Tale of sex, deception emerges about suspected Russian agent (Source Associated Press)
A 29-year-old gun-rights activist suspected of being a covert Russian agent was likely in contact with Kremlin operatives while living in the United States, prosecutors said Wednesday, accusing her of using sex and deception to forge influential connections.
The woman, Maria Butina, was photographed by the FBI dining privately with a Russian diplomat suspected of being an intelligence operative in the weeks before the envoy’s departure from the U.S. last March, prosecutors said. She also had contact information for people who investigators believe were employees of Russia’s Federal Security Services, or FSB, the successor intelligence agency to the KGB. The allegations add to the portrait of a Russian woman who the Justice Department says worked covertly to establish back-channel lines of communication to the Kremlin and infiltrate U.S. political organizations, including the National Rifle Association, and gather intelligence for a senior Russian official to whom she reported.
Prosecutors also alleged she had a personal relationship with an American political operative and offered sex to another person in exchange for a position with a special interest organization. Court papers do not name the individuals or the special interest group. Butina awaits trial on charges of conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Russia. She pleaded not guilty Wednesday during a hearing in which U.S. Magistrate Deborah Robinson ordered her held in jail as the case moves forward, saying she was a flight risk. After the hearing, Butina’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, told reporters his client respected but strongly disagreed with the judge’s decision. “She’s been aware of a criminal investigation into her conduct for months and made no attempt to flee,” Driscoll said, saying Butina was not a Russian agent but rather a “young student seeking to make her way in America.” Citing her intelligence ties, the government had argued that Butina’s legal status in the U.S. was based on “deception,” saying her student visa and enrollment at American University were a cover for her covert work. They also argue she posed an “extreme” risk of fleeing the U.S. Butina was arrested over the weekend amid signs that she planned to leave the Washington area and possibly the country, prosecutors said.