Prosecutors call for alleged Russian agent to stay in custody

Prosecutors call for alleged Russian agent to stay in custody
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Federal prosecutors are urging a district court judge to keep alleged Russian foreign agent Maria Butina in custody while she awaits trial.

In a court filing Wednesday, U.S. attorneys told the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that Butina, 29, poses a serious flight risk based on the nature of the charges, her history of deceptive conduct, the potential sentence she faces, the strong evidence of guilt, her extensive foreign connections and her lack of any meaningful ties to the United States.

Prosecutors noted her last tie to the District of Columbia — her apartment lease — ends on July 31, and there were boxes packed in it consistent with a forthcoming move at the time of her arrest on July 15.

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“All of Butina’s known personal ties, save for those U.S. persons she attempted to exploit and influence, reside in the Russian Federation,” they said in the filing.

“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.”

The government’s motion said Butina is believed to have lived and had a personal relationship with a 56-year-old American — referred to as U.S. Person 1 — who the FBI has determined helped her gain access to an extensive network of Americans in positions to influence political activities in the United States.

But prosecutors said that relationship does not represent a strong tie to the United States because Butina treats it as simply a necessary aspect of her activities.

Prosecutors said that on at least one occasion Butina offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization.

In papers seized by the FBI, Butina reportedly complained about living with the 56-year-old, expressing disdain about having to maintain the arrangement.  

Butina, who studied at American University, was arrested Sunday and indicted Tuesday, accused of acting as an agent of the Russian Federation to infiltrate organizations active in American politics and to exploit personal connections with Americans in an effort to advance Russian interests.

The Department of Justice said Monday that Butina cultivated relationships with the National Rifle Association and with conservative politicians at the direction of a “high-level” Russian official.

Federal prosecutors said the FBI observed Butina preparing to leave Washington in the days leading up to her arrest.

They said she had applied for a B1/B2 visa, which would allow her to travel to and from the United States, and, on July 14, they followed her and the 56-year-old to a U-Haul facility where they inquired about renting a moving truck and purchased moving boxes. 

Butina is scheduled to appear in federal district court in D.C. for preliminary hearings on Wednesday starting at 1:30 p.m.