U.S. goes to court to keep alleged Russian spy in jail

Maria Butina

Modal Trigger Maria Butina AFP Getty Images

Those efforts have included six consular visits with Butina, delivery of four diplomatic notes to the U.S. State Department, and direct complaints to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo by Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov, according to a court filing.

The salacious allegation, which immediately escalated the public interest in the case, was based on a series of text messages to and from Butina and other information that prosecutors say they had obtained.

Butina was charged this summer with conspiracy and illegally acting as an agent of the Russian government in what prosecutors have claimed was a secret campaign to try to influence high-level Republican politicians, including Donald Trump, both as a candidate and after his election.

The individual, identified in court papers only as DK, had said in the text that he didn't know what Butina would owe him after he took her auto for an insurance renewal and government inspection.

Butina, a gun-rights advocate who came to the US on a student visa, has been in custody since her July arrest after prosecutors alleged that she had ties to Russia's intelligence services and oligarchs capable of providing her a way out of the country. Since her arrest, they said, it has become even clearer that she was not simply a foreign graduate student with an interest in USA politics, but a Russian operative.

A US judge on Monday firmly rejected a bid by accused Russian agent Maria Butina to be released from jail pending trial, calling her a "very real" flight risk, and granted a prosecution request for a gag order in the high-profile case.

Driscoll argued in a filing last month that the allegation was a "sexist smear" that created the false impression Butina used sex as a spy tool. Her defense said she was merely networking to develop relationships with Americans.

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But in a new court filing late Friday, prosecutors said they misinterpreted the messages.

The case is not part of the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, but experts said the Butina case demonstrates the scale and scope of Russian efforts to influence USA politics.

"Sex", she responded, adding: "Thank you so much".

Despite the error, the government still questions Butina's commitment to her boyfriend Paul Erickson, a South Dakota conservative political operative CNN identified as U.S. Person 1 in the lawsuit. She's accused of trying to establish back-channel connections between Russian Federation and the USA, and has denied any wrongdoing.

Though the salacious part of the claims against Butina may be unfounded, there is still plenty of evidence tying her to Russian oligarchs and government officials, specifically Alexander Torshin.

Prosecutors also contradicted defense assertions that her relationship with an individual identified as "U.S. Person 1" would keep her in the U.S., should she win her release. Fellow gun enthusiasts and arms industry officials describe the unusual trajectory of her Russian gun lobby project, which USA prosecutors say was a cover for a Russian influence campaign.

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