Maria Butina: Alleged spy has ties to Russian intelligence and 'offered sex for position on special interest organisation'

Ms Butina pleaded not guilty and will be detained until her court date

Chris Riotta
New York
@chrisriotta
Thursday 19 July 2018 10:01
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Maria Butina's attorney: 'She has made no attempts to flee'

Alleged Russian foreign agent Maria Butina ”cohabited” with a politically influential American and had contact details for “individuals identified as employees of the Russian FSB”, prosecutors have claimed.

As well as the ties to Russian intelligence, Ms Butina is also alleged to have offered “sex in exchange for a position with a special interest organisation”, according to the court filing by the Justice Department.

The new details reveal how Maria Butina allegedly worked to embed herself into a guns rights organisation and circles of conservative leadership in Washington. The Russian national pleaded not guilty to all charges during a Wednesday afternoon preliminary hearing, and will be detained while awaiting her court date.

In the court filing, prosecutors said Ms Butina was a clear flight risk due to her connections with Russian oligarchs, and that she was likely to appeal to Russians who could help her flee the country.

Ms Butina is alleged to have coordinated meetings with American politicians and accused of working to infiltrate National Rifle Association (NRA) using an unnamed 56-year-old American man.

She has been also charged with lying on her student visa about her employment with a top Russian official who was sanctioned by the US government in April. That Russian official is believed to be Alexander Torshin, who is now a deputy governor to Russia’s Central Bank.

The memo says Ms Butina lived with the American - who is only identified as “US Person 1” - but treated their relationship as “simply a necessary aspect of her activities”.

She even allegedly “complained about living with US Person 1” in her personal writings, which were later seized by the FBI as it carried out search warrants.

Ms Butina’s attorney Robert Driscoll said he “strongly disagreed” with the judge’s decision. Mr Driscoll said Ms Butina had not tried to flee despite being aware for months that she was under criminal investigation.

“We remain confident that she will prevail in this case,” Mr Driscoll said. “She’s not an agent of the Russian government. She’s innocent of the charges brought against her. Most importantly, she’s a young student seeking to make her way in America.”

The memo also alleges Ms Butina kept contact with Russian intelligence officers during her studies at American University in Washington. Other documents the FBI seized from Ms Butina included handwritten notes that read “Maria’s Russian Patriots in Waiting” and “How to respond to FSB offer of employment?”

“FBI surveillance observed Butina in the company of a Russian diplomat in the weeks leading up to that officials’ departure from the United States in March 2018. That Russian diplomat, with whom Butina was sharing a private meal, was suspected by the United States Government of being a Russian intelligence officer,” the memo states. “The concern that Butina poses a risk of flight is only heightened due to her connection to suspected Russian intelligence officers.”

Trump dodges question on Russian meddling in US election in 2016

Prosecutors said that Ms Butina was watched by US agents sharing a private meal with a Russian diplomat who is suspected of actually being an intelligence officer. Electronic messages reviewed by investigators contained references to a Russian billionaire with “deep ties to the Russian presidential administration”, who was described as Ms Butina’s “funder” the court was told.

The court filing said Ms Butina had packed her possessions and was preparing to move out of her Washington DC apartment when she was arrested last Sunday, and that she had “every reason” to flee the country if released.

The charges against Ms Butina carry maximum sentences totalling up to 15 years in prison.

Ms Butina’s charges were not brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office, which is investigating Russia’s impact on the presidential election and any possible collusion with officials from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. However, she joins a slew of Russians who have been indicted for their activities in 2016. Most recently, Mr Mueller’s probe charged 12 alleged Russian intelligence officers with hacking the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign and personal offices, then later disseminating those stolen emails online.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the White House was looking into the case, but she also scolded reporters for tweets the previous day that mistook a Trump administration staff member for Ms Butina. She said the mistake “shows frankly the outrageousness and the ... Desire to find the negative in everything that this president does.”

“Just because somebody was simply redheaded they were accused of being some sort of spy for Russia,” she said.

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