US backtracks on Russian spy suspect offering sex for access

Maria Butina

Modal Trigger Maria Butina AFP Getty Images

They said that Russian government emissaries had visited her at least six times in jail, and that Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, had complained twice about her prosecution to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Prosecutors say that while at American University in Washington, Butina attempted to make contact with two presidential candidates and exert influence over politics through prominent conservative groups, which media accounts have identified as the National Rifle Association and the National Prayer Breakfast.

Prosecutors said they initially came to that conclusion because of a series of text messages and other communications, but Butina's attorney has fiercely opposed the accusation, calling it a joke between longtime friends.

While admitting the error, prosecutors stood by the main charges of their case and argued that Butina should not be released on bail because she is likely to flee the country. They also assert other materials and communications investigators uncovered throw doubt on Butina's claim that she should be freed on bond because she has US ties in her longtime relationship with Paul Erickson, a South Dakota-based Republican consultant she met in Moscow in 2013 and with whom she has been romantically linked.

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Butina, a 29-year-old USA -based Russian woman, was charged in July for conspiring to influence American politics.

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

The government, in July, claimed in a court filing that Butina offered "sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization". She replied, "Sex. Thank you so much. Not a nickel to my name".

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.

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In a court filing last month, Driscoll said that the sex comment was clearly a joke and that Butina is friends with DK's wife and child and treats him like a brother. To prove it, they tried to get the judge's permission to show video clips at the start of the hearing, including one Chutkan described as featuring Butina and her boyfriend Paul Erickson, a USA conservative activist, lip-syncing to the "Beauty and the Beast" theme song.

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. She's accused of trying to establish back-channel connections between Russian Federation and the US, and has denied any wrongdoing. Fellow gun enthusiasts and arms industry officials describe the odd trajectory of her Russian gun lobby project, which US prosecutors say was a cover for a Russian influence campaign.

Butina is allegedly in a relationship with an American whom prosecutors call "Person 1".

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