An angry Vladimir Putin has denounced the 18 month sentence handed down to Russian influence agent Maria Butina, blasting her prison term an outrageous face-saving measure by U.S. authorities and claiming, against substantial evidence, “there was nothing on her.”
As Rolling Stone exposed in April 2018, shortly before she was arrested, Butina was at the center of a Russian campaign to infiltrate the National Rifle Association, and then to use the gun group as a conduit to meet and influence Republican decision makers. Butina worked to open a backchannel between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign and succeeded in meeting the future President’s son, Don Jr.
During Butina’s sentencing, the U.S. government underscored the seriousness of her conspiracy. Butina had boasted of helping to vet a candidate for Trump’s cabinet. A former FBI official submitted a declaration that Butina’s work as a “spot-and-assess” agent — identifying for the Russian intelligence community potential assets and points of leverage — could damage America for years to come. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan agreed, declaring that Butina had “jeopardized this country’s national security.”
Putin’s remarks were delivered at an international forum in Beijing, and reported by Reuters. “It’s an outrage,” Putin told reporters, before downplaying Butina’s plot: “It’s not clear what she was convicted of or what crime she committed.”
The Russian president accused the American judicial system of “saving face” in Butina’s sentencing. “They arrested her and put the girl in jail. But there was nothing on her,” Putin said, “so in order not to look totally stupid they gave her, fixed her up, with an 18-month sentence to show that she was guilty of something.”
The Russian president’s remarks, ironically, underscore the value of Butina to his government. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs continues to use Butina’s face as its Twitter avatar, superimposed with a hashtag: #FreeMariaButina.