An alleged Russian spy who was arrested over the summer may be reaching a plea agreement with the Department of Justice.
Lawyers for Maria Butina, a gun-rights proponent and graduate student who was accused earlier this year of being an unregistered agent for Russia, have joined with attorneys in the DOJ in saying that upcoming hearings in her case should be canceled. The DOJ and her attorneys have also said records they had planned to subpoena from American University, the school Butina was attending before her arrest, should be canceled as well.
Attorneys from both sides have previously acknowledged that a plea deal for Butina was a possibility, per reporting from CNN. A plea deal for Butina, who is currently in solitary confinement within a federal prison facility in Virginia, would likely mean she would return to Russia upon providing whatever documents or testimony she would agree to hand over with federal investigators.
Butina was accused over the summer of acting as a back channel between Russia to communicate with prominent conservative politicians and officials. She was often seen appearing at pro-gun events during her time in the United States, conversing and networking with prominent right-wing lawmakers and pundits at those events.
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) December 6, 2018
Butina’s appearances at these events, and her pro-gun fervor, made her a little-known favorite personality among the right in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. Some have questioned whether she had any involvement with the campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump.
Reporting from the Washington Post indicates that she did, in fact, seek direct communications with the campaign during that year. Butina had been emailing J.D. Gordon, who served for some time on Trump’s campaign as his director of national security, up until August of 2016. Even after leaving the campaign, Gordon was considered an individual who was likely to be part of Trump’s transition team after the election in November.
Gordon had frequently invited Butina to join him in events during their email correspondences, including his birthday party in late October.
Butina even had a direct interaction with Trump in 2015 while he was on the campaign trail, per reporting from Elite Daily. Butina specifically asked Trump a question about sanctions imposed on Russia, asking, “do you want to continue the politics of sanctions that are damaging of both economy [sic] or do you have other ideas?”
Trump responded to her question by stating that he believed he “would get along very nicely with Putin.”
Details of the plea deal involving Butina were not made available at this time. It’s unclear if the plea deal will entail aspects of the Russia investigation being led by special counsel Robert Mueller.