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U.S. says Maria Butina should not be released on bail, was “mistaken” over texts that led to sex claim

By Grace Segers and Bianna Golodryga, CBS News

Federal prosecutors said Friday in a court filing that alleged Russian agent Maria Butina should not be released from jail on bond — and also that the government was “mistaken” in its understanding of text messages that led to its claim that she offered sex for “a position with a special interest organization.”

A bond hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Photo: Maria Butina / Facebook

The Justice Department alleges that Butina acted as an unregistered Russian agent for several years, working with a “senior Russian government official” to infiltrate a “U.S. gun rights organization” and other conservative groups. A grand jury indicted Butina in July, and she has been detained since then.

In their charges, federal prosecutors based their accusation that Butina offered sex for access on a review of her text messages.

The Washington Post reported in August that Butina’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, called the allegations a “sexist smear,” arguing that prosecutors misconstrued joking text messages between Butina and a Russian man who was a longtime friend.

In the motion on Friday, prosecutors appear to drop the claim, but maintain that Butina should remain in detention.

“Even granting that the government’s understanding of this particular text conversation was mistaken, 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,” prosecutors wrote in the motion.

Butina is allegedly in a relationship with an American whom prosecutors call “Person 1.” And prosecutors said that Butina’s legal team had argued that being in a committed relationship with an American was a justification for release on bond. “Person 1” has widely been reported to be Paul Erickson, a Republican consultant and lawyer, and alleged boyfriend of Butina.

But prosecutors also said that she had offered to provide information about Person 1’s “illegal activities,” undercutting that argument.

Driscoll disagreed with the prosecutors’ argument. “Outrageous that cooperation (was) viewed negatively,” Driscoll told CBS News. He added that Butina was not aware of his activities and that “her cooperation would not have hurt him.”

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