Accused Russian spy Maria Butina asks for house arrest

Butina has been in jail since July 15

By KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN
Facebook/Maria Butina via CNN

Maria Butina at the NRA Annual Meeting in Nashville in 2015.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The alleged Russian spy Maria Butina should be released from jail and placed on house arrest, her attorneys argued in a court filing Friday that seeks to paint her as a humble student whose interactions with Americans and Russians are overblown by prosecutors who indicted her for acting illegally as a foreign agent.

Specifically, Butina's defense team describes her relationship to Russian billionaire Alexander Torshin, who allegedly mentored her in attempts to infiltrate Republican politics, as "actually just a friend."

Her lawyers also included a text message chain in which a married gun rights advocate whom Butina allegedly offered to sleep with in an attempt to gain political influence said he would "never sleep with a redhead" like Butina.

Butina, 29, has been in jail -- first in Washington, now in Alexandria, Virginia -- since July 15, when she pleaded not guilty to the foreign agent charges in DC federal court. Butina's house arrest request will be discussed at a court hearing on Sept. 10, the judge said.

The Siberian-born former American University graduate student allegedly built Republican Party connections through gun rights groups including the NRA and through the National Prayer Breakfast as a way to push pro-Russian interests, prosecutors charge.

Prosecutors have pointed to extensive text conversations Butina had with Torshin while in the US, including when they discussed other accused Russian spies, as well as her communications with a Russian spy agency and a dinner in Washington she spent with a Russian diplomat suspected of working in intelligence. Prosecutors have told the court they believe she could flee easily if released, especially if the Russian government were to pick her up in a diplomatic vehicle in Washington.

"The government relies on innuendo and undefined phrases, soundbites and alarmist buzzwords," her attorneys wrote Friday. "The assertion that she was arrested for an alleged 'role in a covert Russian influence operation in the United States' is a war drum based on pure fiction."

Regarding the person she may have had sex with, her attorneys describe him only with the initials "DK," and call him her longtime friend and public relations person for her gun rights group The Right to Bear Arms.

At one point, the man took her car for an inspection, the filing said, and texted her the suggestion that she owed him.

"Butina jokingly replied, 'Sex. Thank you so much. I have nothing else at all. Not a nickel to my name.' DK responded: 'Ugh . . . ( '---that is, with a sad face emoticon," the filing said.

"Maria continued her thanks, '[DK], thank you so much!!!!! Ask for anything . . . . . . you want.' And DK volleyed back, 'Think of something!! Sex with you does not interest me. Think!'

Butina's attorney asserts she considered returning to Russia for law school or transferring to Harvard University once she arrived at American University, showing her interest in academic studies.

"No person from the Russian government instructed her to go to American," the filing says.

In her Harvard application, she wrote about her "Motherland" and how Russia and the United States could be "partners (again) on the world stage," according to her graduate application essay, which was included in the filing Friday among other documents.

Torshin had written her a letter of recommendation for Harvard and for Columbia University's graduate school as well.

Harvard offered her an admissions interview in January 2017, according to the filing.

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