Maria Butina, the accused Russian Spy who allegedly worked with a Russian oligarch to influence the 2016 election, may be close to negotiating a plea deal that could shed light on allegations the National Rifle Association (NRA) funneled Russian money to Republican candidates.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, sitting in Washington, ruled today (Dec 6) that Butina is entiled to a public defender. The move is being interpreted as a prelude to a plea deal, according to Courthouse News Service.
Butina has been in solitary confinement at the Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia since July when she was indicted by a grand jury on charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent.
She has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The fetching Russian allegedly wooed top Republicans and NRA officials into a dalliance with Russian oligarchs and the Kremlin’s intelligence apparatus. The relationship may have included a massive influx of cash. The NRA spent $30 million on Trump’s election.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the NRA to turn over records and other documents. The goal is to shed light on its relationship with Russian interests including the details behind a 2015 Kremlin trip by NRA officials, according to The Daily Beast. .
Maria Butina, 30, and her mentor, Russian oligarch Alexander Torshin is deputy governor of Russia’s central bank and has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Butina maintains that she was trying to build support for her gun advocacy group in Russia. She was also taking college courses toward a master’s degree and was in the country on a student status.
Prosecutors fueled suggestions a plea deal is in the works by canceling a Dec. 18 status hearing and apparently withdraw subpoenas seeking Butina’s records from American University, in Washington, D.C. where she attended classes.
Robert Driscoll, the private lawyer who has represented Butina and defense attorney Alfred Carry reportedly held a conference call with Chutkan and Asst. U.S. Attorneys Erik Kenreson and Thomas Saunders, according to CNS.
Chutkan sealed the conference transcript and gave Butina’s attorneys until Dec. 10 to submit arguments why it should remain sealed.
McClatchy, a Midwestern news service, reported in January that special counsel Robert Mueller was investigating whether the NRA was a conduit for Russian money to support Trump’s campaign.
In December 2015, Butina’s Russian counterpart group sponsored a week-long trip to Russian for an NRA delegation. The group met with former Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin and Torshin, according to reports. Both are currently under U.S. sanctions because of their ties to Putin,
Former NRA President David Keene, incoming president Peter Brownell, Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke and NRA donors Jim Gregory, Arnold Goldschlager and Hilary Goldschlager made the trip, according to The Daily Beast.
The FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence, are reportedly investigating if money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win, the two sources told McClatchy.
Specifically, Butina was indicted July 17 by a grand jury on charges of conspiracy to act and failing to register as an agent of a foreign government. She pleaded not guilty. Her attorney said Butina was merely networking to develop relationships with Americans, according to The Washington Post.
Among Butina’s 4,588 Facebook connections are NRA officials, gun lobbyists, a Justice Department staffer, a congressional aide, the top organizer of the National Prayer Breakfast and an executive with the Outdoor Channel.
She peppered her page with glamour photos as well as poses with a variety of guns.
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