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Russian Maria Butina, Who Infiltrated the NRA, Sentenced to 18 Months

The Russian influence agent gets credit for time served, but she will do additional time behind bars

On, 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. Butina, a 29-year-old gun-rights activist, served as a covert Russian agent while living in Washington, gathering intelligence on American officials and political organizations and working to establish back-channel lines of communications for the Kremlin, federal prosecutors charged Monday, July 16, 2018Trump Russia Probe, Moscow, Russian Federation - 21 Apr 2013MARIIA

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.

Uncredited/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Minutes before President Donald Trump addressed the NRA at its annual convention, Russian influence agent Maria Butina was sentenced in federal court Friday to 18 months in prison.

Butina had earlier pleaded guilty to conspiring to be an undeclared Russian agent in her work to influence the Trump administration by forging deep connections to the NRA. Before her sentencing, Butina had tried to spin the conspiracy as mostly innocent — the “foolish” actions of an ambitious young person who wanted peace between Russia and the United States. But U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan rejected that line of argument in court, declaring that Butina’s participation in this intelligence plot was “not a simple misunderstanding by an overeager foreign student” and that Butina had “jeopardized this country’s national security.”

Butina’s sentencing follows a week of striking revelations. The government made its case that Butina had done lasting harm to the United States security by identifying, for the benefit of Russian intelligence agencies, top influencers in conservative American politics who might be recruited as agents or pressed to exert leverage on U.S. policy.

While Butina insisted she wasn’t a spy in the traditional sense, U.S. officials argued that that was not her role. A former FBI official submitted a declaration that helped differentiate between cinematic spy craft and the kind of “spot-and-assess” work Butina was doing out in the open on behalf of Russia. “A spot-and-assess operation does not require secret encryption, dead drops or any other trappings of a Hollywood spy story,” the former official wrote. “In fact, the majority of operations conducted by foreign governments do not involve traditional espionage ‘trade craft’…”

Shortly after Butina’s sentencing, the Justice Department released a statement touting its success in shutting down her operation.

According to the government’s evidence, from approximately 2015 to 2017, Butina acted as an agent of a Russian government official. Under his direction, she provided key information about Americans who were in a position to influence United States politics and took steps to establish an unofficial line of communication between Russia and these Americans. As described in the plea documents, Butina sought to do so for the benefit of the Russian Federation. She took these actions without providing the required notifications to the Attorney General that she was in fact acting as an agent of the Russian Federation.

Butina will receive a sentencing credit for the nine months she has already spent behind bars. She will be deported following completion of her sentence.

Read the judge’s order below:

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