Russian woman who admitted being secret agent out of prison

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Russian gun rights activist who admitted being a secret agent for the Kremlin and trying to infiltrate conservative U.S. political groups while Donald Trump rose to power was released from federal prison on Friday, officials said.

Maria Butina left a low-security facility in Tallahassee, Florida and was placed in the custody of federal immigration authorities. She is expected to be immediately deported to Russia now that she has finished her 18-month sentence.

Butina pleaded guilty last December to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent. She admitted that she worked with a former Russian lawmaker to leverage contacts in the National Rifle Association to pursue back channels to American conservatives during the 2016 presidential campaign, when Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

She violated U.S. law because she did not report those efforts to the Justice Department, which requires the registration of lobbyists and others in the U.S. who do the bidding of foreign governments.

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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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A report last month from Sen. Ron Wyden , an Oregon Democrat, alleged that the NRA acted as a "foreign asset" for Russia in the run-up to the 2016 election, and that NRA insiders provided access to the American political system to advance personal business interests. The report said the NRA had engaged in a yearslong effort to facilitate the U.S.-based activities" of Butina and Alexander Torshin, the former lawmaker. The NRA called the report "politically motivated and contrived."

Butina has contended that she was not a spy and that her actions took place out in the open. Her lawyers have said that she was simply a student interested in American politics and better U.S.-Russian relations.

"I love both countries, and I was building peace," Butina said in an interview with NPR in May. In the same interview, she said she knew that Torshin was providing the information she gathered to Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She said that she was honored to help and believed that her notes and analysis would be valuable to Russian officials.

In April, she told reporters in Moscow in a conference call that "I didn't expect such a severe punishment." Russia's embassy has also said that its diplomats visited her.

The case was separate from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Butina has said she knew nothing about Russia's efforts to interfere in the presidential election.

Butina also said in the NPR interview that has no concerns about returning to Russia because people who know her "know as a matter of fact that I am not a spy nor do I have any secret information."

"I don't think I have any problems or I could have any concerns about my safety," she said. "I don't see that happening."

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Tucker reported from Washington.

Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.

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