Prosecutors Want Accused Russian Operative Maria Butina to Serve 18 Months, Exceeding Expectations
Prosecutors have gone beyond previous expectations to ask for 18 months of jail time for Maria Butina in a case where they’ve alleged scandalous actions — and had to walk back some of them — yet still accuse the Russian woman of seeking to hurt the US in her work as a foreign agent.
“Activities at issue in this case are part of Russia’s broader scheme to acquire information and establish relationships and communication channels that can be exploited to the Russian Federation’s benefit,” prosecutors wrote in their pre-sentencing memo Friday.
Prosecutors wrote that Butina was not a traditional spy or “trained intelligence officer,” but sought to help Russia at the expense of US national security. They call her an “access agent” — a person used by her foreign government to attempt to set up a backchannel through Republican organizations for communication and diplomacy.
“Had she successfully done so, the risks to the United States would have included harm to this country’s political processes, internal government dealings, and US foreign policy interests,” the prosecutors wrote.
Still, they note that she “did not get along well” with former Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
In her sentencing memo also out Friday, Butina asked a federal judge to release her from prison and send her home to Russia after she spent nine months in jail since her arrest for acting as a foreign agent of the Russian government.
Her defense attorneys have cast her in the court filing Friday night as an earnest graduate student in America, simply keeping in touch with powerful backers in her homeland.
They add that she has cooperated with investigators. CNN previously reported that she was speaking to prosecutors about her boyfriend and, briefly, was questioned by the special counsel’s investigation.
She has also spoken to the Senate Intelligence Committee for a voluntary interview that lasted eight hours, her lawyers wrote Friday, and gave them “thousands of pages of documents,” including many related to a former Russian politician Alexander Torshin.
Butina is set to be sentenced next Friday. The prosecutors have not yet made a recommendation to the judge for her sentencing. Her attorneys have explicitly asked that she be sentenced to time served in jail, following her plea in December.
“Maria Butina is a devoted daughter, genuine idealist, and compassionate civil activist,” her defense attorneys wrote in their sentencing memo Friday night. “Nearly a year ago, she graduated with a master’s degree from American University with straight A’s and bright career prospects. Now, her world has collapsed because of a decision to help and discuss her amateur diplomacy efforts with a Russian official.”
Butina, a 30-year-old longtime gun rights activist, admitted to attempting to curry favor with conservative political groups on behalf of Russia, particularly with the support of Torshin, a former Russian parliament member and former Russian Central Bank leader.
In the court filing Friday night, her attorneys described her attending a “presidential campaign announcement” and relaying information about it back to Torshin, an event that was “exciting.” The relationship she had with Torshin “triggered” her need to notify the Justice Department of her actions working for Russians, her lawyers wrote.
“She did not infiltrate the NRA. She joined it, as millions have, by filling out an online form and paying a fee. She did not seduce the figures within it or funnel Russian money to it. Nor did anyone else instruct her to do so,” her defense lawyers wrote.
Paul Erickson, a political operative who has been indicted for money laundering in South Dakota, is mentioned in her report as her boyfriend and someone who helped her draft a plan for Russian-American diplomacy in the United States. She has been cooperating with investigators in the investigation against Erickson.
George O’Neill Jr., a Rockefeller heir who CNN has previously identified as US Person 2 in Butina’s case, submitted a letter in support of Butina. In it, he acknowledged that he supported her in the pursuit of her master’s degree at American University, where she was a graduate student.
In his letter, O’Neill also wrote, “Over the past eight months, Maria has suffered greatly and seen many of her dreams crushed by political circumstances beyond her control. I hope, in sentencing her, the court would look at this lovely and able young woman and set her free without further punishment.”
O’Neill has not faced charges.
Butina’s lawyers did not submit a letter from Erickson.
A number of letters from Butina’s supporters, including her family members, were submitted in Russian and translated into English.