A Russian woman who plotted to infiltrate conservative political circles and open back-channel lines of communication as part of an unofficial influence campaign is to be sentenced in federal court on Friday.
Maria Butina pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiracy to act as a Russian agent in the U.S. without registering with the Justice Department. She faces up to five years in prison, although the final decision on sentencing rests with U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan.
Butina’s case has been handled separately from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. But like Mueller’s probe, it has exposed the various ways Moscow tries to influence American politics and policy.
Butina was arrested by the FBI in July and has been in federal custody since. She is currently being held in solitary confinement in an Alexandria, Va., detention center outside Washington, D.C.
Her case caught the international media spotlight after the government accused Butina of employing feminine wiles—a la the movie “Red Sparrow”—to extract information.
Prosecutors later backed away from that allegation.
But even before those claims, Butina attracted public scrutiny through the use of her professed interest in gun rights and American politics to establish relationships with senior members of the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party.
Her boyfriend, longtime GOP fundraiser and NRA supporter Paul Erickson, played a prominent role in Butina’s outreach to Republicans, including the Trump campaign.
Erickson, who is more than 20 years Butina’s senior, is facing federal investment fraud charges in a separate case.
According to Butina’s plea deal, she conspired with a Russian government official, Alexander Torshin, to collect information and open unofficial lines of communication with influential and powerful Americans, and to use those connections to Russia’s advantage. Read more