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U.S. judge gives Russian agent Maria Butina 18 months behind bars – National

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U.S. judge gives Russian agent Maria Butina 18 months behind bars National

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In a quivering voice, Maria Butina begged for leniency Friday as she awaited sentencing on charges of being a secret agent for Russia. She cast herself as an innocent caught up in a massive geopolitical power game.

But a federal judge sentenced her to 18 months in prison followed by deportation. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan sided with prosecutors, who said the 30-year-old Russian deliberately obscured her true purposes while developing backdoor contacts inside the American conservative movement to advance the interests of Russia.

The sentence can be appealed and Butina will get credit for her time in jail since her high-profile arrest in July 2018. The case garnered intense media coverage amid speculation over the extent of Russian interference in American politics.

WATCH: Admitted Russian spy Maria Butina to be sentenced in U.S., faces deportation





Butina admitted last year to covertly gathering intelligence on the National Rifle Association and other groups at the direction of a former Russian lawmaker. Her guilty plea to a single charge of conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent came as part of a deal with prosecutors.

At Friday’s sentencing hearing, Butina appealed to Chutkan to release her with nine months of time served.

“My reputation is ruined, both here in the United States and abroad,” she said, asking for “a chance to go home and restart my life.”

Chutkan, however, fully followed the government’s recommendation and sentenced Butina to an additional nine months, before being deported.

WATCH: Russia alleges accused spy Maria Butina was tortured to get confession





The judge said the sentence was meant “to reflect the seriousness of (Butina’s actions) and to promote deterrence.”

Butina’s lawyers decried the judgment as overly harsh; they had characterized Butina as a naive but ambitious international affairs student who didn’t realize her actions required her to register as an agent of a foreign government.

“I feel terrible for Maria’s family…I wish we could have done more to get her out sooner,” said attorney Robert Driscoll. “I do not believe an additional nine months in jail serves any purpose.”

WATCH: Accused Russian spy Butina pleads guilty to conspiracy





A Russian Foreign Ministry statement claimed that Butina was being punished, “just for being a Russian citizen. She became a victim of tough rivalry between various US political forces and an unbridled anti-Russian campaign in the spirit of McCarthyism.”

Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of the Russian parliament, said the case was “political and fabricated from air poisoned with Russophobia.”

“It is necessary to continue the fight, to file an appeal and to do everything in our power for Maria Butina to return to Russia as soon as possible,” Slutsky was quoted as saying by state news agency Tass.

According to her plea agreement, Butina worked with former Russian lawmaker Alexander Torshin to use their contacts in the NRA to pursue back channels to American conservatives during the 2016 presidential campaign. She did not report her activities to the U.S. government as required by law.


READ MORE:
Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina’s guilty plea sheds light on efforts to influence U.S.

Butina had faced a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Her case is unrelated to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which concluded last month.

A statement from the U.S. attorney’s office stated that Butina was guilty of acting as an unregistered “agent of a foreign government.”

“There is no doubt she was not simply a grad student at American University,” said prosecutor Erik Kenerson.

However, defence attorneys repeatedly disputed the use of the word “agent,” saying it brought a sinister connotation that Butina’s true actions do not merit.

“Maria was not a spy,” said defence attorney Afred Carry. “Her agenda was better relations between Russia and the United States… Maria never stole any documents or bribed any officials.”

Chutkan, in her sentencing comments, read extensively from a declaration by Robert Anderson Jr., former assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism office.


READ MORE:
Accused Russian spy Maria Butina appears to reach plea deal with U.S. prosecutors

“She was not simply seeking to learn about the U.S. political system,” Chutkan quoted Anderson as writing. Instead, she worked specifically to obscure her true agenda and “to gather information and develop relationships that could be used to Russia’s advantage.”

However, at times the judge seemed to sympathize with Butina – noting that she appeared to be a diligent student who earned high marks at American University and who supplied dozens of letters vouching for her character from friends, family and professors.

“You are not the worst things you’ve ever done,” Chutkan told Butina. “You are a young woman. You are smart, you’re hard-working and you have a future ahead of you.”



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FOREIGN NEWS

Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali

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Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali

Contrary to the expectations of the people, the leadership of the Episcopal Conference of Mali (CEM) has termed the Tuesday, August 18 military coup in the West African nation as “regrettable” and “a big failure for our democracy” and called for a change of mentality if the country has to put an end to coups.

In an interview with ACI Africa Wednesday, August 19, made available to RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA, the President of CEM, Bishop Jonas Dembélé said that the governance challenges the country is facing can be managed through dialogue.

“The military coup that led to the ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is regrettable because we are in a state of law and democracy. This is the second time that Mali has had a military coup as a result of the way in which the country is governed. It is a big failure for our democracy even if there were reasons for it,” Bishop Dembélé told ACI Africa.

