Maria Butina Was In Contact With Russian Intelligence, Feds Say In New Documents< < Back to
A Russian woman charged this week with serving as a foreign agent has been in regular contact with Russian intelligence, the Justice Department says, and she attempted to offer sex in exchange for a position with an organization she targeted.
Prosecutors included that information in court documents as part of their request that Maria Butina be detained ahead of her trial because they say she is a “serious” flight risk.
The government’s attorneys cited “the nature of the charges, her history of deceptive conduct, the potential sentence she faces, the strong evidence of guilty, extensive foreign connections and her lack of any meaningful ties to the United States.”
They also said that Butina, who was indicted on Tuesday by a grand jury in Washington, D.C., has “access to funds and an intention to move money outside the United States.”
Moreover, they wrote, her lease is up at the end of July and she had boxes packed, apparently with the intention to move.
“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 attorneys wrote.
Butina has a hearing on Wednesday afternoon in Washington. Her attorney has told NPR the Justice Department’s charges against her are overblown and that she intends to defend herself.
Contact with the FSB
One apparent reason for the government’s concern was the discovery that Butina has been in contact with Russia’s FSB intelligence agency “throughout her entire time” in the United States, according to court papers.
FBI surveillance also spotted her with a Russian diplomat whom American officials believe was an intelligence officer. Intelligence officers often use an “official cover” as employees of their home country’s foreign ministry.
FBI agents discovered March 2017 messages between Butina and Alexander Torshin, the Russian government official whom they’ve described as her main point of contact in Russia, in which he allegedly wrote: “You have upstaged Anna Chapman. She poses with toy pistols while you are being published with real ones.”
Chapman belonged to the network of so-called “illegal” intelligence operatives rolled up by the FBI in 2010 and went on to enjoy a high media profile for some time afterward.
On January 20, 2017, in response to a photo that Butina sent to Torshin near the Capitol on Inauguration Day, Torshin allegedly responded: “You’re a daredevil girl! What can I say!”
Authorities added that she has ties to wealthy businessmen in the Russian oligarchy.
Finally, the FBI said it has determined that even though she had a personal relationship with Person 1, identified by NPR as political fundraiser Paul Erickson, she “offered an individual other than Person 1 sex in exchange for a position with a special interest organization. Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with Person 1.”
The FBI said it saw her and Person 1 at a UHaul truck facility on July 14, a day before she was arrested. Butina had boxes in her apartment the following day when the FBI arrived.