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Accused Russian spy Maria Butina pleads guilty

Butina admitted to coordinating with a Russian handler to try to gain access to American political organizations

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Accused Russian spy Maria Butina has admitted in federal court that she had worked with a Russian contact to infiltrate American politics.

Who is Maria Butina?

Butina (whose first name is sometimes spelled Mariia) is a 30-year-old Russian citizen who moved to the United States and became active in Republican politics. While she was living in Washington, D.C., Butina attended events including National Rifle Association conventions, rallies for President Donald Trump, and the National Prayer Breakfast.

She was arrested on July 15 in Washington, D.C., and charged “with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior notification to the Attorney General."

According to a news release from the Department of Justice following Butina's arrest:

[F]rom as early as 2015 and continuing through at least February 2017, Butina worked at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government who was previously a member of the legislature of the Russian Federation and later became a top official at the Russian Central Bank. This Russian official was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control in April 2018

She is being held in a jail in Alexandria, Virginia. Butina's arrest was unrelated to the special counsel Robert Mueller investigation into alleged collusion between the Russian government and President Donald Trump.

The Russian government objected to Butina's arrest, and accused the United States of subjecting her to “practices that are slightly below torture."

In August, the Russian embassy to the United States said in a news release that Butina's situation was “getting worse," adding “[a]ttempts are obviously made to 'break' her under additional humiliations and psychological pressure."

What happened today?

On Thursday, Butina admitted in federal court that she had acted "under direction of" a Russian official. CNN reported that this official was Alexander Torshin, a Russian banker and alleged mobster who was known to have ties to Butina. Butina said that her mind was “absolutely clear" when she made this admission.

According to CNN, the prosecutor in this case told the court that “Butina sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics."

She could potentially face as much as five years in prison. Her sentencing date will be decided in February.

This is a developing story and will be updated

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