Government admits it was 'mistaken' in accusing alleged Russian spy Maria Butina of trading sex for access

  • Federal prosecutors have admitted that they were "mistaken" in claiming that Maria Butina, a Russian woman and gun-rights activist accused of acting as an agent for the Kremlin, traded sex for political access.
  • "The government's understanding of this particular text conversation was mistaken," prosecutors said in a late-night court filing.
  • Chutkan also imposed a gag order on both parties and rejected defense attorneys' request to free Butina from jail before her trial, multiple outlets reported.
Sketches from the hearing at US District Court in DC for Maria Butina, September 10, 2018.
Source: Art Lien
Sketches from the hearing at US District Court in DC for Maria Butina, September 10, 2018.

Federal prosecutors have admitted that they were "mistaken" in claiming that alleged Russian spy Maria Butina traded sex for political access.

Judge Tanya Chutkan reportedly chastised prosecutors for the mistake, which dominated early headlines surrounding the Russian gun-rights activist's case, at a hearing Monday.

Defense attorney Robert Driscoll had protested against the assertion in previous court documents, saying the only evidence for the claim came from an old text message that was sent in jest.

Chutkan agreed.

"It took approximately five minutes for me to review those emails and tell that they were jokes," she said during the hearing in Washington, D.C., federal court, Politico reported.

But Chutkan tore into Butina's attorneys for their repeated engagement with the media and imposed a gag order over both parties at the hearing.

Maria Butina's lawyer, Robert Driscoll, addresses U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan at a status hearing in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 10, 2018.
Source: Art Lien
Maria Butina's lawyer, Robert Driscoll, addresses U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan at a status hearing in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 10, 2018.

Butina, 29, was jailed in July pending trial on the basis that she posed an "extreme risk of flight" after being charged with conspiring to infiltrate U.S. political organizations in order to advance Russia's interests. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Chutkan also rejected defense attorneys' request to free Butina from jail before her trial, multiple outlets reported.

In the July memo requesting that Butina be sent to jail, prosecutors claimed that "on at least one occasion, Butina offered [an unnamed U.S. individual] sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization."

Prosecutors acknowledged their error in a court filing late Friday night, while maintaining that other evidence surrounding her relationship with that 56-year-old American, referred to as "U.S. Person 1," buoyed their argument that she posed a risk of flight.

"Even granting that the government's understanding of this particular text conversation was mistaken," prosecutors said, "other communications and materials in the government's possession (and produced to the defense) call into doubt the defendant's claim that her relationship with U.S. Person 1 is a sufficiently strong tie to ensure her appearance in court to face the charges against her if she is released."

Butina's attorneys excoriated the prosecutors for their mistake in a response.

"The government's documents do nothing to discredit the sincerity of her relationship," they wrote, "and its craze with her sex life has gone too far and transformed into an irrelevant obsession."