An NRA insider accused of being Russian spy just pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges

A major development in the federal investigation into the National Rifle Association’s 2016 political activities just unfolded when an accused Russian spy just filed a motion in federal court to hold a hearing this week so she can change her plea to guilty of charges that she infiltrated the NRA to influence America’s 2016 presidential election.

Three weeks ago, federal prosecutors in Washington DC. and lawyers for accused Russian spy Maria Butina filed a joint motion to head off a lengthy series of motions and hearings which indicated the looming end to her fight against charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States.

Today’s court filing indicates that Butina has sealed a deal with prosecutors in the wake of an aggressive public relations campaign by the Kremlin on her behalf. US District U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan will preside over the hearing, which Buzzfeed News’ Zoe Tillman broke this morning on Twitter:

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Maria Butina is accused of conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of Russia while attending graduate studies at American University in D.C.

Instead of just “studying” American politics, Maria Butina dove right in, guiding her gun lobby group “Right to Bear Arms” into the highest circles of the NRA while assisting a Russian government official.

One of Maria Butina’s American University professors, Anton Fedyashin, appears to be her handler, according to Russian scholar Yuri Felshtinsky.

She has been reported to potentially be cooperating with prosecutors since July. Butina’s lawyers raised speculation to a fever pitch last month when they withdrew her motion to dismiss the criminal charges against her that she will now admit to in open court.

Federal prosecutors wrote in a court filing this September that Butina was beginning to cooperate against her “boyfriend,” longtime Republican insider Paul Erickson, which ended with her incarceration without bail in the same prison where Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was held awaiting trial.

Since then, the Republican activist Erickson has received a “target letter” from the US Attorney’s office in Washington D.C. stating that he is likely going to be indicted for acting as a foreign agent in a conspiracy with Butina to advance Russia’s interests against America.

Butina’s boyfriend reportedly “contacted people on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign with an offer to set up a back-channel relationship with the Russian government via the National Rifle Association.”

The charges against Butina and potentially Erickson are different than acting as a lobbyist under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (like disgraced National Security Advisor Mike Flynn did), and in charging them with acting as a knowing agent of a foreign power most pundits call the crime “espionage lite” since it doesn’t involve the theft of state secrets.

Senate Democrats are watching the case closely as part of their investigation into the NRA’s Russian dealings after the “gun rights” group plowed a record $30 million into supporting Donald Trump’s Republican campaign for President.

Just last week, Mother Jones reported that the NRA and the Trump Campaign likely illegally coordinated their television ad spending by using the same media buyers, who created a legally fictitious name to make it appear superficially like that wasn’t the case.

A coalition of watchdog groups has filed a host of complaints against Trump and the NRA since then.

Maria Butina’s main role in the rapidly unfolding Trump-Russia-NRA scandal was to act as special assistant to Russian Central Banker Alexander Torshin while he attended the NRA’s annual meetings, which culminated in a 2015 trip to Moscow where he introduced high ranking NRA officials and former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke to sanctioned Russian official Dimitri Rogozin.

Rogozin ran an anti-Semitic political party before joining Putin’s administration, recently winding up as the head of Russia’s space agency, a post he used last month to obtain a “temporary sanctions waiver” to visit America.

Butina attended dinners set up by some of the GOP’s wealthiest donors in addition to NRA fundraising events, and tried to link up Americans with ORSIS, a Russian gun manufacturer that makes a weapon which can pierce every known body armor and which the U.S. Army considers a strategic threat.

The National Rifle Association’s hammerlock on right-wing politics has slipped measurably this year after their cash flows were sharply curtailed by New York regulators. who cracked down on insurance companies working illegally with the maniacal gun promotion company to sell “murder insurance.”

Today’s news is the first part of the NRA’s worst-case scenario where their illegal campaigning with Trump, their un-American ties to Russian operatives from the Kremlin and their inhumane message of people’s right to kill all get revealed for the frauds that they are, and causes the group to fatally collapse into a toxic stew of blood-stained hands and abject failure.

 

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Grant Stern

Editor at Large

Grant Stern is a columnist for the Washington Press. He's also mortgage broker, writer, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida.


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