Maria Butina, Russian Who Infiltrated Conservative Circles, Is Deported

WASHINGTON — Maria Butina, the young firearms advocate and covert Russian agent who tried to infiltrate conservative Republican circles during the 2016 presidential campaign, is headed back to her home country after serving 15 months in prison for conspiring to act as a foreign agent.

Ms. Butina, 30, was released from federal prison on Friday into the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency in charge of deportations. An agency spokeswoman declined to give details about the timing of her removal, citing agency policy.

While the Butina case did not stem from the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, it was inextricably connected. During Ms. Butina’s sentencing hearing, the judge said Ms. Butina was transmitting political reports to Russia at the same time Russian intelligence operatives were covertly trying to influence the last presidential election.

Ms. Butina’s deportation comes as the Trump administration is trying to push back against new allegations that it was soliciting foreign assistance in the 2020 election. House Democrats have opened an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump.

A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, said President Vladimir V. Putin had no plans to meet with Ms. Butina when she returned to Russia. The Russian foreign ministry’s Twitter account continued to display a “#freeMariaButina” image.

For Ms. Butina, a graduate student and gun lover, it was the end of her nearly five-year tour in the United States. While she was in the country, Ms. Butina dined with prominent American conservatives and began a romantic relationship with an American political operative, Paul Erickson, a member of the National Rifle Association who formed a South Dakota company with Ms. Butina in 2016. She also posed in a photograph with President Trump’s oldest son, Donald Jr. Prosecutors said she tried to broker a meeting between the candidate Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The Justice Department last year charged Ms. Butina with acting as a foreign agent without registering with the department, as is required by law — a charge Russia at the time called “fabricated.” Prosecutors said she, along with a senior Russian official, Alexander Torshin, worked for the Russian government to influence American politics.

Ms. Butina has denied that she was a covert Russian agent. During an interview earlier this year with NPR from prison, she said that she came to the United States as a “peace builder,” and that she loved both the United States and Russia.

“The worst pain of my situation now was that I am embarrassed that instead of creating peace — by not registering — I created discord,” Ms. Butina said in the interview. “That is what I’m going to carry for the whole of my life.”

Anton Troianovski contributed reporting from Moscow.