Russian 'agent' Maria Butina held in USA jail over conspiracy charges

Saul Bowman
July 19, 2018

"Because Butina has been exposed as an illegal agent of Russian Federation, there is the grave risk that she will appeal to those within that government with whom she conspired to aid her escape from the United States", the government's attorneys wrote. Her apartment lease was set to expire on July 31, and there were boxes packed in her apartment, according to the latest court filings.

The government claims this person helped her complete some of her schoolwork at American University and that Butina viewed the relationship as "simply a necessary aspect of her activities".

But she had been in the United States multiple times before that, and even questioned then-candidate Donald Trump in July 2015 at a public forum, asking him what his policies would be toward Russian Federation.

Butina's arrest was announced as Trump flew back from Helsinki to Washington, following an inaugural summit with Putin. "I don't think you'd need the sanctions".

As Butina began making more contacts with leaders of the National Rifle Association and the Republican party, she landed on the radar of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who started tracking her movements to determine what she was doing in the United States, according to officials familiar with the case.

Butina's attorney Robert Driscoll entered a not guilty plea on behalf of Butina, who appeared in court Wednesday in an orange prison jumpsuit.

The charges against Butina were obtained on Saturday, court records show, the day after the Justice Department revealed an indictment against 12 Russian intelligence officers for allegedly conspiring to hack Democratic politicians in 2016.

The report bolsters the DOJ's claim that Butina worked with a high ranking Russian official to establish a "back channel" between the USA and Russia.

The Justice Department alleges that Ms Butina lied to the government when she applied for a student visa, by declaring she no longer worked for a top Russian official who was recently sanctioned by the Treasury Department. The official is not named in court documents, but his description matches that of Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of the Russian central bank and a former senator in Russian President Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party.

An alleged Russian spy is said to have exchanged sex for a position within a special interest organisation.

Ms Butina, who founded a pro-gun Russian advocacy group called Right to Bear Arms, has not been charged with espionage or with being a member of a Russian intelligence service.

The FBI's searches of her electronic devices revealed that Butina was "in contact with officials believed to be Russian intelligence operatives", prosecutors said.

Prosecutors detailed extensive private Twitter conversations and other discussions between Butina and a senior Russian official about her activities in the United States.

Butina's involvement in US political affairs has also extended beyond the pro-gun camp.

It said Butina and the official sought to develop relationships with USA politicians to create "back channel" lines of communications that could be "used by the Russian Federation to penetrate the USA national decision-making apparatus". "Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with Person 1".

After the November 2016 election of Trump, Butina sent a Twitter message to her Russian official proposing a meeting between Russian officials and USA congressmen, which the official later discouraged.

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