Maria Butina Deserves 1.5 Years in Prison, Prosecutors Say

(Bloomberg) -- Maria Butina may not have been a spy or trained intelligence officer, but she deceived the U.S. on behalf of Russia, potentially threatening national security, and deserves 1.5 years in prison for her actions, prosecutors said.

The recommendation is at odds with a request by Butina’s lawyers, who argue she should be released immediately and permitted to return home.

Maria Butina Deserves 1.5 Years in Prison, Prosecutors Say

Butina faces an April 26 sentencing after pleading guilty to being an unregistered Russian agent operating in the U.S. In a court filing Friday, prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington that the 30-year-old Russian is “more than simply a Russian student interested in gun rights and international politics.”

Butina arrived in Washington as an American University student in 2016 and made inroads with Republican Party figures, including Scott Walker, at the time the governor of Wisconsin, and officials at the National Rifle Association. She asked a question of then-candidate Donald Trump at a conference.

She has been in federal custody since July when she was indicted for conspiring to establish a back channel between Russians and American politicians. Her own filing Friday explains her romantic relationship with Paul Erickson, a lawyer who’s been involved in several Republican presidential campaigns and has strong ties to the NRA.

Failure to Report

Butina acknowledged her failed duty to report to the U.S. her association with Aleksander Torshin, a former Russian Central Bank deputy governor and ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who now is under U.S. government sanctions.

“Butina was keenly aware that portions of her work were being reported to the wider Russian government” and “that factions within the Russian government would be interested in the ‘valuable contacts’ she was developing,” according to the U.S. filing.

“Such operations can cause great damage to our national security by giving covert agents access to our country and powerful individuals who can influence its direction,” the U.S. said.

Butina’s lawyers argued she has spent more than nine months in detention and cooperated before and after her arrest and guilty plea. She should be sentenced to time served along with an order sending her back home to her family, they said in a separate filing Friday in federal court in Washington.

Butina’s “motivations weren’t nefarious,” her lawyers wrote, explaining that her goal was to improve relations between the U.S. and Russia.

“Despite Maria’s well-meant intentions, she has confessed to her crime,” according to the filing. “Her activities with Torshin triggered a duty to notify the Attorney General. This law exists for a reason: so the Unites States government knows the identities of those who are acting on behalf of foreign governments or officials, whether the actions are legal or not, and Maria failed to provide the requisite notice. For this, she is remorseful.”

The case is U.S. v. Butina, 18-cr-218, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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