Maria Butina, Russian Accused of Trying to Influence Conservatives, Poised to Plead Guilty

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors appear to have struck a plea deal with Maria Butina, the Russian woman accused of running a secret campaign to influence powerful American conservatives, according to court papers filed Monday.

The prosecutors and Ms. Butina’s lawyers jointly requested a hearing for Ms. Butina to change her plea. The move is almost always the final step before announcing a deal.

Though neither side disclosed any details of what they may have agreed upon, a deal would most likely require Ms. Butina to cooperate with investigators. Her arrest in July stemmed from what officials described as a broader counterintelligence investigation by the Justice Department and F.B.I., and investigators probably want to hear what Ms. Butina could tell them about covert Russian influence efforts in the United States. The inquiry is separate from the work being done by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

Any deal would bring to a close a case that drew headlines with prosecutors accusing Ms. Butina, 29, of running a yearslong campaign to work her way into the upper echelons of the Republican Party’s elite, using sex as spycraft when necessary. The government later backed off that allegation.

In the government’s telling, Ms. Butina used her position as a gun-rights activist in Russia to establish connections with powerful American conservatives, including leading members of the National Rifle Association. She then posed as a graduate student at American University in Washington to secure a visa, prosecutors said, and struck up a relationship with a far older Republican operative, relying on his contacts to further the aims of her spymasters in Moscow.

Ms. Butina’s lawyers have pushed back strenuously on that portrayal of their client. They argued in court papers filed in August that the allegations of her trading sex for influence was a “sexist smear” based on years-old text messages that were distorted by prosecutors eager to attract media attention. Prosecutors acknowledged they mistakenly interpreted the texts.

Her lawyers have also pointed to Ms. Butina’s open life in the United States — she was a frequent poster on social media — as evidence to counter the government’s claims. For an alleged Russian agent funded by an oligarch, they say, Ms. Butina hardly lived a life of fake identities, secret communications and hidden allegiances.

During her time as a graduate student at American University, she openly advocated Russia-friendly policies and closer ties between her homeland and the United States in speeches. She posted photos on Instagram of herself toting guns and checked in on Facebook from locations like Russia House, a caviar-slinging lounge in Washington.

Ms. Butina also proved adept at getting close to powerful older men. She snapped pictures with prominent Republicans, including Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and other former presidential candidates. She had Thanksgiving dinner last year at the country home of Representative Mark Sanford, Republican of South Carolina. Weeks before the 2016 election, she went with J.D. Gordon, a Trump campaign aide, to see the rock band Styx.

Ms. Butina even managed to get a photo with Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, whom she met at a 2016 dinner hosted by the N.R.A. in Louisville, Ky. She also tried to help broker a secret meeting with President Trump himself and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia during the 2016 campaign.

The court in Washington that is hearing Ms. Butina’s case did not immediately set a date for the change of plea hearing.