The United States Department of Justice unsealed a criminal indictment against Russian national Maria Butina (aka Mariia Butina) yesterday. Butina was charged with conspiracy under federal law (18 USC § 371).
A conspiracy charge requires two or more people conspiring together to commit another offense against the United States. Conspiracy is not a stand alone crime, it requires that there is an underlying offense first. Then, two or more people must work together to further that underlying offense.
In the Butina matter, she is charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior notification to the Attorney General. It is alleged that Butina worked from early 2015 until at least 2017 at the direction of a high-level Russian official to infiltrate political groups within the United States. The high-level official is described as a former politician in the Russian legislature and a Russian Central Bank official. Butina was a graduate student in Washington D.C. during the period in question and made numerous political connections, mostly with Republican politicians and the NRA.
The basic legal elements of the crime:
1. Two or more people
2. Make an agreement
3. To commit some illegal act against the United States
4. and the charged person joined the agreement with the knowledge of the objective to commit the illegal act
5. and then the charged person takes an overt action to further the objective of the agreement.
A standard conspiracy charge carries a penalty of up to five years in federal prison, but can be higher in some cases.
Past criminals convicted of conspiracy against the United States include mobsters, Enron officials, and terrorists.