EXCLUSIVE: Convicted Russian agent could be released in April

LISTEN —  EXCLUSIVE: Maria Butina’s attorney speaks out about her case

Maria Butina, 30, a Russian gun-rights enthusiast who pled guilty to a conspiracy charge as part of a Kremlin plot to infiltrate conservative U.S. political groups, could be released from jail next month.

In an exclusive interview with WTOP, her attorney Robert Driscoll said the release might happen as early as “mid-April.”

“It’s not guaranteed and up to the judge, but we’re hopeful,” Driscoll said in a wide-ranging Target USA podcast interview about Butina’s arrest and conviction.

In a Feb. 26 status hearing, Judge Tanya Chutkan said Butina had served a “substantial” portion of whatever sentence she would likely get for her guilty plea.

According to Driscoll, “she faces five years. She faced 15 in the initial indictment. The plea allows us to argue for zero to six months.”

Butina was arrested on July 15 and charged with “conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior notification to the Attorney General.”

Federal prosecutors, who watched her for several years, said in a detention memo: “Although she attended classes and completed coursework with outside help, attending American University was Butina’s cover while she continued to work on behalf of the Russian official.”

The “official” referenced in the memo was part of a group that allegedly included Butina and “known and unknown individuals who knowingly did combine, conspire, confederate, and agree together and with each other to commit an offense against the United States,” according to a criminal complaint from the U.S. attorney for D.C. Jessie K. Lui.

The indictment accused Butina of being a foreign agent affiliated with Russian intelligence, who allegedly attempted “to exploit influential U.S. persons connected to American political organizations.”

Her task, according to the documents, was to allegedly develop “relationships with U.S. persons, and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation.”

She became a lightning rod in the battle between U.S. public media and Russian government-controlled media to paint each other as overzealous distorters of truth.

The Kremlin, on multiple occasions, accused the U.S. government of mistreating Butina.

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At one point in August 2018, the Russian Foreign Ministry, which adopted Butina’s image as the face of its twitter feed, quoted spokesperson Maria Zakharova in a tweet saying, “Despite our many requests, conditions in which Maria Butina is being held remain harsh and it has resulted in health issues. It seems like trying to complicate her life as much as possible in (the) U.S.;they’d like to force her to cooperate with (the) investigation.”

Driscoll said at the time: “I think the Russians are upset that, at night, they check every 15 minutes on inmates in protective custody. Some guards turn on the lights to do so. This can be problematic, because you never really sleep. Some use flashlights, which is better.”

On numerous occasions, the Russian government claimed that Butina was being tortured, something Driscoll believed was overblown.

“I don’t want say the Russians complaints were invalid, because they weren’t, but the conditions Maria was in were not atypical of a general detainee in D.C. jail,” Driscoll said.

He describes her current physical condition as “good, although she’s lost some weight in jail.”

Butina, who’s been in custody for eight months, faces another hearing on March 28. At that point, she could find out exactly when she’ll be a free woman again.

Driscoll said that she’s “contrite but optimistic. She is anxious to see her family.”

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