Prosecutors have accused Butina, who was jailed awaiting trial, of working with a Russian official and two USA citizens to try to infiltrate the NRA, a group closely aligned with Republican politicians including President Donald Trump, and sway Washington's policy toward Moscow.
Requesting $125,000 from a Russian billionaire and citing the NRA's influence on the Republican Party, Butina traveled to conferences to socialize with GOP presidential candidates, host "friendship dinners" with wealthy Americans, bond with NRA leaders and organize a Russian delegation to the influential National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.
The course she chose was via gun rights, building off Butina's history of shooting and gun ownership inside of Russian Federation. Alexander Torshin, a Russian government official, was responsible for arranging that meeting, and it's unclear how Butina fits into Torshin's relationship with the NRA. "That is, she was working for the Russian services as a source to help them spot, assess and target Americans".
The U.S. Justice Department alleged that Butina was a "covert Russian agent" who maintained connections with Russian spies in a mission aimed at penetrating "the U.S. national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation".
After the visit, Butina wrote to Torshin that "we should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later", prosecutors wrote in the court papers. Chutkan also said it was not up to her whether Butina would be deported after she completes her sentence. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, though the defense noted Thursday that federal sentencing guidelines recommend no time to six months.
After Butina's plea, a senior Russian lawmaker said he was convinced that Butina had caved and was pressured to confess.
She had earlier pleaded not guilty before changing her plea during Thursday's hearing.
Maria Butina, 30, became the first Russian national convicted of seeking to influence USA policy in the run-up and through the 2016 election as a foreign agent, agreeing to cooperate in a plea deal with US investigators in exchange for less prison time.
Since then, she has spent much of her time in jail in solitary confinement. Both in court and in the filings, prosecutors refer to what is apparently the GOP as "Political Party #1". Butina's lawyer had complained she was held alone in her cell for long stretches and had little personal our sensory contact.
Prosecutors say the 30-year-old gun rights activist worked to develop relationships with American politicians through her contacts with the NRA. In her memo, Butina touted her previous United States travel, attendance at NRA conferences, and the NRA's influence over the Republican party as evidence that "she had laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next USA administration", according to prosecutors.
The gun rights activist, who was arrested in July, is accused of gathering intelligence on American officials and political organisations. He was hit with sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department in April.
Butina's lawyer, Robert Driscoll, had previously decried the charges against her as "overblown" and said prosecutors criminalized her mundane networking opportunities.
She has described Butina's arrest as politically motivated.