A woman accused of being a secret agent for the Russian government who surreptitiously gathered intelligence on American officials and political organizations pleaded guilty Thursday to a conspiracy charge.
Maria Butina, 30, dressed in a green jumpsuit and with her red hair pulled back, appeared before a federal judge at a district court in Washington D.C. and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government.
Federal Judge Tanya Chutkan said she found Butina “understands the nature of the charges against her and is acting on her own free will,” and accepted the guilty plea, which was part of an agreement with prosecutors.
Prosecutors say Butina’s work was directed by a former Russian lawmaker who recently was penalized by the Treasury Department for his alleged ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Prosecutors claim Butina used her contacts with the National Rifle Association and the National Prayer Breakfast to develop relationships with U.S. politicians and gather information for Russia. They also said she used her role as a student at American University in Washington as a cover for her activities.
Her lawyer has argued Butina was a student interested in American politics and better U.S.-Russian relations.
She will remain jailed while awaiting sentencing. Butina, who was arrested in July, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and could be deported after her release.
Fox News’ Jake Gibson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.