The US Justice Department has asked a federal court to detain alleged Russian agent Maria Butina pending her trial, claiming she poses a serious flight risk, has ties to Russian intelligence and will likely appeal to people in the Russian government to assist her in fleeing.
Part of that effort allegedly involved leveraging her ties to the National Rifle Association, which she'd cultivated as founder of the Russian gun group The Right To Bear Arms, in order to gain access to conservative political circles and Republican lawmakers.
Butina was arrested over the weekend amid signs that she planned to leave the country.
Prosecutor Erik Kenerson told the court that "the evidence is overwhelming the defendant was here on behalf of the government of Russia.to carry out a covert influence campaign".
The Justice Department said Butina had broken United States law by not disclosing to authorities that she was acting on behalf of the Russian government.
The 29-year-old told a Russian official she must remain "incognito" and keep everything "quiet and careful" the month before the 2016 United States election, according to messages allegedly uncovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The filings also describe certain actions taken by Butina to further this effort during multiple visits from Russian Federation and, later, when she entered and resided in the United States on a student visa.
"[Chapman] poses with toy pistols, while you are being published with real ones".
Butina allegedly arranged dinners in Washington and NY and tried to develop relationships with American politicians to establish "back channel" lines of communication to "penetrate the US national decision-making apparatus", the Justice Department's complaint said.
Butina has not been charged with espionage or with being a member of a Russian intelligence service. He and the Russians sought to use the imprimatur of the NRA in order to arrange meetings between USA political leaders and Trump, citing a "back channel" Erickson had forged with the Kremlin.
She has been accused of working with a high-powered Russian official and two unnamed American citizens, trying to infiltrate a pro-gun rights organization in the United States and influence the United States' foreign policy toward Russia. Authorities added that Butina has ties to wealthy businessmen in the Russian oligarchy. That individual appears to fit the profile of Alexander Torshin, a former senator and Russian central banker who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department earlier this year. Butina had been living in Washington since 2016, after coming to the USA on a student visa to study at American University.
Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was cited as saying there were no grounds for the detention of Russian Maria Butina, who was arrested on Sunday, a day before presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump met in Helsinki.
The investigation into Butina's activities began before Robert Mueller was brought on as special counsel in May 2017 and is being handled by the Justice Department's national security unit. Law enforcement officials then became concerned that Butina appeared to be planning to leave the Washington area and made a decision to seek charges and make an arrest, according to people familiar with the case.