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Judge sets April sentencing in Russian secret agent case

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In this April 21, 2013, photo, Maria Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization in Russia, speaks to a crowd during a rally in support of legalizing the possession of handguns in Moscow, Russia. In December, she pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent and agreed to cooperate with investigators as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors. Her sentencing is scheduled for April 26.

WASHINGTON | A Russian gun-rights activist will be sentenced next month after admitting she was a secret agent for the Kremlin who tried to infiltrate conservative U.S. political groups as Donald Trump rose to power.

Maria Butina appeared briefly Thursday in federal court in Washington and U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan set Butina's sentencing for April 26.

Butina, who wore a green jail uniform with her hair pulled back in a long ponytail, did not speak during the court hearing.

In December, she pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent and agreed to cooperate with investigators as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

Butina admitted that she and former Russian lawmaker Alexander Torshin used their contacts in the National Rifle Association to pursue back channels to American conservatives during the 2016 campaign, when Trump, a Republican, defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Once Butina took her plea deal, court documents implicated that South Dakotan Paul Erickson agreed and conspired with Butina, his girlfriend, in her illegal activities.

The charges against Butina were brought by federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., and her case is unrelated to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mueller concluded his investigation and turned over his report to Attorney General William Barr last week. In a four-page letter to Congress, Barr said the special counsel did not find that Trump's campaign "conspired or coordinated" with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election. Mueller reached no conclusion on whether Trump obstructed the federal investigation, but the attorney general said there was insufficient evidence Trump obstructed justice by trying to interfere with Mueller's probe.

Butina faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, though her lawyers have previously noted that federal sentencing guidelines recommend no time to six months. She has been jailed since her arrest in July.

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