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17 Takeaways from Maria Butina’s Sentencing Memo

The NRA-friendly Russian national reveals a plot to get Vladimir Putin on American cable TV

NRA CEO Wayne La Pierre and Maria Butina at the 2014 NRA Convention in Indianapolis

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and Maria Butina at the 2014 NRA Convention in Indianapolis.

Maria Butina/VK.com

[UPDATE: A federal judge has sentenced Butina to a term of 18 months.]

Maria Butina is ready to tell her side of the story.

Last Friday, the U.S. government filed a sentencing memo calling the Russian national an “access agent,” claiming she was part of a sophisticated intelligence operation that sought to influence the Trump administration (and may harm national security for years to come). Butina, through a sentencing document filed by her own legal team, paints herself in a less nefarious light — as an ambitious and “foolish” young person who was working toward “good peaceful ends, albeit using unlawful means.”

In the memo, embedded below, Butina answers many questions that Rolling Stone sought to ask her in our exposé about her strange nexus with the NRA. While she claims she did not seek to “infiltrate” the gun group, she also confirms the sweep of our reporting. Most striking: Butina finally reveals the jaw-dropping purpose of her shadowy corporation “Bridges LLC”: To get Vladimir Putin a cable TV show in America.

Below are 17 takeaways from the sentencing memo filed by Butina in court on April 19th in which she asked the judge to set her free.

1) She would like to be done with prison now, thank you

“Although Maria has committed a serious offense, just punishment does not require additional incarceration.”

2) Butina wants America to know that confinement has been rough

“Maria spent a night in the Central Cell Block in Washington, DC, weeks of incarceration in the DC Correctional Treatment Facility, and months at the Alexandria detention center. Her reputation has suffered. Her integrity has been questioned. She has been separated from her family, in a foreign country, for over nine months. She has languished for three of those months in administrative segregation—solitary confinement by another name—where she was enclosed in a small cell for 22 hours a day.”

3) Butina’s got money troubles

“Maria has tremendous debts with no assets. Her ability to get a job going forward is uncertain. She faces expulsion from this country and now must reconcile with her new future.”

4) Butina reveals how her NRA clone, “Right to Bear Arms,” got started in Moscow

“Using social networking websites, Maria was able to form a formidable group in Moscow, organizing demonstrations and protests, particularly on the issue of personal safety. Based on her admiration of western democratic freedoms, a group name was chosen: the Right to Bear Arms.”

5) Butina admits Alexander Torshin — also known in court documents as the “Russian Official” — hooked her up with the NRA

“Torshin gave Maria the contact information for David Keene (a former NRA President), who Torshin met on a prior trip to the United States. Because Torshin did not speak or write English, Maria reached out to Keene to invite him and any other NRA members for her group’s annual meeting. Keene accepted the invitation and asked Paul Erickson to accompany him. Maria was elated.”

6) Butina claims she did not “infiltrate” the NRA

“Through Maria’s advocacy in Russia, she became familiar with the NRA during this 2013 visit. 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. Simply put, as the founder of a fledgling gun rights group, in a country without much in the way of gun rights, the NRA was a good connection to have.”

7) Butina dishes on her romance with boyfriend and GOP operative Paul Erickson — aka “Person 1”

“Erickson and Maria kept in touch after the 2013 meeting and she began a romantic relationship with him in the following year. Her new connection to the NRA… gained her a reciprocal invitation to a 2014 NRA convention in Indianapolis. Maria used the occasion to see Erickson, attend the convention, and travel. Amazed by what she saw, she seized all opportunities to travel to the US, either on her own or with Torshin, to go to other NRA events, give talks about Russian gun rights, network, and see Erickson, who eventually flew to Siberia to meet her family in return.”

8) Butina insists the infamous 2015 NRA trip to Moscow was just a friendly exchange of hospitality

“In 2015, she invited a larger group of NRA members and others to Moscow, through Keene, for her group’s 2015 annual meeting, and she attempted to match the hospitality of the NRA conventions. For example in 2015, Torshin and Maria flew to Nashville for an NRA annual meeting attended by many US dignitaries, and Torshin was entertained by Southern culture, its cowboy hats, dinners and a trip to an Allan Jackson concert. To return the favor, Maria arranged a trip to the Bolshoi Ballet, gun ranges, and fine dining, thereby blowing the small budget she had for her American guests. She also asked Torshin—not the other way around—to set up meetings with Russian politicians to given an appearance of greater legitimacy for her group.”

