanted to see a better relationship between the US and Russian Federation.

The interesting development here was that Butina's GOP operative, her NRA-connected boyfriend Paul Erickson, was implicated in her crime. Erickson matches the description of a man referred to as "U.S. Person 1" in Butina's charging documents.

The complaint against Butina, however, did not explicitly mention Trump's campaign. She is being held at an adult detention centre in Virginia.

Prosecutors also say it is "very likely" that she will be deported from the United States after her sentence is completed. Prosecutors have not claimed in court, in filings or elsewhere that Butina spied, nor has the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its affidavits. On the call, Butina referred to someone whom prosecutors believe could be her lawyer about acting as a go-between to pass messages to journalists.

Butina's lawyer Robert Driscoll had already been scolded for extrajudicial statements about the case.

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