Russian citizen, NRA fan, and gun rights activist Maria Butina received some good news today from the Justice Department, in that she is no longer being accused of trading sex for access to key GOP members. Butina remains in federal custody on suspicion of illegally acting as a foreign agent, according to the New York Times, but the more lewd aspects of her case appear to be unfounded.
According to the Miami Herald, Butina’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, has argued strongly that the sex charges were a smear campaign based on a misreading of innocuous three-year-old text messages between Butina and a friend. Apparently the Justice Department has come to the same conclusion, and mentioned it in a court filing arguing that Butina is still a flight risk and should remain detained. After referencing the text exchange in question, the filing says, “Even granting that the government’s understanding of this particular text conversation was mistaken,” enough evidence remains to deny Ms. Butina’s request for release.
The government’s concession appears to have been in response to Driscoll’s filing last month, in which he pointedly said, the following.
“The impact of this inflammatory allegation, which painted Ms. Butina as some type of Kremlin-trained seductress, or spy-novel honeypot character, trading sex for access and power, cannot be overstated.”
The misunderstood text message exchange related to one of Butina’s friends doing her a favor by getting her car inspected and her insurance renewed. Her friend flirtingly said that he didn’t know what she was going to owe him for the favor, and Butina told him in response, “Sex. Thank you so much. I have nothing else at all. Not a nickel to my name.” Driscoll argues that by initially taking that quote out of context and making assumptions before researching, the government has tainted his client’s name, making her into a kind of femme fatale.
BAD LOOK FOR @THEJUSTICEDEPT'S RUSSIA INVESTIGATORS: Prosecutors admit they mischaracterized playful banter between MARIA BUTINA & a colleague as an effort to use sex as a spy tool as part of a Russian effort to infiltrate GOP politics. https://t.co/rj9G9Bootg— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) September 9, 2018
Though the salacious part of the claims against Butina may be unfounded, there is still plenty of evidence tying her to Russian oligarchs and government officials, specifically Alexander Torshin. Torshin is a senior official in Russia’s Central Bank and a fellow member of the NRA. Russian emissaries have visited her at least six times since she has been in jail, according to the New York Times.
Prior to being incarcerated, she was also photographed meeting with a known operative for the FSB, the modern descendant of the Soviet KGB, and it is suspected that she formed a relationship with GOP activist Paul Erickson in order to gain access to the NRA, though Butina maintains that the relationship with Erickson is based on love, not espionage.