Maria Butina prosecutors ‘mistaken’ in sex claim against alleged spy

WASHINGTON — Prosecutors say they were “mistaken” in claiming Maria Butina, an alleged Russian spy, traded sex for access to political organizations. 

The retraction was made in a federal court filing Friday discussing a possible bond for Butina, who has been attempting to fight off the charges and that particular accusation since she was indicted in July on charges of acting as a Russian foreign agent. 

“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,” prosecutors said in a July court filing. 

Prosecutors said they initially came to that conclusion because of a series of text messages and other communications, but Butina’s attorney has fiercely opposed the accusation, calling it a joke between longtime friends. 

Robert Driscoll, her attorney, said the accusations painted Butina “as some type of Kremlin-trained seductress, or spy-novel honeypot character, trading sex for access and power” and could have a negative impact on her case and trial. 

“The only evidence the government relied on for its explosive claim was an excerpt from an innocuous three-year-old text exchange sent in Russia between Ms. Butina and DK, her longtime friend, assistant, and public relations man for The Right to Bear Arms gun rights group that she founded,” Driscoll, wrote in a court filing. DK is not identified. 

The messages between the pair were sent after DK took Butina’s car for a yearly inspection. 

“I don’t know what you owe me for this insurance they put me through the wringer,” DK wrote to Butina, according to court filings. 

Butina replied: “Sex. Thank you so much. I have nothing else at all.”

Butina later said DK could “ask for anything” including “that they hire you.” 

Driscoll said this was “clearly a joke” because he already worked for Butina’s gun-rights organization. 

Prosecutors admitted Friday that they were “mistaken” and may have misunderstood the text messages that were used as the basis of the claim.

The claim was made to show Butina wasn’t in a serious relationship with a 56-year-old man she claims is her boyfriend, and that she should still be viewed as a flight risk, thus stay in jail until her trial. 

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While he wasn’t identified in court documents, the boyfriend appeared to match the description of South Dakota Republican political operative Paul Erickson, who has been publicly linked with Butina.

The two are listed in South Dakota state records as agents for a business known as Bridges LLC. 

Prosecutors on Friday said they had other communications that still cast “doubt” on the pair’s relationship and showed she was a flight risk. The court filing included examples of other Russian nationals who went back to Russia even after their passports were taken and included all the efforts by Russia to free Butina. 

“Put simply, the Russian government has given this case much more attention than other cases,” the filing says. “The risk of flight under these circumstances is not hypothetical.”

The government did go into details of the other communications they had but did included that Butina talked with friends about Tinder, a dating application, and wrote “let’s go have fun with guys,” court records show. 

Friday’s filing also included that Butina offered to “provide information to the government” about Erickson and alleged “illegal activities,” an indication Butina may be attempting to cut a deal with prosecutors. 

This walk back by prosecutors is a definite win for Butina’s defense but doesn’t get to the heart of the accusations she faces. 

Prosecutors have asserted that Butina engaged in a years-long campaign as a covert agent for the Kremlin in an attempt to “advance the interests of her home country.” She is accused of infiltrating multiple political organizations, including the National Rifle Association, to gain influence for Russia. 

The case against Butina is not related to Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“The defendant’s covert influence campaign involved substantial planning, international coordination and preparation,” prosecutors have argued. “The plan for Butina also required, and she demonstrated, a willingness to use deceit in a visa application to move to the United States and bring the plan to fruition.”

Contributing: Kevin Johnson

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