Convicted Russian agent ‘surprised’ by prison sentence

Maria Butina made an emotional plea to Judge Tanya Chutkan to be released immediately with a ruling of time served. Instead, she received an 18-month sentence.

“Upset” is how her attorney Robert Driscoll described her reaction immediately after the proceeding ended.

Unlike the commanding, self-assured speaker that appears in videos all over the internet, Butina spoke to the court with a quivery voice asking to be forgiven for the mistake of not registering as a foreign agent.

Referring to Chutkan as “dear Judge” several times during a 12 minute oratory, she said her objective was “to build bridges between my motherland, Russia, and the United States.”

Wearing a green prison jumpsuit with her long brown hair flowing over her shoulders, she told Chutkan, she “never intended” to cause any harm to Americans. But in a forlorn voice, seemingly close to tears, she acknowledged her actions did just that.

Chutkan thoughtfully listened to her remarks, later telling Butina later was intelligent, personable and kind. The judge noted the many letters and documents the court had received vouching for Butina’s character.

Chutkan even admitted Butina’s reputation had suffered because of the case, and told her she would bounce back.

However, she would not accept Butina’s claim that she didn’t know she needed to register as a foreign agent. Chutkan said Butina’s “friendship dinners” and other engagements with Americans in political and cultural circles were a part of an attempt to establish a political “back channel” to the Kremlin.

She added that Butina was trying to collect information that would help the Russian government as it sought to interfere in the 2016 Presidential election.

Driscoll reflected on Chutkan’s comments saying, “I was frustrated that the judge got caught up in this ‘Russia narrative,’” referring to the Justice Department’s Special Counsel Investigation.

He added, Butina “was surprised by the sentence” and “very disappointed in this country.”

J.J. Green

JJ Green is WTOP's National Security Correspondent. He reports daily on security, intelligence, foreign policy, terrorism and cyber developments, and provides regular on-air and online analysis. He is also the host of two podcasts: Target USA and Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.

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