A new federal court filing, arguing for Russian national Maria Butina to be held without bail on charges that could carry more than a dozen years in prison, includes jaw dropping details of sex and deception that make her career as an alleged Russian agent read like a plotline from The Americans.
The document, a “memorandum in support of pretrial detention,” alleges that Butina communicated with the Russian intelligence agency that replaced the KGB: “The FBI believes that the defendant was likely in contact with the FSB throughout her stay in the United States.” (Butina has pled not guilty.)
In addition, the memorandum alleges Butina was in a romantic relationship with “Person 1,” an American with close ties to the NRA that several media organizations, including NPR and the Washington Post, have suggested is longtime Republican operative Paul Erickson – a conclusion consistent with Rolling Stone’s own reporting.
“Butina, age 29, and U.S. Person 1, age 56, are believed to have cohabitated and been involved in a personal relationship during the course of Butina’s activities in the United States,” the document reads. The court filing adds, however, that Butina “appears to treat that relationship as simply a necessary aspect of her activities.” In support of this conclusion, the memorandum states: “For example, 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.”
Butina and Erickson are central figures in Rolling Stone’s investigation into the years-long Russian infiltration of the NRA. As we reported in April, Russians exploited the gun group to gain access to top conservative leaders, GOP politicians and the Trump campaign. Butina’s alleged handler, the Russian central banker Alexander Torshin, met with Donald Trump Jr. at the 2016 NRA convention. The federal document refers to this covert campaign, alleging: “The plan was calculated, patient, and directed by the Russian Official” (Torshin). “The FBI has acquired email and other electronic evidence documenting Butina’s work on behalf of Russia, including taskings, reporting, and attempts to be ‘incognito.’”
Butina has recently been in the United States on a student visa, completing graduate courses at American University. The memorandum maintains her studies were a cover that Butina concocted and maintained with the help of Person 1: “The FBI has uncovered electronic communications revealing Butina’s involvement in the planning of the covert influence operation with U.S. Person 1. This series of communications included a discussion about how Butina could best enter and remain in the United States. Butina chose a student visa from a range of options for her ultimate application, but not before a lengthy discussion of the risks associated with traveling to the United States repeatedly on a tourist visa.”
Person 1 – again, reportedly Erickson – helped Butina with her studies, the government alleges. “The FBI has discovered text messages and emails between U.S. Person 1 and Butina in which Butina would routinely ask U.S. Person 1 to help complete her academic assignments, by editing papers and answering exam questions. In other words, although she attended classes and completed coursework with outside help, attending American University was Butina’s cover while she continued to work on behalf of the Russian Official.”
The memorandum contends that “Butina presents an extreme risk of flight.” It argues: “The defendant’s legal status in the United States is predicated on deception. She not only has deep ties to her country (with which the United States has no extradition treaty) but actually works on behalf of the Russian government … she has every reason to flee this prosecution.”
The document warns that Butina might seek harbor in the Russian embassy, and successfully gain passage home: “Simply put, neither the Court nor law enforcement could stop her or has any recourse or remedy, in the event Butina decided to seek safe harbor in a diplomatic facility.”
In addition to alleging that Butina has ties to Russian intelligence, the document also points to “evidence that Butina is well connected to wealthy businessmen in the Russian oligarchy.”
It also reveals alleged communication between Torshin and Butina, in which the former likens Butina to infamous Russian Anna Chapman, who pled guilty to being an unregistered Russian agent in 2010 and was sent back to Russia in a spy exchange, since becoming an Instagram star, frequently posing with weapons. (In Rolling Stone’s April report, a former CIA official also likened Butina to the Russian agent, saying she “reminds me of Anna Chapman – the fiery redhead who was one of the illegals who was kicked out of the United States back in 2010.”)
Torshin allegedly wrote to Butina in the wake of press coverage of her activities in March 2017: “Good morning! How are you faring there in the rays of the new fame? Are your admirers asking for your autographs yet? You have upstaged Anna Chapman. She poses with toy pistols, while you are being published with real ones.”
UPDATE: A federal judge has agreed with prosecutors, ordering that Butina be jailed until her trial.