Chuck Ross, DCNF
Federal prosecutors acknowledged in a court filing submitted late Friday that they were “mistaken” in accusing alleged Russian agent Maria Butina of offering “sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization.”
The sex allegation was made in a July 18 court filing submitted by U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu. Liu leveled the allegation in an effort to convince a federal judge to hold the 29-year-old Butina in jail while she awaits trial on charges of conspiracy and of acting as an unregistered foreign agent of Russia.
Butina is accused of working under the direction of a top Russian government official to infiltrate conservative political groups in the U.S., including the National Rifle Association.
Liu argued that Butina posed a flight risk because she had few ties to the U.S. The alleged offer of sex showed that Butina’s claims to have strong ties to the U.S. through her boyfriend, a Republican political operative named Paul Erickson, were unfounded, Liu asserted.
Butina’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, shot back at the allegation in August, arguing that the government was waging a “smear campaign” against his client. Prosecutors were attempting to portray her as “some type of Kremlin-trained seductress, or spy novel honeypot character, trading sex for access and power,” he said in an Aug. 24 court filing.
Driscoll said the government’s allegation was a reference to a joke between Butina and a friend who worked with her at the Russian pro-gun group, The Right to Bear Arms. Butina jokingly said in a text message that she would have sex with her friend in lieu of payment after he helped repair her car, Driscoll claimed.
Prosecutors appeared to accept the Butina team’s explanation for the text message, though they still argued that other evidence exists showing that Butina has weak ties to the U.S.
“Even granting that the government’s understanding of this particular text conversation was mistaken, other communications and materials in the government’s possession (and produced to the defense) call into doubt the defendant’s claim that her relationship with U.S. Person 1 is a sufficiently strong tie to ensure her appearance in court to face the charges against her if she is released,” Liu wrote in Friday’s court filing.
Driscoll shot back at the government’s admission in a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“I hope the government’s walk back of their false allegation that Maria offered sex for a job gets as much coverage, as prominently, as the initial false claim,” Driscoll said.
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