Alleged Russian agent Maria Butina is expected to plead guilty, her lawyers and prosecutors signaled in a court filing, after the gun-rights activist spent months in U.S. custody on charges of improperly pursuing Moscow’s interests in Washington, D.C., the Wall Street Journal reports. Whether Butina will plead guilty to the original charges or to a different offense remains unclear. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan set a plea hearing for Wednesday afternoon. Butina has been in custody since her arrest in July and would likely be sent back to Russia upon her release.
The unusual case, brought by the U.S. Attorney, accused the former American University graduate student of working with a Russian banking official to develop back-channel relationships with U.S. politicians through the National Rifle Association, in an effort to advance Russia’s aims. Butina has denied acting improperly, saying she was only pursuing policy interests similar to other 20-somethings in Washington. The case has linked Russian officials, the young Russian gun-rights activist and student, the U.S. gun lobby, a Rockefeller heir and a longtime conservative political activist from South Dakota. Prosecutors withdrew salacious allegations they made accusing Ms. Butina of offering sex in exchange for a position. The Butina case is unfolding at a time of public scrutiny of Russian efforts to influence U.S. politics and policy. The case is separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Russian officials have said they view Butina as a political prisoner and hostage who is being unfairly prosecuted.