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Prosecutors seek 18-month sentence for Russian agent Maria Butina who targeted gun rights activists

Key Points
  • In a court filing late Friday, prosecutors said Butina provided information of "immense" value to Russia in the runup to the 2016 presidential election. 
  • Prosecutors said Butina was not a spy in the traditional sense and was not a trained intelligence officer, but she did take actions on behalf of a Russia that could have harmed U.S. national security.
Maria Butina appears in a police booking photograph released by the Alexandria Sheriff's Office in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. August 18, 2018.
Alexandria Sheriff's Office | Reuters

Federal prosecutors are asking for Maria Butina to receive 18 months in prison for conspiring to act as an agent of Russia in an effort to influence U.S. politics by cultivating ties to gun rights activists and conservative political circles.

In a court filing late Friday, prosecutors said Butina provided information of "immense" value to Russia in the runup to the 2016 presidential election.

Butina sought to cultivate ties with the National Rifle Association and even a presidential candidate, who is unnamed in the filing, in a bid to establish a communications backchannel between the Russian government and the next U.S. presidential administration.

In the pre-sentencing memo, prosecutors said Butina was not a spy in the traditional sense and was not a trained intelligence officer, but she did take actions on behalf of a Russia that could have harmed U.S. national security.

"She undeniably worked in the United States to gather that information, provide it, and attempt to establish herself as a backchannel of communication," prosecutors wrote. "Had she successfully done so, the risks to the United States would have included harm to this country's political processes, internal government dealings, and U.S. foreign policy interests."

The filing includes a note drafted by Butina, which was intended for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explaining why it was important for an unnamed Russian official to attend a gun rights organization's annual meetings.

Butina said it was important to cultivate ties with the campaign of a presidential candidate, unnamed in the court filing, to help them "form the correct view of Russian-American relations."

In conclusion it is important to note that on April 22, 2016 [Presidential Candidate] announced a change in the management of his primary campaign staff and in his election strategy, where the candidate plans to pay closer attention to foreign policy. Important in these circumstances are those contacts with the candidate and his entourage that will help form [the candidate]'s correct view of Russian-American relations. Attending the general assembly of the [Gun Rights Organization] in May 2016 fully provides this unique opportunity "


According to the filing, Butina and the unnamed Russian official did not meet with the presidential candidate at the gun rights organization's meetings.

Butina came to the United States on a student visa in July of 2016, but worked illegally as an unregistered foreign agent at the direction of the unnamed Russian official.

In December, Butina pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison. She is expected to be sentenced on April 26.

The pre-sentencing memo comes after a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was made public.

The report documented extensive ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, but concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to establish a conspiracy between the campaign and the Kremlin.