On Thursday, Maria Butina, a Russian citizen pleaded guilty in an American federal court to conspiracy to act as an illegal foreign agent for Russia. In her plea, Butina acknowledges being “under the direction” of Alexander Torshin, a Russian with strong ties to the Russian government.
Maria Butina is accused of forging unofficial lines of communications between the Russian government and the Donald Trump campaign. The Special Counsel is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
As part of her plea agreement, Butina will cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, including providing any evidence she has in her possession. Maria Butina provides a clear link between Russia and conservative politics in America.
Butina set out to “influence” the Republican Party towards friendlier relations between Washington and Vladmir Putin’s government. To infiltrate the GOP, Maria Butina targeted the National Rifle Association (NRA) as her conduit to the Republicans. To accomplish this, Butina befriended Paul Erickson, a GOP operative. A sexual relationship developed between Butina and Erickson. It is unclear if Butina used the sexual liaison as a tool or if her relationship with Erickson was genuine. Erickson has worked for several Republican candidates, including Mitt Romney, and has strong ties to the NRA.
Although Butina was unsuccessful in her attempts to arrange a meeting between Donald Trump and Toshin, her handler, congressional documents show a meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and Alexander Torshin at an NRA convention in 2016.
Butina faces up to five years in federal prison, but under plea agreement she may earn substantially less; six months to time served in jail, depending on how cooperative the U.S. prosecutors consider her to be.
The most important takeaway from Butina’s guilty plea is that there is a Russian admitting to trying to influence the 2016 election in Russia’s favor. Whether it was official or not is immaterial as the result is the same – Russian interference in American politics.