Accused Russian agent traded sex for influence, prosecutors say

Maria Butina has been accused of trying to infiltrate a pro-gun rights organisation

Maria Butina has been accused of trying to infiltrate a pro-gun rights organisation

Citing her intelligence ties, the government is arguing that Butina poses an "extreme" risk of fleeing the US, where she has been living on a student visa.

But she had been in the United States multiple times before that, and even questioned then-candidate Donald Trump in July 2015 at a public forum, asking him what his policies would be toward Russian Federation.

Butina's involvement in US political affairs has also extended beyond the pro-gun camp.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents discovered March 2017 messages between Butina and Alexander Torshin, the Russian government official whom they've described as her main point of contact in Russia, in which he allegedly wrote: "You have upstaged Anna Chapman". Law enforcement officials then became concerned that Butina appeared to be planning to leave the Washington area and chose to seek charges and make an arrest, according to people familiar with the case.

The Justice Department alleges that Ms Butina lied to the government when she applied for a student visa, by declaring she no longer worked for a top Russian official who was recently sanctioned by the Treasury Department.

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Maria Butina, an apparent pro-gun rights campaigner, took part in a "years-long conspiracy" to secretly work in America on behalf of the Russian government, U.S. prosecutors have claimed.

US federal prosecutors suggest Maria Butina used her gun-lobbying efforts to infiltrate the NRA and the Republican Party, both during the 2016 presidential campaign and after Trump's election.

Butina, who founded a pro-gun Russian advocacy group called Right to Bear Arms, has not been charged with espionage or with being a member of a Russian intelligence service.

The 29-year-old former American University graduate student was set to appear for a preliminary hearing in the US District Court for the District of Columbia this afternoon.

Prosecutors also alleged that she used a personal relationship with an unnamed American political operative, with whom she was living, "as simply a necessary aspect" of her covert activities on behalf of Russian Federation.

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Maria Butina, the Russian gun-rights activist who has been accused by the American government of being a spy, allegedly offered sex to an unnamed official in exchange for a job with an unnamed "special interest organization".

In the email, Butina asked the unnamed Russian official for $125,000 to participate in "all upcoming major conferences" of "Political Party 1". But Donald Trump Jr. and Torshin did attend a separate NRA dinner the same night.

Butina is also a gun rights activist in Russian Federation and a former gun store owner.

Butina's lawyer Robert Driscoll said the charges were overblown, saying she was just a student who "at most" wanted a better relationship between the USA and Russian Federation. Butina had been living in Washington since 2016, after coming to the USA on a student visa to study at American University.

If Butina were permitted to remain at liberty, he warned, the Russian government could get her out of the country and the US government might have no way to guarantee that she would appear.

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Butina and the official messaged each other directly on Twitter, prosecutors said.

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