“It is true that our country has serious challenges including bad governance, the poor management of the economy, corruption, insecurity and so on,” Bishop Dembélé said and probed, “Why is it that we Malians have not managed to engage in dialogue to be able to discuss these problems and face up to these challenges responsibly?”

“Our leaders, our people lack transparency, they hate those who speak the truth and advocate for good governance. This mentality must change for our country to move on,” the Prelate told ACI Africa August 19.

Bishop Dembélé who is a frontline member of RECOWA-CERAO urged the military officials “to ensure a return to democracy as promised but most especially ensuring the new leadership of the country put the people first and tackle the security challenges facing the nation.”

Asked about the role of the Church in the current crisis, the 57-year-old Prelate noted, “For us the Catholic Church in Mali, our role is to preach peace; our role is to preach dialogue. We shall continue in this path of dialogue for peace just like Cardinal Jean Zerbo and some religious leaders initiated.”

“In a state of law, power is not in the hands of certain individuals but to the people. The anger of our people led to this crisis, but we must work for peace and reconciliation in Mali,” Bishop Dembélé said.

He continued in recollections, “The Bishops in Mali have always issued messages before every election in our country sounding the alert and inviting the government to organize transparent elections, ensure good governance and better management of resources.”
“But it seems our messages are never taken into consideration that is why we find ourselves in this situation today,” the Local Ordinary of Kayes Diocese told ACI Africa and added, “If the opinion of the Episcopal Conference of Mali is needed to mediate in bringing back stability and peace in the country, then we are ready.”

As a way forward, the Bishop urged the people of God in Mali to “seek the path to conversion” and to accept dialogue in the spirit of truth and honesty.
“We all want change in our

country, but this change can only be possible if individually we seek the path to conversion. It is for Malians be they Muslims or Christians or members of traditional religion, to do an examination of conscience and accept personal and community conversion in order to engage in sincere dialogue,” he said.

The Malian Prelate added, “Now there is this coup d’état to demand change we really wonder where change should come from. As long as we don’t change our behavior, our mentality, we will always have a repeat of the current situation.”

On Tuesday, August 18, President Keita announced his resignation and dissolved parliament hours after mutinying soldiers detained him at gunpoint, Aljazeera reported.
“For seven years, I have with great joy and happiness tried to put this country on its feet. If today some people from the armed forces have decided to end it by their intervention, do I have a choice? I should submit to it because I do not want any blood to be shed,” President Keita said August 18 during the televised address to the nation.

Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu
RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA

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Harris accepts VP nomination

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Harris accepts VP nomination

Senator Kamala Harris formally accepted the Democratic nomination for vice president on Wednesday following a scathing speech by former President Barack Obama, who said the fate of the nation” depends entirely on the outcome of this election.”

Both Mr. Obama and Harris stressed the importance of voting, with Harris saying “we’re all in this fight together.” Harris sounded an optimistic note by highlighting her personal history and the promise of America, saying she was “so inspired by a new generation.”

“Make no mistake, the road ahead will not be not easy,” she said. “We will stumble. We may fall short. But I pledge to you that we will act boldly and deal with our challenges honestly. We will speak truths. And we will act with the same faith in you that we ask you to place in us.” She called Mr. Trump a “predator” in a speech that came after Mr. Obama issued his most forceful rebuke of his successor to date, saying Mr. Trump “hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”

“This president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism,” Mr. Obama said. “They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter.

That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.”

Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton, speaking earlier in the night, both said they had hoped Mr. Trump would rise to the occasion. But they both stressed what they called his failures while in office, with Mr. Obama saying Mr. Trump has shown “no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

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Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself

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Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself

The Malian soldiers who forced President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign in a coup promised early Wednesday to organize new elections after their takeover was swiftly condemned by the international community.

In a statement carried overnight on state broadcaster ORTM, the mutinous soldiers who staged Tuesday’s military coup identified themselves as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People led by Colonel Major Ismael Wagué.

“With you, standing as one, we can restore this country to its former greatness,” Wagué said, announcing that borders were closed and that a curfew was going into effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m

The news of Keita’s departure was met with jubilation by anti-government demonstrators in the capital, Bamako, and alarm by former colonial ruler France and other allies and foreign nations.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed meeting Wednesday August 19, 2020 afternoon to discuss the unfolding situation in Mali, where the U.N. has a 15,600-strong peacekeeping mission. Keita, who was democratically elected in a 2013 landslide and re-elected five years later, still had three years left in his term.

But his popularity had plummeted, and demonstrators began taking to the streets calling for his ouster in June.

West African regional bloc ECOWAS had sent mediators to try and negotiate a unity government but those talks fell apart when it became clear that the protesters would not accept less than Keita’s resignation.

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