The Russian woman arrested this week on charges of being a foreign agent has ties to Russian intelligence operatives and was in contact with them while in the United States, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

Maria Butina, 29, was also engaged in a “personal relationship” with an American Republican consultant only for business purposes and had offered sex to at least one other person “in exchange for a position within a special interest organization.”

After a hearing on Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson denied Butina’s request to be released on bail, finding that no combination of conditions would assure her return to court.

Prosecutors had argued strongly against her release, noting “her history of deceptive conduct.” They said Butina could slip into a Russian embassy or a Russian diplomatic vehicle and get out of the country, and had connections with wealthy business executives linked to the Putin administration.

When she was arrested Sunday, she appeared to be planning to leave Washington and possibly the United States, they said: her apartment was full of moving boxes and she had transferred money to Russia in recent days.

The new allegations laid out Wednesday explicitly link Butina to Russia’s intelligence services for the first time, painting the portrait of a covert agent backed by powerful patrons who went to lengths to create a pretext for her presence in the U.S.

The details about her alleged activities injected even more drama into the case of the Russian gun rights activist, who in recent years cozied up to top U.S. conservatives, including the leadership of the National Rifle Association.

She once quizzed Donald Trump while he was a presidential candidate about his views on Russia and chatted briefly with the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., at an NRA meeting in May 2016.

In a court filing that could have been ripped from the television show “The Americans,” prosecutors decribed her manipulating a South Dakota political operative as part of her scheme and meeting for a private lunch in March with a Russian diplomat suspected of being a Russian intelligence officer – all while FBI agents watched.

Butina, who came to the U.S. on a student visa in August 2016 to study at American University, was charged with conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government and failing to register as an agent of a foreign government. Prosecutors say she worked to infiltrate American conservative groups to advance the Kremlin’s interests.

Through her attorney, Robert Driscoll, Butina pleaded not guilty at the hearing Wednesday. He has said she was not a Russian agent, but a student interested in forming bonds with Americans.

In arguing that she should be released, Driscoll said Butina has been cooperating with the government in a federal fraud investigation in South Dakota related to a unnamed person.

A description of that person’s activities in court filings matches that of Paul Erickson, a South Dakota political operative with whom Butina was romantically involved, according to testimony she gave to Senate investigators earlier this year. Erickson did not respond to requests for comment.

Driscoll also argued that Butina had an opportunity to flee before her arrest, noting that FBI agents in tactical gear raided her apartment on April 25.

“Did she flee the country?” Driscoll asked. “Did she call the embassy? Did a Russian car roll up? She called her attorney, and we stood there and let the government go through her apartment for an entire day.”

A spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday called Butina’s arrest alarming, saying it was aimed at undermining the outcomes of this week’s meeting in Helsinki between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“You get the sense that someone grabbed a watch and a calculator to determine when the decision on Maria Butina’s arrest should be adopted to maximally undermine the outcomes of the summit that took place between the Russian and U.S. presidents. It was that deliberately timed,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing in Moscow on Wednesday.

Prosecutors revealed Wednesday that after executing several search warrants, they learned Butina “was in contact with officials believed to be Russian intelligence operatives.”

A memo written by Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson states that Butina maintained contact information for employees of the Russian FSB, the successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB, and was “likely in contact with the FSB throughout her stay in the United States.”

Among the documents seized by the FBI was a hand-written note that asked, “How to respond to FSB offer of employment?”

To buttress the government’s claim that Butina was a Russian government agent and a possible flight risk, Kenerson entered three photos into evidence. One of them was a surveillance photo of Butina and a man having dinner in a Washington restaurant in March. Kenerson said the man was “suspected of being a Russian intelligence operative” and the photo was taken shortly before he was ordered to leave the country as part of U.S. sanctions.

Driscoll said the photo was simply two Russians having dinner together in America and proved nothing.

Prosecutors have said Butina’s main Russian contact was a high-level government official who matches the description of Alexander Torshin, a Russian central banker and former senator from Putin’s party.

In direct messages exchanged through Twitter, prosecutors said she and Torshin agreed that she could only operate in secret.

“Only incognito!” she wrote in one message in October 2016. In a note in March 2017, Torshin wrote, “You have upstaged Anna Chapman,” a reference to a well-known Russian spy who had lived freely in the United State for years before her 2010 arrest.

A selfie by Butina standing in front of the Capitol on Inauguration Day in 2017 was also entered by prosecutors into evidence Wednesday. Butina sent the photo to Torshin in Russia, who responded, “You’re a daredevil girl,” according to court filings.

Driscoll said the photo was no different than those taken by any other Russian tourist.

The Washington Post reported earlier this year that Butina was spotted at an inaugural ball when Trump was sworn into office last January, part of a group of Russians whose presence at Trump’s celebration drew the attention of the FBI.

Kenerson also entered into evidence a photo of Butina standing with Sergey Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador to the U.S. who privately discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn in December 2017. Driscoll said the photo was taken at a Russian cultural event and had no significance.

In addition to her apparent ties to the Russian government, the new court filing alleges that Butina had ties to “wealthy businessmen in the Russian oligarchy.”

Prosecutors state that her Twitter messages, chat logs and emails referred to a Russian businessman “with deep ties to the Russian Presidential Administration,” that this unnamed person often travels to the United States and has been referred to as her “funder” in Butina’s correspondence.

In 2014 Butina engaged in text messages with a different wealthy Russian businessman concerning budgets for her trip to America and meetings with her “funder,” Kenerson wrote.

Those officials were not identified.

Butina was assisted in her efforts to make contact with influential Americans by Erickson, a political consultant from South Dakota who once helped run Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign and whom Butina met after hosting him and other American gun enthusiasts in Russia in 2013.

While the two lived together and had a personal relationship, prosecutors said it was a “duplicitous” one, saying that they found papers in which the 29-year-old “expressed disdain” about having to live with 56-year-old Erickson.

“On at least on occasion, Butina offered an individual other than [Erickson] sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization,” according to Wednesday’s filing.

The organization was not identified.

Prosecutors also said in court filings Wednesday that Butina had plotted with Erickson how she should manage visas to remain in the United States. They surveilled Butina and Erickson entering a Washington bank last week and sending a $3,500 wire transfer to Russia, and then on Saturday inquiring at a U-Haul facility about renting a truck and purchasing moving boxes.

And they alleged that Erickson would help Butina “complete her academic assignments, by editing papers and answering exam questions.”

In an email in 2017, Butina told The Post that Erickson was “one of my friends and political mentors.” She said he had helped her form a consulting company in South Dakota called Bridges LLC, which she had intended to use to pay for her studies. But she said she ultimately found “financial aid” and the company was inactive.

An American University spokesman, who has confirmed Butina received a master’s degree this year, declined to comment but pointed to a university policy that allows the school to revoke the degrees if an internal investigation finds a former student engaged in academic misconduct.

The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.


Comments are not available on this story.