Back in July, a Russian nationalist, Maria Butina, was arrested and charged as acting as an unregistered foreign agent. According to the government, Butina was acting at the behest of the Russian government.
According to the affidavit in support of the complaint, from as early as 2015 and continuing through at least February 2017, Butina worked at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government who was previously a member of the legislature of the Russian Federation and later became a top official at the Russian Central Bank. This Russian official was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control in April 2018.
The court filings detail the Russian official’s and Butina’s efforts for Butina to act as an agent of Russia inside the United States by developing relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation. The filings also describe certain actions taken by Butina to further this effort during multiple visits from Russia and, later, when she entered and resided in the United States on a student visa. The filings allege that she undertook her activities without officially disclosing the fact that she was acting as an agent of Russian government, as required by law.
In additional filings, the government sought to paint Butina as some sort of Natasha Fatale who had shacked up with Person 1, thought to be 56-year-old conservative activist Paul Erickson, but who was willing to trade sex for better access:
Court filings on Wednesday say Ms Butina was living with an unnamed 56-year-old American – identified in documents as US Person 1 – with whom she had a “personal relationship”.
Prosecutors say she described the man – who was nearly twice her age – as her boyfriend.
“But this relationship does not represent a strong tie to the United States because Butina appears to treat it as simply a necessary aspect of her activities,” said the court papers.
She had “expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with” the American man, according to documents seized by the FBI, and got him to do her university homework.
Prosecutors said she did not appear to take the attachment seriously because “on at least one occasion, Butina offered an individual other than US Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organisation”.
Now the government is amending that a bit:
U.S. prosecutors have acknowledged they misunderstood text messages they used to claim in court that a Russian woman traded sex for access and should be jailed pending trial on charges she was a foreign agent attempting to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and other American conservative groups.
The concession came in a late-night court filing Friday in which prosecutors said Maria Butina, 29, should stay in custody as a flight risk but wrote “the government’s understanding of this particular text conversation was mistaken.”
This is one helluva mistake, donchathink?
Prosecutors can plant wrong, inflammatory, and damaging stories about defendants with no real consequence, part 24,873 https://t.co/borWy2qfw6
— Walter Olson (@walterolson) September 9, 2018
We’ve seen that over and over during the past couple of years–not that it is new but everyone has been watching this stuff much closer since Robert Mueller burst on the scene. The government indicts someone and then either, as in this case, files bullsh** information calculated to titillate and paint the defendant in the worst possible light in order to put their narrative into the media–think about Paul Manafort’s suits–or they leak stuff that turns out to be demonstrably false. Who can forget that George Papadopoulos was supposed to be the linchpin that tied the Trump campaign to Putin but he apparently knew squat and got 14 days in jail for misleading federal investigators about his conversations with what appears more and more to be a stringer of British intelligence.
I’m more than a little unclear on how the allegation that Butina was willing to trade sex for a better job made her more of a Russian agent (the FARA kind, not the Espionage Act kind) or, in fact, made her any different from a substantial plurality of the work force in general. The claim had exactly one purpose: to paint Butina as some sort for Slavic skank, to humiliate her. And they did it, not for any larger tactical reason, but for the same reason a dog licks its butt, because they can.
I’m on Facebook. Drop by and join the fun there.