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. The filing says Butina and US Person 1 are believed to have been involved in a relationship and lived together.
The Justice Department said Butina has been in contact with Russian intelligence operatives, kept contact information for several Russian agents and had a handwritten note in her Washington apartment asking how to respond to an offer of employment with a Russian intelligence agency.
She is accused of infiltrating active political organizations like the National Rifle Association and exploiting personal connections with Americans to advance Russian interests.
"Such unfounded claims against our compatriot simply look odd", Zakharova told reporters, adding that Butina had openly resided in the United States "for a long time" and did not hide from anyone. Law enforcement officials then became concerned that Butina appeared to be planning to leave the Washington area and made a decision to seek charges and make an arrest, according to people familiar with the case.
The gun rights organization is nearly certainly the National Rifle Association, whom Butina began reaching out to in 2013 and meeting with both in the USA and Russian Federation.
USA federal prosecutors suggest Maria Butina used her gun-lobbying efforts to infiltrate the NRA and the Republican Party, both during the 2016 presidential campaign and after Trump's election. Butina had been living in Washington since 2016, after coming to the US on a student visa to study at American University.
Moreover, they wrote, her lease is up at the end of July and she had boxes packed, apparently with the intention to move.
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"The concern that Butina poses a risk of flight is only heightened due to her connection to suspected Russian intelligence operatives", prosecutors wrote.
On Tuesday, a grand jury indictment added a more serious charge of acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian government, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. She aimed to set up backchannel communications between Russian Federation and the Republican Party through the National Rifle Association, and to the Trump campaign, according to prosecutors and CNN reporting. That official, who left the United States in March, was suspected of being a Russian intelligence officer, according to prosecutors.
Maria Butina is in court today to face charges of conspiracy and being an unregistered foreign agent of Russian Federation.
An FBI affidavit released earlier this week detailed messages recovered from a search of Butina's electronic devices, in which she communicated with an unnamed Russian official and other individuals in the U.S.
Federal Bureau of Investigation 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". Butina and the official later attended both the 2016 and 2017 National Prayer Breakfasts, as well as the NRA's national convention, where Torshin is a life member.
She is suspected of gathering intelligence on US officials and political organizations and working to establish back-channel lines of communications for the Kremlin.
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