Maria Butina, who had committed to a conspiracy as a covert Russian agent and enchanted American conservative leaders with her gun rights activism, was sentenced to 18 months in prison by a DC federal judge on Friday.
Judge Tanya Chutkan's sentence was what the Department of Justice had demanded for Butina, although she would soon be in office for nine months due to the time already spent in jail. "The behavior was sophisticated and deeply penetrated into the political organizations of the United States," said Chutkan, before he laid the stiff penalty.
Butina is a 30-year-old Russian citizen who came to the US to study at the American University in Washington, DC, and overturned gun violence and conservative activists, particularly in the National Rifle Association. She was arrested last July and charged with violating a US law prohibiting people from acting as foreign agents without contacting the Attorney General ̵
Just before she was convicted, Butina made an emotional plea for leniency. Her voice trembled as she spoke.
"My parents discovered my arrest on the morning news that they see in their country home in a Siberian village," she said. "I love her very much, but I hurt her morally and financially. They suffer from it. I also destroyed my own life. I came not under orders to the United States, but with hope, and now there is nothing left but penance. "
During her stay in the US, Butina communicated with the then representative of the Russian central bank Alexander Torshin about her efforts to build relations with the Americans In one case, she claimed that she had influence over who Trump's foreign minister would become. In December 2015, she even helped organize a delegation of NRA heads of state to visit Moscow, where they met with powerful representatives of the Russian government.
Butina said she had registered as a foreign agent with the Department of Justice, but claimed that she did not have US law.
"I deeply regret this crime, not only because it has hurt me, my beloved friends and my beloved family, but, ironically, it has hurt my efforts to improve relations between the two countries," she said.
Chutkan had none of this.
"This was not a simple misunderstanding of an overzealous foreign student," Chutkan said, saying the crime that Butina has found guilty of "is serious and threatens the country's national security."
Erik Kenerson, the prosecutor handling her case, told Chutkan that Butina had made a plan to contact the two governments for the benefit of Russia. The information was "of the utmost importance to the Russian Federation," he said.
"There is no doubt that she was not just a doctoral student," he said.
"Their behavior shows how easy it can be for a foreign government to attack Americans in the US," he added.
One of her lawyers, Alfred Carry, resented Kenerson's argument.
"Maria is not a spy," he said. "She is no intelligence. She has never been employed by the Russian government. She knows no secret codes, custodians, illegals. She has never dealt with covert activities and has never lied to our government. "
During her time in the US, Butina also had a romantic relationship with Paul Erickson, a longtime Insider of the Conservative movement, who helped her to be friends with people in the United States NRA. Erickson was indicted in South Dakota this year on charges of multiple financial crimes, which did not affect Butina and Russia.
The verdict marks the end of a two-year history that has mesmerized Washington and embodies tensions between the US and Russia over Moscow's interference in the 2016 elections.
The Ministry of Justice requested an 18-month stay from Butina Satz. Butina asked the judge to sentence her at the time she was in office .
Butina pointed out that she had worked intensively with federal investigators since her guilty plea last December. And she said that her future looks bleak in the wake of her request.
"I have three degrees, but now I'm a convicted offender with no job, no money and no freedom," she said. "My reputation is ruined, both here in the US and abroad. And although I know that I'm not that evil person portrayed in the media, I'm responsible for those consequences.
Butina is deported to Russia after being released from prison.
Keep a whisper in my heart to return to this land one day, "she added," but I know this wish is just a dream. "