National Security

Prosecutors reverse claim that accused Russian agent traded sex for political access

Prosecutors say they were "mistaken" about the meaning of text messages sent by Maria Butina, a Russian woman accused of acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian government, that purported to show Butina offering sex in exchange for political access.

The acknowledgement by U.S. prosecutors came in court filings late Friday, CNN reported. The government, in July, claimed in a court filing that Butina offered "sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization." 

Prosecutors, however, conceded on Friday that they misunderstood text messages sent by Butina, which were a significant part of their case against her.

Butina's lawyer, Robert Driscoll, said in a statement to The Washington Post, that the admission represented "an unfortunate example of the misuse of that power." 

"I'm glad the false allegation has been acknowledged, but it's a hard bell to unring," he added.

Driscoll, the Post noted, said in a filing last month that the allegation against Butina was a false interpretation of a "playful" text conversation between Butina and a longtime friend. The friend, according to the Post, does public relations work for a Russian company Butina founded.

Prosecutors argued in Friday's filings that there was still reason to question Butina's sexual history, writing that "[e]ven granting that the government's understanding of this particular text conversation was mistaken," other communications call into doubt her commitment to her boyfriend and therefore merit her designation as a flight risk.

Butina has pleaded not guilty after being indicted in July on charges of failing to register and conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian government

U.S. attorneys argued earlier this year that her connections resided primarily in Russia, and raised concerns that she could flee the country and abandon her 56-year-old alleged boyfriend, GOP political operative Paul Erickson, a Republican consultant.

"All of Butina's known personal ties, save for those U.S. persons she attempted to exploit and influence, reside in the Russian Federation," prosecutors wrote in July.

"Because Butina has been exposed as an illegal agent of Russia, 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."

It's unclear whether prosecutors intend to enter further evidence to attempt to prove that Butina traded sex for positions, but no new conversations were added to the record in Friday's filings.

Both parties are expected to appear in court Monday for a status conference, CNN reported.

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