Prosecutors: Butina a flight risk, has ties to Russian intelligence

(CNN) — Prosecutors on Wednesday said Maria Butina should be held in jail until her trial because her life in the US has been predicated on deception, including attempts to exchange sex for political access.

The 29-year-old alleged Russian spy relied on a web of people for her efforts to infiltrate Republican politics, prosecutors say, and they suspect her of planning to leave the country. She used state-sponsored spies in Russia for guidance, oligarchs for support and funding, and a 56-year-old American for political access, they added said.

Butina, also known as Maria Butina, appeared in federal court Wednesday afternoon on charges of conspiracy and acting as an illegal foreign agent in the US. She entered a plea of not guilty to the charges during hear hearing.

Her attorney argued in court that she is not a flight risk and has been responding to various government investigations.

Butina was wearing an orange prison jump suit as the two sides argued over her continued detention.

Government lawyers warned that if Butina was released — she has been detained since her arrest this weekend — she is a flight risk and could be quickly taken away by the Russian government. Butina’s attorney agreed it was a risk — seemingly contradicting his earlier argument that she was not a flight risk — noting Russian consular officials were in the courtroom. The court went in to recess so the attorney could confer with the Russian officials.

The government presented a photo of Butina having dinner with a now-expelled Russian that was taken by FBI surveillance.

Butina’s attorneys argued that she has been dealing with various investigations including an FEC inquiry into campaign donations, the US attorney in South Dakota and Senate inquiries.

Butina aimed to set up backchannel communications between Russia and the Republican Party through the National Rifle Association, as well as between Russia to the Trump campaign, according to prosecutors and CNN reporting. Her ultimate goal was to make American leadership more sympathetic to Russian interests, according to court filings.

Prosecutors alleged Wednesday her life in the US has been “predicated on deception,” according to the court 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.”

While in the US, prosecutors said Butina kept in touch with employees of the Russian FSB, the spy agency that succeeded the KGB. Oligarchs corresponded with her, including a billionaire who was called her “funder,” prosecutors said. She also had a private meal with a Russian diplomat who left the US in March 2018.

And she worked closely with an unnamed Russian official whom CNN has identified as Alexander Torshin, a politician. At one point, he “likened Butina to one member of a ring of Russian covert agents who were arrested in 2010.”

“You have upstaged Anna Chapman,” who is often called a Russia honey trap and whom the US deported in a prisoner swap in 2010, he said. Torshin applauded Butina’s image following media coverage of her ties to politicians in the US last year.

According to prosecutors, Butina appeared to be operating in the same mold as Chapman. People who knew her described her as smart, aggressive and attractive, qualities that helped her expand her network of American contacts. She even posed in stilettos and leather while brandishing guns for a Russian GQ Magazine spread.

Butina treated the relationship with the 56-year-old American as “simply a necessary aspect of her activities,” prosecutors said. She secretly complained about the living situation, prosecutors said, and at one point offered sex “in exchange for a position within a special interest organization.”

Torshin called her a “daredevil girl” when she took a photo near the US Capitol on Trump’s inauguration day.

Butina came to the US on a student visa and attended classes at American University in Washington, DC. But prosecutors call the schooling a “cover.”

Investigators became aware in the last week that Butina was planning to move money outside of the United States, had her DC apartment lease ending July 31 and was packing boxes. They arrested her on Sunday and she has been in jail since. She is set to appear in court Wednesday to enter a plea.

Butina and the American she had developed the relationship with were attempting to rent a moving truck and purchase moving boxes four days ago. They also sent a wire transfer of about $3,500 to an account in Russia days earlier, prosecutors said.

Her attorney said that the government was notified last month that she intended to move.

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