Alleged Russian Agent Must Stay in Jail Until Trial, Judge Says

(Bloomberg) -- Maria Butina, the graduate student accused of being a Russian agent, will have to stay in jail until trial and lawyers involved in the case will have to keep quiet.

U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan in Washington on Monday denied Butina’s request for bail and issued a gag order, prohibiting lawyers from commenting about the evidence or the merits of the case.

There are no "conditions or combination of conditions" that can be imposed to ensure that Butina will turn up for her trial, the judge said, repeating the reason for an earlier denial of bail.

Chutkan also had some harsh words for the prosecutors, who had initially claimed that Butina had traded sex for a position in a political interest group. On Friday, prosecutors backed off the claim, saying they misunderstood text messages they based the claim on.

Chutkan said she was concerned someone in the prosecutor’s office could interpret the texts exchanged between Butina and an individual identified as D.K. as having been anything other than a joke. The texts were cited in an earlier court filing by Butina’s lawyers.

D.K., described as a longtime friend of Butina’s, took her car for its annual inspection and insurance renewal and afterward texted her: “I don’t know what you owe me for this insurance they put me through the wringer.”

Butina replied: “Sex. Thank you so much. I have nothing else at all. Not a nickel to my name.”

“Ugh,” D.K. responded, with a sad-face emoticon.

On Friday, prosecutors told the judge in a filing that the government’s understanding of the particular text conversation was mistaken.

"I give you credit for walking them back," Chutkan said. "As I found out yesterday while perusing my Sunday paper." But she cautioned the government "to not start a case with those kinds of salacious claims."

Chutkan also admonished Butina’s attorney Robert Driscoll for his frequent media appearances.

"Your work to defend your client needs to happen in this courtroom, not on the public airwaves," she said.

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 who are capable of helping her flee. She’s accused of trying to establish back-channel connections between Russia and conservative groups, and has denied any wrongdoing.

Alfred D. Carry, another lawyer for Butina, told Chutkan that the defense planned to file a motion to dismiss the charges against his client in the coming weeks. Motions are due by Oct. 28 and the next status conference will be Nov. 13, according to Chutkan.

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

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