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U.S. Prosecutors In Settlement Talks With Accused Russian Agent

Maria Butina, a gun-rights activist, posing for a photo at a shooting range in Moscow in 2012.
Maria Butina, a gun-rights activist, posing for a photo at a shooting range in Moscow in 2012.

U.S. prosecutors and lawyers for accused Russian agent Maria Butina are negotiating over a possible settlement of her case, court filings say.

The parties "continue to negotiations regarding a potential resolution of this matter," prosecutors and Butina's lawyers wrote in a joint filing on November 16, without providing further details.

Butina, 30, is a Russian gun-rights advocate and former graduate student at American University in Washington who cultivated ties with mainly conservative U.S. politicians and the powerful National Rifle Association.

She was charged in July with acting as an agent of the Russian government and trying to influence U.S. foreign policy toward Russia, including by establishing a back channel between American politicians and the Kremlin.

She is accused of working with a Russian official and two U.S. citizens to try to infiltrate the gun-lobby group, which has close ties and provides extensive funding to Republican politicians, including President Donald Trump.

Currently in a District of Columbia jail awaiting trial, Butina has pleaded not guilty to the charges. She could face years in prison if convicted.

Her lawyer, Robert Driscoll, has described Butina as a political science student who was interested in networking with influential people in American politics and wanted to see better U.S.-Russia relations.

Moscow has labeled the case against Butina "fabricated" and called for her release.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan this week granted a delay in the case sought by defense lawyers and scheduled a status hearing on December 19, prompting the lawyers to withdraw their motion to dismiss the case.

Negotiations between U.S. prosecutors and defendants sometimes lead to deals in which a defendant pleads guilty to lesser charges to resolve the case.

Driscoll, who is under a media gag order imposed by the judge, declined to comment when asked whether his client may plead guilty as part of a settlement.

Reuters reported that the prosecution has made serious missteps in the case, including erroneously accusing Butina of offering sex in exchange for a position in a special interest group.

They later backed off the claim, prompting scorn from the judge, who said the incorrect allegations were "notorious" and had damaged Butina's reputation.

Butina's lawyers have previously identified the Russian official with whom she was accused of working as Aleksandr Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia's central bank who was hit with U.S. Treasury Department sanctions in April.

They identified one of the two Americans mentioned in the criminal complaint as being Paul Erickson, a conservative U.S. political activist who was dating Butina. Neither Erickson nor Torshin have been accused of wrongdoing by prosecutors.

Prosecutors have called Butina a flight risk, saying she has been in contact with Russian intelligence operatives and kept contact information for several Russian agents.

The case was brought by the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and is unrelated to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged Russian election interference.

But it has been part of a larger push by the Justice Department to aggressively enforce the U.S. law governing foreign agents, including those accused of working for Russia, who seek to exert influence over the American political system.

The law requires such agents to register with the department and disclose who is providing their funding.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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