Chuck Ross, DCNF
A Russian national suspected of spying for the Kremlin offered sex in exchange for access to an American special interest group, the government alleges in a memo filed in federal court Wednesday.
That’s just one of many intriguing details in the filing, which the Department of Justice submitted as part of a request that Maria Butina remain in jail while she awaits trial on charges that she acted as a foreign agent of Russia.
The memo also alleges that Butina, 29, maintained contact with members of Russia’s foreign spy agency, the FSB. She also referred to a Russian oligarch linked to the Kremlin as a “funder” for her activities in the U.S., according to the memo, which is signed by Jessie K. Liu, an attorney with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C.
The government argues that Butina should remain in jail because she “poses a serious risk of flight 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.”
The DOJ alleges that Butina worked under the direction of Alexander Torshin, the deputy chief of Russia’s central bank, in order to infiltrate politically connected groups in the U.S. The government has not identified the groups, but Butina and Torshin are known to have established deep connections to the National Rifle Association.
The pair used a pro-gun group they founded called The Right to Bear Arms to maintain contact with NRA officials and donors. They also used Republican and conservative activists in attempts to arrange meetings between Russian government officials and the Trump campaign.
There is no evidence yet that the Trump campaign or NRA were aware of Butina and Torshin’s motives. One conservative activist who attempted to set up a meeting between Torshin and the Trump campaign says he believes he might have been “used” by Torshin and Butina.
“If she is what they say she is, then she used me. She used a lot of people,” Rick Clay, a Christian values advocate, told The Daily Caller News Foundation after Butina’s arrest.
Clay sent the Trump campaign an email entitled “Backdoor overture” in May 2016 that offered to suggest a meeting between Torshin and then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. Trump campaign officials shot down the idea. Clay maintains he had no idea what Butina and Torshin were up to, and submitted the request on behalf of a friend.
The government’s memo says the FBI uncovered evidence from search warrants that while she was in the U.S., Butina was in contact with suspected Russian intelligence operatives. She “maintained contact information” for suspected operatives FSB operatives.
“The FBI believes that the defendant was likely in contact with the FSB throughout her stay in the United States,” Liu, the U.S. attorney, wrote.
The FBI also conducted surveillance on Butina and observed her with a Russian diplomat in the weeks before he left the U.S. in March.
“That Russian diplomat, with whom Butina was sharing a private meal, was suspected by the United States Government of being a Russian intelligence officer,” the memo states.
The government also asserts that Torshin considered Butina to be a covert agent of Russia. The memo points to a private Twitter exchange in which Torshin wrote that Butina had “upstaged Anna Chapman,” a reference to the covert Russian agent who was a member of the so-called “Illegals” ring uncovered in 2010.
Butina’s correspondence also referred to a Russian billionaire with links to the Kremlin as a “funder.” The oligarch, who is not named, often travels to the U.S. and is listed by Forbes as having a net work of $1.2 billion, the memo says.
The memo also provides new details about an American political operative who helped Butina gain access to special interest groups.
The memo says that Butina “gained access through U.S. Person 1 to an extensive network of U.S. persons in positions to influence political activities in the United States.”
Butina lived with and had a romantic relationship with the operative, who is revealed to be 56 years old.
The government says that Butina is still a flight risk despite the relationship because she appeared to treat the relationship as “simply a necessary aspect of her activities.”
As evidence to back up the claim, the government memo says Butina offered someone other than the political operative “sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization.”
Butina also complained about living with the operative “and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. Person 1.”
It is unclear how deeply the political operative is in the government’s case. The memo refers to him as “instrumental” in aiding Butina’s “covert influence operation.”
Just days before Butina’s arrest, she and the unidentified operative were spotted entering a bank in Washington, D.C. There, they sent an international wire transfer for $3,500 to an account in Russia.
“Although the government does not proffer that it knows the purpose of that transfer at this point, the amount shows her access to funds, and the location of the recipient underscores her ties to Russia,” the memo states.
The details revealed so far about the political operative match up closely with a longtime GOP activist named Paul Erickson.
Erickson emailed Trump campaign official Rick Dearborn in May 2016 suggesting a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The email was entitled “Kremlin Connection.”
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