Published: Fri, December 14, 2018
Global News | By Blake Casey

A USA judge postpones plea agreement for Maria Butina

A USA judge postpones plea agreement for Maria Butina

Paul Erickson, a conservative US political activist with deep Republican ties who was romantically linked to Butina, was one of the two Americans to whom prosecutors referred. Specifically, she pleaded guilty to working with a deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank, believed to be Alexander Torshin.

One of the two Americans cited in the case has been identified in USA media as Paul Erickson, a South Dakota-based conservative political activist who was dating Ms Butina.

The Russian national accused of illegally conspiring to influence American politics officially changed her plea to guilty as expected on Thursday. She waived her rights to trial and appeal as part of the plea.

Although there are no sentencing guidelines for her specific crime, her lawyer, Robert Driscoll, estimated that under United States sentencing guidelines for similar crimes, she could face up to six months in prison.

Nevertheless, with a guilty plea, Butina became the first Russian citizen to be convicted of working to shape U.S. policy in the time period spanning the 2016 election campaign. Driscoll had asked that Butina be transferred to the general population of the jail where she is being held, as her detention status has her segregated from the rest of those incarcerated.

They say she worked to develop relationships with American politicians through her contacts with the National Rifle Association.

Maria Butina appeared in court after reaching a deal with prosecutors.

After the 2016 election, she proposed creating a dialogue with Trump's advisors, but the Russian official told her he did not think the foreign affairs ministry would "go for it", prosecutors said.

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After she was charged, Russian Federation labeled the case against Butina "fabricated" and called for her release. And it said that "US Person 1" reviewed a Google-translated version of a proposal Butina drafted outlining her "diplomacy project", in which she detailed her plan to influence US policy by building ties to influential Republicans. "Anyone talking to her at that time would be captured on that as well".

Russia's Foreign Ministry reacted to Butina's charges with outrage, launching a "Free Maria Butina" social media campaign and posting a photo of the alleged agent's face to the ministry's official Twitter account.

Her work as an agent took place from "as early as 2015 and continuing through at least February 2017", the department said earlier this year.

"She used this option to survive", Zakharova told CNN.

Butina, 30, was arrested in July.

In a statement Wednesday, Erickson's lawyer, William Hurd, said, "Paul Erickson is a good American". After the hearing, he said he would speak to his client before deciding whether to make a public statement. The filing noted that "US Person 1" helped Butina in a number of ways, including by giving her background information on US figures who came to visit her gun rights group in Moscow, and assessing "their degree of political influence".

"Guilty", Butina responded when asked by Washington-based U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkin how she'd plead.

Chutkan said that prosecutors had tapes of a call Butina made from jail with a journalist and that prosecutors flagged this to the judge as a potential conflict of interest.

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