WASHINGTON, D.C. — Russian gun-rights activist and spy Maria Butina is still cooperating with federal prosecutors, the government said in court Tuesday.
Judge Tanya S. Chutkan put off setting a date for Butina’s sentencing after Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis told the court that her cooperation was ongoing.
Butina pleaded guilty last December to one count of conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent. In court filings, prosecutors said Butina worked with another person (believed to be sanctioned Russian politician Aleksandr Torshin) to infiltrate conservative political circles, including the National Rifle Association and President Donald Trump’s campaign.
“From our perspective, we’re pretty much ready to go with cooperation,” Butina’s lawyer Robert Driscoll told the court after Kravis spoke. But he also said Butina and her lawyers “understand where the prosecution is coming from” and acknowledged that the government may need his client’s cooperate in the future.
That set off a sidebar between the two parties at the judge’s bench. Static played over loudspeakers in the courtroom as reporters craned to see Kravis and Driscoll speaking with Chutkan. Afterward, the judge announced that she was delaying setting a date for sentencing.
The news comes after Driscoll told Russia’s state-run TASS news agency last week that he expected the judge sentence Butina within the next two to six weeks.
“We think she is done with cooperation now, but we need to make sure the government agrees with that,” Driscoll told TASS at the time.
Although Chutkan granted the government’s request to delay setting a sentencing date, she said that she understands the defense’s concerns about how long Butina has been held.
“Ms. Butina has been detained for a substantial portion of whatever sentence she is likely to serve,” Chutkan conceded.
Butina sat quietly throughout the hearing Tuesday. Dressed in teal prison clothes with her hair pulled back in a neat braid, she nodded when the judge asked her direct questions and listened to the proceedings intently. But she exited the courtroom with her eyes cast down. Her hands appeared to be cuffed in front of her throughout the hearing.
Butina’s boyfriend, Republican fundraiser Paul Erickson, allegedly helped her try to force connections with the Trump campaign, the NRA, and other influential Republican institutions. In May 2016, Erickson pitched his services as a Russia back channel to Trump campaign aide Rick Dearborn, in an email with the subject line “Kremlin Connection.”
“Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump,” Erickson wrote in the email, which was first reported by The New York Times in December 2017.
Erickson hasn’t been charged in relation to Butina’s case, but he faces legal troubles of his own. Federal prosecutors charged him with wire fraud earlier this month in a case related to a health-care business he was promoting to investors in South Dakota. Erickson has pleaded not guilty to those charges, and his lawyers have said he is innocent.
Butina is expected back in court for another status hearing on March 28, though Kravis said in the government may instead ask for sentencing in early April.
Butina has already surrendered her passport to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to expedite her deportation after sentencing, Driscoll told Russian news agency TASS last week.
“Our hope would be that she’ll receive a sentence that will be equivalent to the time already served and that she will be released and deported soon after that,” he said.