9) Butina explains the origins of her “Diplomacy Project”

“In March 2015, Maria drafted the Description of the Diplomacy Project with Erickson’s help. In it, she laid out the benefits of having nongovernmental contacts between Russia and the US based on shared interests (like gun rights) to help make the case for an international policy/consulting position for her. Erickson assisted by giving her a forecast on politics and the upcoming 2016 US presidential election…. In hindsight, Maria admits her proposal was foolish and potentially harmful. If given a chance, she would have done things differently.”

10) Butina finally reveals what Bridges LLC — the corporation she launched with Erickson — was about: scoring a cable show for Vladimir Putin

“[S]he never received funding. So without any, she industriously rebranded and attempted to launch an international career by forming a singlemember limited liability company called “Bridges, LLC”—aptly named based on her wish to be a bridge between Russia and America. Under Bridges, Maria scored a consulting contract with the Outdoor Channel to develop a television show in Russia featuring President Putin and his love of the outdoors. Her contract and business were unsurprisingly short-lived, however, because she couldn’t produce the president. After all, she had no personal or direct ties to him and Torshin — not without trying — didn’t either.”

11) Butina says she was blinded by ambition

“All told, her motivations weren’t nefarious. Maria was genuinely interested in improving relations between the two countries, and she had no ill intent. Additionally, if Torshin happened to share any of her unsolicited notes or political thoughts up the chain, she didn’t know, although she would welcome any recognition all the same. She was driven to find a career. Graduation was inevitable, and her ambition clouded her good judgment. So she carelessly continued to help Torshin while in the US, albeit not under orders or for money.”

12) Butina insists she wasn’t a spy spy

[W]hen the government charges Maria with conspiring to act as a foreign agent, they are not saying she conspired to act as a ‘secret agent.’ Rather she’s better viewed as the ‘agent’ in a principal-agent relationship under Agency Law as opposed to something more nefarious or clandestine. Indeed, for all of the media coverage of Hollywood style, spy-novel allegations, in reality, this case is bereft of any tradecraft or covert activity whatsoever. There are no dead drops, brush passes, secret communication devices, hidden transmitters, bags of cash or payoffs, counterfeit passports, plane tickets back to Moscow, or espionage-related activity at all…. There is no lying, stealing, or spying. Maria never communicated sensitive information. In fact, all of the evidence in this case contains no classified information at all. Thus, Maria took no independently criminal overt act and the probation department cites none.”

13) Butina wants you to know what this is not about

“There is no claim in the Statement of Offense that she was a Russian intelligence operative. There is no assertion that she stole confidential information, bribed an official, funneled money to the NRA, ran a Russian troll farm on social media, made illegal campaign contributions, lied to investigators, acted covertly, engaged in subversive activities, had ill will, or undertook any independently criminal act in the United States for some spy-game or Cold War related goal. There is no admission that she received money from the Russian government for her actions in the United States. Nor is there a claim that she harmed an American or was sent here on a mission to lie in wait until Russian intelligence officers decided how to use her.

14) Butina reminds you that she was unfairly tarred by the government

[T]he government withdrew its mistaken claim that Maria used sex as spycraft…. [N]otwithstanding the government’s later acknowledgment of its errors and abandonment of certain assertions, that bell cannot be unrung. In the age of the internet, these allegations, which resulted from this prosecution, will follow her wherever she goes. This makes it appropriate for the court to consider the negative effects the media coverage has had and will have on Maria, despite their proven falsity, the government’s admitted mistake and withdrawal.”

15) Butina says her reputation will never recover

“[T]he global media coverage on this case that has falsely portrayed Maria as a ‘Kremlin spy’ who ‘traded sex for access’ in a manner akin to the Red Sparrow fictional character from the movie and book trilogy. Maria has felt the weight of these consequences and brands has looked ahead to the limitations they will have for her the rest of her life.”

16) Butina reveals she spilled the beans to the Senate

“Maria has always been willing to cooperate with the government. Her willingness to cooperate is demonstrated by her decision to appear voluntarily before the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Although not under any subpoena, she supplied thousands of pages of documents to the committee, which significantly included all of her Twitter direct messages with Torshin. She answered all of the committee’s question’s for eight hours, providing satisfactory testimony that didn’t trigger a Senate referral to the FBI and, in broad strokes, mirrored what she has told the government and federal investigators in more detail during the witness interviews before and after her guilty plea.”

17) Butina insists the time already fits the crime

“Maria has learned her lesson, and her remorse is genuine and deep…. Maria Butina has been justly punished. She now has a felony conviction for her crime, and she has been held in three different detention facilities for over nine months, with another facility to follow pending her ultimate removal. Maria has felt the depths of shame, humiliation, and remorse for her actions. She has done everything she could to atone for her mistakes through cooperation and substantial assistance…. She is ready to return to her family and get her life back on track. For all of these reasons… a sentence of time-served is sufficient….”

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