Butina, 31, who conspired with conservatives to infiltrate gun lobby, freed early from 18-month sentence for good behavior

The convicted Russian agent Maria Butina was released from a Florida prison on Friday after serving most of her 18-month sentence for conspiring to influence US conservative activists and infiltrate a powerful gun rights group, and taken into custody by immigration officials to be deported to her native country.

Butina, 31, had been scheduled for release from the low-security prison in Tallahassee in early November, but a change in federal law moved up her release date based on credit for good behavior, her attorney Robert Driscoll said.

A prison official confirmed she was released on Friday morning and taken into custody by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities.

President Vladimir Putin has previously expressed outrage over Butinas prison sentence and said she did not carry out any orders from Russian security services.

Butina, a former graduate student at American University in Washington who publicly advocated for gun rights, pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiring to act as a foreign agent and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

The Siberia native admitted to conspiring with a Russian official and two Americans to infiltrate the National Rifle Association, a group closely aligned with US conservatives and Republican politicians including Donald Trump, and create unofficial lines of communication to try to shape Washingtons policy toward Moscow.

Her 18-month sentence included nine months she spent incarcerated after her July 2018 arrest.

Butinas case was separate from Robert Muellers investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 US election, which detailed numerous contacts between Trumps campaign and Russia. Her activities occurred during the same period as the contacts investigated by the former special counsel.

The Russian official with whom Butina conspired was later identified as Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russias central bank. He was never charged in the case, but was hit with sanctions by the US treasury department.

One of the two Americans referenced in her case was conservative political activist Paul Erickson, her boyfriend. Erickson was not charged for his links to Butina, but was indicted on unrelated wire fraud and money-laundering charges in South Dakota. The case against Erickson is still pending.

In addition, the chief executive officer of Overstock.com, Patrick Byrne resigned in August after confirming a report by the Fox News contributor Sara Carter that he also had an intimate relationship with Butina.

Federal prosecutors have said Butina did not engage in traditional spy craft, but worked behind the scenes to make inroads in conservative political circles and promote friendlier US-Russian relations. She arranged dinners in Washington and New York and attended events to meet prominent politicians.

Butina in 2015 appeared at a Trump campaign event and asked him a question about whether he wanted better relations with Russia. Trump responded by telling Butina that he would get along very nicely with Putin.

Russias ministry of foreign affairs last year accused the United States of forcing Butina to make a false confession to absolutely ridiculous charges of being a Russian agent.

Its not clear what she was convicted of or what crime she committed, Putin said in April. I think its a prime example of saving face. They arrested her and put the girl in jail. But there was nothing on her, so in order not to look totally stupid they gave her, fixed her up, with an 18-month sentence to show that she was guilty of something.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us


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