This courtroom sketch depicts Maria Butina, a 29-year-old gun-rights activist suspected of being a covert Russian agent, listening to Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson as he speaks to Judge Deborah Robinson, left.
This courtroom sketch depicts Maria Butina, a 29-year-old gun-rights activist suspected of being a covert Russian agent, listening to Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson as he speaks to Judge Deborah Robinson, left.

WASHINGTON - An accused Russian spy held by the United States on charges of infiltrating Republican Party circles to provide Moscow with information pleaded guilty in a court hearing Thursday.

Maria Butina has been held since her arrest in July.

The 30-year-old Butina had pleaded not guilty to allegations that she acted illegally as an unregistered agent of the Russian government, using a Russian group she called Right to Bear Arms to build ties to the most powerful U.S. gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, in an effort to promote the Republican Party in the United States.

Butina allegedly developed a personal relationship with an NRA-linked Republican activist, Paul Erickson, and lived with him. Butina also enrolled as a graduate student at American University in Washington where she earned a master's degree in international relations earlier this year.

The U.S. Justice Department alleged that Butina was a "covert Russian agent" who maintained connections with Russian spies in a mission aimed at penetrating "the U.S. national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation." They alleged that her work in the United States was directed by a former Russian lawmaker who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for his alleged ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian leader said Tuesday he had never heard of Butina until her July arrest. Putin said that when he asked Russian intelligence services for information about her, he was told that "no one knows anything about her."

Butina's attorneys said in the court filings that the case against her has now been "resolved."

Butina's social media accounts showed her mingling with senior U.S. politicians and posing with firearms at national gun shows.

The Butina case is separate from special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing, 19-month investigation into whether President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign colluded with Russia to help him win the presidency and whether, as president, Trump obstructed justice to try to thwart the probe.