Maria Butina lost in her effort to exclude from her sentencing proceedings the testimony of an ex-FBI agent who claims that her conduct in the U.S. was part of a so-called “spot and assess” operation on Russia’s behalf.
“Butina provided Russia with information that has tremendous intelligence value,” the ex-FBI agent, Robert Anderson, said in a declaration submitted by prosecutors as part of their sentencing recommendation for her last week.
He claimed that it was the type of information that “skilled intelligence officers can exploit for years and that may cause significant damage to the United States.”
Butina’s lawyers had sought to strike Anderson’s declaration and block him from taking the bench at her sentencing hearing on Friday. They claimed that prosecutors were “sandbagging” Butina by rolling out a “new theory for the first time in the metaphorical bottom of the ninth inning.”
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan denied that request on Thursday. Her brief order pointed to case law allowing courts to consider information “largely unlimited” in type or source. She also noted that Butina had declined her offer to push back the sentencing date so she could prepare a rebuttal to Anderson.
The government’s sentencing memo and the legal fight that it prompted were a surprising twist in Butina’s case, where she had pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to act as a foreign agent without registering with the government. She’s been cooperating since her plea in December, and prosecutors have described her assistance as “substantial.”
Nonetheless they’re seeking she serve 18 months in prison, while her attorneys argue that she should be let off immediately after sentencing, based on the more than nine months she’s already been in detention since her arrest. Both parties appear to be on the same page that she be deported swiftly once she finishes her sentence.
In the prosecutors’ sentencing memo, they claimed the Butina had attempted to position herself as a “backchannel of communication” to the Russian government.
“Had she successfully done so, the risks to the United States would have included harm to this country’s political processes, internal government dealings, and U.S. foreign policy interests,” the prosecutors said.