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Maria Butina, Russian agent convicted of conspiracy in U.S., released from prison

Accused Russian agent sentenced to prison
Accused Russian agent sentenced to prison 00:16

Maria Butina, the 30-year-old Russian who admitted to conspiring with the Kremlin to infiltrate conservative political groups while studying as a graduate student in the United States, was released from prison on Friday. 

Butina had been imprisoned since her arrest in July 2018 and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy that December. Upon her release from prison in Tallahassee, Florida, she was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and is set to be deported to Russia, where she will be banned from entering the U.S. for at least 10 years.

In her plea agreement, Butina admitted to working to create a backchannel of communication between Russians and prominent U.S. political groups and individuals on behalf of the Kremlin.

Butina entered the U.S. in August 2016 on a student visa to pursue a master's degree at American University in Washington. Prior to coming to the U.S., she worked as an assistant to Aleksandr Torshin, a top official at Russia's central bank, and was a gun rights activist, leading a group called "Right to Bear Arms." She attended gun shows in the U.S., where she met prominent conservative figures like the head of the National Rifle Association, former Senator Rick Santorum and then-Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Once she reached the U.S., Butina continued communicating with Torshin, who encouraged her to establish contacts with U.S. political figures. (Torshin was among 38 high-level Russian officials and businesses that were sanctioned by the Treasury Department in April 2018.)

She was aided in those efforts by Paul Erickson, a Republican operative in South Dakota who helped facilitate her political outreach and with whom she was romantically involved. In a separate case, Erickson was indicted on wire fraud and money laundering charges in February. He pleaded not guilty, and his case is still pending in federal court.

At Butina's sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan said her actions were "no simple misunderstanding by an overeager foreign student." Prosecutors argued that Butina spent "significant time" establishing her political connections by hosting "friendship dinners," organizing a delegation for the National Prayer Breakfast and meeting with contacts.

Butina was sentenced to 18 months in prison and given credit for the time served while she was awaiting sentencing. For part of her sentence, she was held in solitary confinement. In May, a video surfaced on social media showing Butina in prison, asking supporters to help pay her legal costs.

Butina's attorneys declined to comment about her release.

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