Russian agent Maria Butina was sentenced Friday to 18 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy against the U.S.
Butina, 30, was charged last summer with acting on behalf of the Russian government before and after the 2016 presidential election and failing to register as a foreign agent. She was arrested on July 16 and has spent the better part of the last year in jail in Alexandria, Va.
As a grad student at American University in Washington, D.C. Butina established relationships with National Rifle Association leaders and was in close contact with then-deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank Aleksandr Torshin. She helped set up a December 2015 meeting between National Rifle Association leaders and high-level Russian officials in Moscow.
More shockingly, Butina claimed she had a voice in choosing who would be President Trump’s pick for secretary of state, according to Justice Department attorneys.
“Our opinion will be taken into consideration,” she wrote to Torshin, asking for “the input of the Russian government.”
Butina’s lawyers portrayed her as a “genuine idealist” focused on slackening Russian gun restrictions and improving the relationship between Russia and the U.S., but Judge Tanya Chutkan rejected their argument that Butina was unaware of U.S. law, saying her conduct “jeopardized this country’s national security.”
“The conduct was sophisticated and penetrated deep into U.S. political organizations,” said Judge Chutkan. “This was no simple misunderstanding by an overeager foreign student.”
Prosecutor Erik Kenerson also told the court that the information Butina provided the Kremlin was “of extreme importance to the Russian Federation” and “there is no doubt that she was not simply a grad student.”
“My parents discovered my arrest on the morning news they watch in their rural house in a Siberian village,” she said during an emotional plea for a light sentence. “I love them dearly, but I harmed them morally and financially. They are suffering from all of that. I destroyed my own life as well. I came to the United States not under any orders, but with hope, and now nothing remains but penitence.”
“I deeply regret this crime, not merely because it has harmed me, my beloved friends, and my cherished family, but ironically, it has harmed my attempts to improve the relationships between the two countries,” she added.