US asks court to detain alleged Russian agent pending trial

US asks court to detain alleged Russian agent pending trial

US asks court to detain alleged Russian agent pending trial

Prosecutors also said Butina was regarded as a covert agent by a Russian official with whom she was in touch, with text messages discovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation showing how the official likened her to Anna Chapman, a Russian woman who was arrested in 2010 and then deported as part of a prisoner swap.

Ahead of an afternoon court hearing in Washington, the government released documents arguing that Butina constituted a flight risk, citing among other factors, her recent "intention to move money outside of the United States" and indications that she was preparing to move out of her residence, as well as her alleged "ties to the Russian Intelligence Services" and other Russian billionaires.

"U.S. Person 1", who the indictment claims provided Butina with a list of American contacts to help her agenda, is likely Paul Erickson, a Republican consultant who sought to organize a meeting between then-candidate Trump and Torshin at an NRA convention in 2016, and who the affidavit says first met Butina in Moscow in 2013.

The Justice Department said Butina has been in contact with Russian intelligence operatives, kept contact information for several Russian agents and had a handwritten note in her Washington apartment asking how to respond to an offer of employment with a Russian intelligence agency.

Maria Butina with envoy Alexander Torshin
Image Maria Butina with envoy Alexander Torshin

Butina was likely in contact with the Russian Federal Security Service, known as FSB, throughout her time in the U.S., prosecutors said.

Her lawyer has called the allegations overblown and has denied that Butina is a Russian agent.

Butina allegedly spent years forging connections with top conservative officials, including many associated with a "gun rights organization", "for the goal of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation", according to the indictment.

Prosecutors said on at least one occasion Butina offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization.

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Butina was charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of Russian Federation "by developing relationships with USA persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics", the statement said.

In papers seized by the FBI, Butina reportedly complained about living with the 56-year-old, expressing disdain about having to maintain the arrangement.

However, the description of the Russian official closely matches that of Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia's Central Bank who was sanctioned in April. This person was "instrumental in aiding her covert influence operation, despite knowing its connections to the Russian Official".

They also spoke on January 20, 2017 when Butina sent the official a photo of her near the U.S. Capitol on the day Donald Trump was inaugurated as president.

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Tuesday's grand jury indictment added a more serious charge of acting as an agent of the Russian government, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Butina is accused of operating at the direction of a high-level official of the Russian Central Bank who was recently sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury, the Justice Department said.

The NRA, which has previously been connected to Butina, has not commented on the charges. She got a student visa and enrolled at American University in 2016.

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