Federal prosecutors on Tuesday again delayed the sentencing of Maria Butina, saying the Russian who pleaded guilty to secretly working with the Kremlin while making political overtures to the National Rifle Association and other conservative groups is still working with investigators.
During the public portion of a court hearing Tuesday in Washington, prosecutor Erik Kenerson was cryptic about the need for the delay, saying only, “the defendant’s cooperation is ongoing.”
Butina, clad in a drab green jail uniform, was in court for the hearing. She made no comments, but her attorney made clear she’s eager to get sentenced soon.
“We’re in a bit of a bind from our perspective,” defense lawyer Robert Driscoll told U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan during the brief session. “There’s things the prosecution is aware of, that we’re not.”
Driscoll also said prosecutors indicated there are “other contingent” issues related to Butina, but he didn’t elaborate. At any sentencing hearing, the scope and impact of Butina’s cooperation is likely to be aired, potentially exposing whatever investigations Butina has been assisting with.
The exchange between the lawyers prompted Chutkan to call both sides to the bench for a private conference that Butina listened to on court-provided headphones.
Following the bench conference, the judge indicated some discomfort with letting the case drag on. “Ms. Butina has been detained for a substantial portion of whatever sentence she likely faces,” the judge said.
However, Chutkan said the prosecution’s claims during the bench conference made her willing to allow another extension. “Her cooperation continues to be needed by the government,” the judge said, without explaining what matters Butina is cooperating on.
Butina was arrested last July and charged with acting as an unregistered Russian agent in the U.S. She has been in custody since then.
In December, Butina pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy count relating to her work for the Russians. The charge carries a maximum possible sentence of five years, but sentencing guidelines are likely to call for a much shorter prison term — likely less than the seven months she’s already served.
Despite the high-profile nature of Butina’s case — which came as investigators were looking into Russian interference in U.S. politics — special counsel Robert Mueller is not handling her prosecution. Instead, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, D.C., is overseeing the case.
Butina’s ex-boyfriend, political operative Paul Erickson, was also involved in her efforts to forge connections between Russian officials and the NRA. But he has not been charged with any crime relating to Butina’s lobbying work.
Separately, though, Erickson was indicted on 11 fraud-related felony charges in federal court South Dakota. He has pleaded not guilty.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
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The Article Was Written/Published By: email@example.com (Josh Gerstein)