In a detail-packed request for pretrial detention filed Wednesday, federal prosecutors alleged that accused Russian agent Mariia Butina represents an “extreme flight risk” and was likely in touch with Russian intelligence operatives “throughout her stay in the United States.”
Prosecutors said they fear that if not jailed Butina will seek safe harbor in a Russian embassy or otherwise try to flee the country due to “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,” according to the document, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Butina is due in court for a hearing at 1:30 p.m ET. She was indicted Tuesday on one count of engaging in conspiracy against the U.S. and another of failing to register as an agent of Russia. She was arrested Sunday.
Butina’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, maintains that Butina was working openly to foster closer U.S.-Russia relations. Driscoll argued in court that she did not pose a flight risk because she had chosen to stay in the country even as details of the influence operation she engaged in on behalf of senior Russian official Alexander Torshin were published in the press over the past year and a half.
The government’s main arguments for keeping Butina in jail ahead of her trial are laid out below.
Contacts with FSB and Russian oligarchs
Prosecutors allege that Butina was in contact with “officials believed to be Russian intelligence operatives,” including employees of the FSB, or Russian federal security service.
Electronic contact lists and documents seized by the FBI while executing a search warrant at her apartment allegedly include a handwritten note that reads “How to respond to FSB offer of employment?,” per the filing. The FBI claimed it observed Butina having a private meal with a Russian diplomat suspected of being an intelligence officer in March 2018, the document alleges.
In addition to these intelligence connections, prosecutors allege that Butina is “well-connected to wealthy businessmen in the Russian oligarchy,” citing regular electronic communications about a Russian billionaire who she allegedly referred to as her “funder.”
The U.S. government fears Butina could leverage these political and intelligence connections to receive “safe harbor.”
Sex for access
Perhaps the most scandalous details of the filing relate to Butina’s alleged use of sexual favors to gain influence with her U.S. targets.
Prosecutors allege that the FBI determined that the 29-year-old was “believed to have cohabitated and been involved in a personal relationship” with an individual identified only as U.S. Person 1. Corroborating details indicate that person is South Dakota-based longtime GOP operative Paul Erickson. Per the filing, the FBI determined Butina saw the relationship only as a means to an end and that she, “on at least one occasion,” offered a different individual “sex in exchange for a position with a special interest organization.”
Plans to depart D.C.
The FBI determined that Butina and “U.S. Person 1” had spent the past week preparing for her departure from Washington, D.C., where she’d lived while attending graduate school at American University.
Butina’s lease was due to end on July 31 and she and “U.S. Person 1” visited on July 14 a U-Haul rental facility to discuss renting a track, per the filing.
“When agents executed a warrant at their Washington, D.C., apartment on July 15, 2018, the defendant’s belongings were packed and a letter was discovered notifying the landlord that the lease was to be terminated on July 31, 2018,” the document states.
Butina also allegedly sent an international wire transfer for $3,500 to an account in Russia last week, per the document.
Was acting covertly
The pretrial request notes that Butina’s “legal status in the United States is predicated on deception” because she allegedly falsely claimed on her student visa application that she was no longer working as an assistant to Torshin, the Russian official.
This is just one example of the kind of covert activity Butina allegedly engaged with in order to keep the true nature of her presence in the U.S. under wraps. Other details included in the document include requests that “U.S. Person 1” complete her schoolwork because her grad school attendance was a “cover,” and texts she allegedly exchanged with Torshin about the need to keep their activities “underground.”
Seriousness of charges
Prosecutors allege that the FBI has compiled “substantial” evidence to support their allegations, including email and other electronic communications, paper documents, and planned testimony from “numerous witnesses.”
Given that evidence and the possible maximum sentences she faces—ten years for acting as an agent of a foreign government and five for conspiracy—she has a strong motivation to flee, according to the document.
Read the full filing below.