From Russia With...?
Russian national Maria Butina will plead guilty Wednesday to working as an unregistered Russian agent "to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics," with help from her American boyfriend, Republican operative Paul Erickson, and under the direction of Kremlin-linked banker Alexander Torshin, according to a draft plea agreement obtained by ABC News. "Butina sought to use those unofficial lines of communication for the benefit of the Russia Federation."
A 30-year-old purported gun-rights activist, Butina has been in jail since her arrest in July. She signed the plea deal on Dec. 8, and according to CNN, she is already cooperating with federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C. According to the plea deal, Butina said she and Erickson (identified as U.S. Person 1) drafted a proposal in March 2015, later sent to Torshin, in which she wrote she'd already "laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration," which she predicted would be Republican.
Butina traveled the U.S. and met with Republican presidential candidates in 2015, and in December of that year, she helped arrange a trip to Moscow for senior NRA leaders and donors, pushing them to meet with senior Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Dmitry Rogozin, a deputy to Russian President Vladimir Putin. After that trip, according to U.S. prosecutors, Butina sent Torshin a message, translated to read: "We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later."
Erickson, who's also reportedly a target of federal prosecutors in Washington, wrote an acquaintance in October 2016 that he has "been involved in securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key [unnamed political party] leaders through, of all conduits, the [unnamed gun-rights organization]." On MSNBC Monday night, Rachel Maddow connected some speculative dots between the NRA, Russia, and the Trump campaign, and she noted Torshin's sudden "retirement." Watch below. Peter Weber