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Judge orders alleged Russian agent to remain in jail
A federal district court judge on Monday refused to release from jail the young Russian woman accused of working to influence American politics on Russia's behalf.
Attorneys for Maria Butina had asked U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan to modify the court's previous order and allow Butina to remain free under house arrest and GPS monitoring while she awaits trail, but Chutkan denied the request.
She said there is no condition or combination of conditions she could set to ensure Butina returns to court.
Chutkan said she cannot envision a situation where it is not possible for Butina to be released from jail, placed in a car with diplomatic tags and placed on an airplane.
The government had argued in July that Butina is a flight risk and has no strong ties to the U.S. that would ensure her appearance at trial. Prosecutors had claimed she offered to trade sex for a position with a special interest organization despite her relationship with her boyfriend, conservative political operative Paul Erickson, known in court documents as U.S. Person 1.
Butina's defense team railed against the accusation as false, arguing Butina's relationship with Erickson is legitimate.
In a court filing Friday, the government admitted it misunderstood a series of text messages between Butina and another individual, as well as other information about their relationship.
Though Chutkan commended the government for walking back what she called salacious allegations, she said she didn't understand how the government made the error in the first place.
Chutkan said it only took five seconds to realize that the messages were jokes when she reviewed them.
"It was apparent on their face," she said.
She cautioned prosecutors against starting out cases with salacious claims, saying once allegations are made it's hard to take them back.
The defense team got a scolding of its own on Monday afternoon from Chutkan for submitting three videos it wanted to show in court hours before the proceedings.
Chutkan said the first video showed Butina and her boyfriend singing the theme song from the Disney movie "Beauty and the Beast" in a recording studio. Her attorney Robert Driscoll told ABC News when it first reported the video last month that it showed a legitimate long-term relationship.
The other two videos Chutkan said she received were of birthday greetings from Butina's parents to her boyfriend.
Not only did Chutkan admonish the defense for its last-minute submission, she said she had no idea how the videos were relevant to Butina being a flight risk.
Driscoll said he was submitting the videos to show his client's relationship with her boyfriend is a legitimate one, but Chutkan said the court did not at all find them relevant to the request for her release.
In addition to ordering Butina's continued detention, Chutkan issued a gag order on Butina's defense attorneys. The government wrote to Chutkan last month raising concerns about statements Driscoll made to Politico and The Washington Post.
Though Chutkan said she understood Driscoll's desire to zealously defend his client, she said he had "overstepped" and violated local court rules by making detailed statements to the media about evidence in the case.
Chutkan said there comes a point when the work of defending a client has to happen in the courtroom and not in public, and that trying the case in the media makes it more difficult to find an impartial jury.
Butina, who appeared in court Monday in a green prison jumpsuit, has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent to the Russian Federation. She is due back in court for another status conference in her case on Nov. 13.
Updated at 3:55 p.m.