Maria Butina pleads GUILTY. Russian spy “knowingly engaged in conspiracy against the United States”

Maria Butina, 30, stood in a D.C. federal court this morning and told the judge that she “knowingly engaged in conspiracy against the United States.” Then, one hour into the hearing, she stood again and said one word: “Guilty.”

The accused Russian spy acknowledged that she acted "under direction of" a Russian official who has been identified as Alexander Torshin.

She has signed a plea agreement with the U.S. that requires her to cooperate fully with any relevant federal, state, or local investigations. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office may want to talk with her about a few things.

Prosecutors say Butina acted under the direction of Russian bank official Alexander Torshin (who has disappeared) and U.S. right-wing operative Paul Erickson, to establish back-channels with the NRA and U.S. political officials -- all with the goal of advancing Russian power and interests in the United States.

Butina's promised cooperation could be the key that unlocks the bigger question of whether and how the NRA, the GOP, and Trump were linked together in a criminal conspiracy with Russia.

While the accused Russian spy has been locked in jail awaiting this plea hearing, she told the judge she had a conversation with a journalist, and on that call -- which was surveilled and made available -- she complained that her court-appointed U.S. public defender lawyer was acting as a go-between with news media, passing on messages to journalists.

Butina's case is under a gag order. The judge in her case addressed Butina's complaint before the hearing got under way.

We had a pretty good idea before today that she was a foreign agent for Russia. And last week, we knew she planned to flip.

Now it's official.

Today Maria Butina's lawyers said she agrees to plead guilty to conspiracy and cooperate with federal, state and local authorities in any ongoing investigations.

"The agreement, which Butina signed on Saturday, Dec. 8, also notes that the conspiracy charge carries ... up to five years in prison, but the deal could see Butina receive a lesser sentence, depending on the level of her cooperation, before likely being deported back to Russia."

Butina has admitted, as part of the deal copy filed with the court, that....

She and an unnamed “U.S. Person 1,” which sources have identified as longtime Republican operative Paul Erickson, with whom she had a multiyear romantic relationship, “agreed and conspired, with a Russian government official (“Russian Official”) and at least one other person, for Butina to act in the United States under the direction of Russian Official without prior notification to the Attorney General.”

Based on the description, the “Russian Official” appears to be Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under his direction, the agreement said, she “sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics.”

The agreement, which Butina signed on Saturday, Dec. 8, also notes that the conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison, but the deal could see Butina receive a lesser sentence, depending on the level of her cooperation, before likely being deported back to Russia.

It is unclear what Butina’s cooperation might entail, but federal prosecutors have reportedly notified Erickson that he is a target of an ongoing investigation..

Anyone seen “Sheriff” David Clarke lately?

Also, from back in July, “We now know 'U.S. Person 2' is George O’Neill Jr, an heir to the Rockefeller fortune.” Outgoing California congressman Dana 'I love Russia' Rohrabacher was also implicated, and it's possible any of her forthcoming cooperation could impact them both.

Maria Butina, presumed Russian agent, and Paul Erickson, GOP political operative, pictured in an undated personal photo first published by ABC News.

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