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Accused Russian spy who worked with NRA to plead guilty in deal with DOJ, report says

In this file image, Maria Butina attends a rally at Krasnopresnenskaya Zastava Square in support of legalizing the possession of handguns and gun ownership, on April 23, 2013, in Moscow. (Anton Novoderezhkin/ITAR-TASS/Zuma Press/TNS)
December 10, 2018

The alleged Russian spy Maria Butina filed paperwork before a federal judge on Monday to change her not-guilty plea to guilty.

The filing appears to be a plea deal reached with the U.S. Department of Justice, as reports say the two parties have “resolved” the case, AP News reported Monday.

A court filing obtained by CNN indicates that Butina’s legal team has requested a hearing for Tuesday to set a change of plea.

“The parties have resolved this matter, and the Defendant Maria Butina remains in custody,” the document states.

Butina, 30, has remained in a Washington, D.C. jail since July, where she has awaited trial for felony charges of conspiracy and acting as an unregistered agent for Russia.

At the time, she pled not guilty.

In 2016, Butina came to the U.S. on a student visa and gained attention as a gun rights advocate who was found attempting to infiltrate organizations such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and National Prayer Breakfast (NPB).

Her lawyer maintains that she is simply a foreign student who took an interest in U.S. politics and improving U.S.-Russian relations.

The prosecution has argued that Butina was connected with Russian intelligence officials. While in Russia, she reportedly worked as an assistant to Kremlin official Alexander Torshin, a former senator with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, NBC News reported.

Torshin, who is among a list of Russian citizens and lawmakers sanctions by the U.S. Department of Treasury, reportedly guided Butina’s activities in the U.S. and arranged her potential return to Russia.

They also argued that while Butina was studying at American University, she allegedly sought out presidential candidates, in addition to her dealings with the NRA and NPB, in attempts to influence U.S. politics.

Butina has been held without bail, as prosecutors maintained she would not remain in the U.S., saying she “has little or no incentive to stay in the United States and face a potential criminal conviction and sentence — including as much as fifteen years of incarceration — and every motivation to flee to her home country, where she would be protected from extradition.”

Shortly after her arrest in July, the Russian Foreign Ministry called on the U.S. to release her, even spurring a #FreeMariaButina social media campaign, and providing consular updates on her condition.

“Despite the stress and the psychological pressure that the Russian citizen had to experience during her arrest, she feels well and has no complaints about her health,” the Russian embassy said at the time.

“Just like any normal person, Maria has difficulties in adapting to prison conditions,” the embassy added. “However, she is holding her head up high, is sure of her innocence, and is determined to prove it in the court.”