Accused Russian Spy Not Fit to Leave Jail, U.S. Says

(Bloomberg) -- Prosecutors in the case against accused Russian agent Maria Butina are opposing any move to release the defendant on bond, calling into question her ties to the U.S. and highlighting Russian efforts to win her release.

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.

Accused Russian Spy Not Fit to Leave Jail, U.S. Says

“The official Kremlin Twitter account changed its avatar to the defendant’s face and started a #FreeMariaButina hashtag,” prosecutors said. Butina’s prosecution has also been criticized on the Russian-controlled RT television network.

Butina, a gun-rights advocate who came to the U.S. 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. She’s accused of trying to establish back-channel connections between Russia and the U.S., and has denied any wrongdoing.

U.S. Person 1

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.

That individual is believed to be 56-year-old conservative political operative Paul Erickson, a fact Butina’s lawyer, Robert Neil Driscoll, seemed to confirm when he shared photographs of the pair together and video of the two singing the theme song to the Disney film “Beauty and the Beast” during an interview with ABC News.

Despite their apparent close relationship, Butina recently offered to provide information about Erickson’s illegal activities, according to the government.

“Although the defense contends that the defendant is in a committed relationship with U.S. Person 1, she recently offered to provide information to the government about his illegal activities,” prosecutors said in the filing.

At the same time, prosecutors appear to have backed off a headline-grabbing claim in their original memo in support of pre-trial detention in which they alleged that Butina offered another person sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization.

"The government’s understanding of this particular text conversation was mistaken," prosecutors said, before reiterating their claim that Butina’s connections with U.S. person 1 are not "sufficiently strong" enough to ensure her return to court to face trial.

Gag Order

The case, which shares some similarities with a 2010 New York case that inspired the FX television series “The Americans,” has received substantial media attention, leading the prosecution to ask the judge for a gag order in the case.

Driscoll opposed the motion, saying the prosecutors’ request would put a “chill” on Butina’s right to mount a “competent and vigorous defense.” District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan is expected to rule on both pre-trial release and the gag order during a status conference on Monday.

Butina “has little or no incentive to stay in the United States and face a potential criminal conviction and sentence -- including as much as fifteen years of incarceration -- and every motivation to flee to her home country, where she would be protected from extradition,” prosecutors said in the filing.

Butina’s lawyers asked for her pre-trial release last month, requesting home detention with electronic monitoring.

The case is U.S. v. Butina, 18-cr-00218, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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