Sunday, 25 August, 2019

Maria Butina: Russian agent sentenced to 18 months in prison

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A Russian woman who admitted to being a secret agent for the Kremlin has been sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Butina was arrested last July and was credited with 9 months of time served.

In this courtroom sketch, Maria Butina, left, is shown next to her attorney Robert Driscoll, before U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, during a hearing in December.

"This was no simple misunderstanding by an overeager foreign student", Chutkan said before imposing the sentence, which was the same amount of prison time prosecutors had recommended.

Butina was the first Russian national convicted of seeking to influence American policy in the run-up to the 2016 election, though her case was handled by the USA attorney's office for the District of Columbia and the Justice Department's national security division, not by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The bottom line in Butina's case is that she was acting on behalf of Russia's government and had the potential to damage USA national security, officials say.

Maria Butina, a 30-year-old Russian national and gun rights activist, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation last July and charged with conspiring to act as a "foreign agent".

Butina admitted to working as an undeclared agent of a foreign government, but she did not admit and was not charged with espionage in federal court proceedings.

Butina is a former graduate student at American University in Washington and an enthusiastic gun rights activist.

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Clad in a green prison jumpsuit, Butina implored Chutkan for leniency, calling her "dear judge".

"If I had known to register as a foreign agent, I would have done without delay", she said, her voice sometimes shaky as she appeared to choke back tears.

She also said she was "deeply sorry" and asked the judge for mercy. It has harmed my attempts to improve relations, " she said.

Prosecutors held a dimmer view, saying the 30-year-old Russian deliberately obscured her true purposes while developing backdoor contacts inside the American conservative movement to advance the interests of Russia. "My parents taught me the virtue of higher education, how to live life lawfully, and how to be good and kind to others", Butina said.

Butina admitted to conspiring with a Russian official and two Americans from 2015 until her July arrest to infiltrate the National Rifle Association, a group closely aligned with U.S. conservatives and Republican politicians including President Donald Trump, and create unofficial lines of communication to try to make Washington's policy toward Moscow more friendly.

Later, she wrote Torshin that "she had laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next USA administration".

Erickson, who managed the 1992 presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan, was indicted in February in South Dakota over what the feds said was an unrelated investment-fraud scheme.

The U.S. Justice Department has said Butina worked with the Russian official and two Americans to try to infiltrate the NRA and influence American foreign policy toward Russia. "This is a case where the defendant acted in the United States as an agent of the Russian government".

Reuters previously reported that Butina was a public Trump supporter who bragged at parties in Washington that she could use her political connections to help get people jobs in his administration.

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