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In what feels like a James Bond film come to life, federal prosecutors say a female Russian spy employed a myriad of shadowy tactics, including sex, to accomplish her agendas.
Maria Butina, 29, was arrested on Sunday and charged with conspiracy and illegally acting as an agent of the Russian government. On Wednesday, she had a hearing in a New York federal court, according to The New York Times.
In court, prosecutor Erik Kenerson said that "the evidence is overwhelming the defendant was here on behalf of the government of Russia ... to carry out a covert influence campaign," according to NPR.
Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson ruled that Butina must stay jailed while she's awaiting trial since she's a flight risk.
Butina is accused of acting as an agent of the Russian government for four years—beginning as early as 2014—and using her wiles to influence Republicans while conferring secretly with Russian intelligence. She came to the United States in 2016 on a student visa to attend American University. Additionally, in an attempt to secure employment that would permit her a longer stay in the U.S., Butina is accused of trying to trade sex for a job.
According to prosecutors, Butina moved in with a Republican political actor twice her age—identified by NPR as fundraiser Paul Erickson—and described the man as her boyfriend. She apparently expressed a "disdain" for him and forced him to do her schoolwork.
Through a clandestine $125,000 operation, Butina wanted to build relationships with Republican political leaders through the National Rifle Association, as well as Christian groups and other right-leaning political organizations, prosecutors said.
The NRA has not yet commented on Butina or her connection to Russian intelligence officers. Although prosecutors haven't named parties or politicians, she clearly targeted Republican leaders, The New York Times reported.
Meanwhile, Butina's lawyer, Robert N. Driscoll, has intentionally distanced his client from the hubbub surrounding Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Butina wasn't indicted in Mueller's probe, Driscoll said, and she shouldn't be lumped in with other Russian nationals that have been charged. According to The New York Times, Butina has not been charged with espionage, despite her frequent contacts with Russian intelligence.
“Ms. Butina is not a proxy for any of the serious or substantial issues,” he said, referring to the U.S. and Russia's rocky political relationship.
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