Russian operative Maria Butina gets 18 month sentence

Maria Butina, the Russian operative who used her NRA activism to illegally infiltrate conservative political circles, was sentenced to 18 months in prison by a federal judge on Friday.

The 30-year-old American University graduate student pleaded guilty this past December to one count of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign official, following her arrest in July.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan gave Butina credit for nine months of time served. The judge ordered her deported as soon as her time is up.

"You have a future ahead of you. I wish you the best luck," the judge said.

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Maria Butina appears in a police booking photograph released by the Alexandria Sheriff's Office in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. August 18, 2018. Alexandria Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION HAS BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY
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, during a hearing in federal court in Washington, Wednesday, July 18, 2018. Prosecutors say Butina was likely in contact with Kremlin operatives while living in the United States. And prosecutors also are accusing her of using sex and deception to forge influential connections. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)
Mariia Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization, speaks on October 8, 2013 during a press conference in Moscow. - A 29-year-old Russian woman has been arrested for conspiring to influence US politics by cultivating ties with political groups including the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun rights lobby. Mariia Butina, whose name is sometimes spelled Maria, was arrested in Washington on July 15, 2018 and appeared in court on July 16, the Justice Department said. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - In this April 21, 2013 file photo, Maria Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization in Russia, speaks to a crowd during a rally in support of legalizing the possession of handguns in Moscow, Russia. Prosecutors say they have “resolved” a case against Butina accused of being a secret agent for the Russian government, a sign that she likely has taken a plea deal. The information was included in a court filing Monday. (AP Photo/File)
Accused Russian agent Maria Butina is shown sitting at a table with a suspected Russian Intel Operative in a restaurant, according to court documents, in a FBI surveillance photo provided July 18, 2018. FBI/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. PICTURE OBSCURED AT SOURCE.
A note by accused Russian agent Maria Butina, according to court documents, is shown in this photo provided July 18, 2018. U.S. Government Exhibit/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. PICTURE REDACTED AT SOURCE.
US Marshals check their truck as they wait outside the US District Courthouse in Washington, DC on July 18, 2018. - Maria Butina was scheduled to appear at the court on July 18, 2018, to face charges that she sought to 'infiltrate' the US government. According to a federal indictment, Butina's very public activities masked the work of a 'covert Russian agent' with a plan to spearhead Moscow's influence in President Trump's Republican Party. (Photo by Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
A US Marshals van leaves the garage of the Federal Courthouse in Washington, DC on July 18, 2018. - Maria Butina was scheduled to appear at the court on July 18, 2018, to face charges that she sought to 'infiltrate' the US government. According to a federal indictment, Butina's very public activities masked the work of a 'covert Russian agent' with a plan to spearhead Moscow's influence in President Trump's Republican Party. (Photo by Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Maria Butina, Russian gun rights activist linked to NRA, charged as Kremlin agent. https://t.co/xMMeLvI2UT https://t.co/u3PnALiqx3
Mariia Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization, speaks on October 8, 2013 during a press conference in Moscow. - A 29-year-old Russian woman has been arrested for conspiring to influence US politics by cultivating ties with political groups including the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun rights lobby. Mariia Butina, whose name is sometimes spelled Maria, was arrested in Washington on July 15, 2018 and appeared in court on July 16, the Justice Department said. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Per sources: accused Russian agent Maria Butina was arrested on Sunday because law enforcement feared she was about… https://t.co/0ApzTGcE0z
Russian national Maria Butina has been indicted on two charges, including acting as a foreign agent… https://t.co/Opgf80Mem8
ALEXANDRIA, VA: In this undated handout photo provided by the Alexandria Sheriff's Office, Russian national Maria Butina is seen in a booking photo in Alexandria, Virginia. Butina is awaiting trial on spying charges. (Photo by Alexandria Sheriff's Office via Getty Images)
This courtroom sketch depicts Maria Butina, in orange suit, a 29-year-old gun-rights activist suspected of being a covert Russian agent, listening to her attorney Robert Driscoll, standing, as he speaks to Judge Deborah Robinson, left, during a hearing in federal court in Washington, Wednesday, July 18, 2018. Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson, bottom left, and co-defense attorney's Alfred Carry, second from right, and Dansel Plunkett, listen. Prosecutors say Butina was likely in contact with Kremlin operatives while living in the United States. And prosecutors also are accusing her of using sex and deception to forge influential connections. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)
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Butina addressed the court and insisted she wasn't working as a spy, and only wanted to mend Russia-U.S. relations.

"I came here to better my life to get a degree. I wished to mend relations while building my resume," she said. "It was for these actions and my own ignorance that I'm here."

But the defendant admitted to harming relations between the two superpowers.

"It has never been my intention to harm American people but I did so by not notifying your government. It has harmed mt attempts to improve relations, " she said. "I have three degrees, but now I'm a convicted felon with no money, no job, and no freedom."

She added: "Instead of building peace, I created discord."

Butina admitted to working with her Republican operative boyfriend Paul Erickson — identified in court papers as "U.S. Person 1" — at the behest of a Russian official in order "to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics … for the benefit of the Russian Federation," according to court papers.

The Russian operative also considered sex as part of her arsenal to gain influence.

"For example, on at least one occasion, Butina offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization," prosecutors wrote in opposing her bail last year.

"Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with U.S. Person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. Person 1."

Butina, in December 2015, helped orchestrate a trip by NRA members to Moscow where they met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, court papers say.

Defense lawyers had asked Judge Chutkan for no jail time, writing in a sentencing memo that she has "always been willing to cooperate with the government."

"Maria's cooperation has been full, transparent, and complete. Yet, what makes her case especially noteworthy is that, as a young Russian national who has accepted that deportation will be part of the resolution of her case, Maria has willingly cooperated with the United States despite the geopolitical tension between the two countries," the memo reads.

Prosecutors conceded that "Butina was not a spy in the traditional sense," but said she was still working to the detriment of the United States.

"She was not a trained intelligence officer. But the actions she took were nonetheless taken on behalf of the Russian Official for the benefit of the Russian Federation, and those actions had the potential to damage the national security of the United States," according to the government.

 

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