Maria Butina and Russian official Alexander Torshin in 2012.
Photo: Pavel Ptitsin (AP)

In a court filing on Friday, prosecutors said they misunderstood text messages by accused Russian agent Maria Butina, and that mistake led them to wrongly accuse her of exchanging sex for political access in the U.S.

Nevertheless, the remaining allegations that Butina worked on behalf of the Russian government without registering in the U.S. are strong enough to require her to remain in jail pending trial, prosecutors argued ahead of a Monday hearing.

The filing states:

Following the detention hearing, the defense has disputed the assertion in the government’s memorandum in support of pretrial detention that the defendant offered sex in exchange “for a position with a special interest organization.” That statement was based both on a series of text messages between the defendant and another individual, “DK”15 and other information about the relationship between the defendant and DK gained through a review of additional communications between them. Even granting that the government’s understanding of this particular text conversation was mistaken, other communications and materials in the government’s possession (and produced to the defense) call into doubt the defendant’s claim that her relationship with U.S. Person 1 is a sufficiently strong tie to ensure her appearance in court to face the charges against her if she is released.

Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, said the text that prosecutors based the claim on was three years old and sent to a close friend, the Associated Press reported.

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According to the AP:

The individual, identified in court papers only as DK, had said in the text that he didn’t know what Butina would owe him after he took her car for an insurance renewal and government inspection. She replied, “Sex. Thank you so much. I have nothing else at all. Not a nickel to my name.”

Driscoll said the statement was clearly a joke.

“I’m happy the government walked back their false allegation,” he told the AP.

However, prosecutors said “the weight of the evidence against the defendant is substantial.”

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“The essence of the charges against the defendant is that she acted on U.S. soil as an agent of the Russian Federation, at the direction of a senior Russian government official…without first having notified the Attorney General, thereby denying the U.S. government the opportunity to decide whether to allow her access to the United States in light of her activities,” they added.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia argues that Butina began in 2015 by “laying out her plan to serve as an unofficial agent” in a written proposal intended for Russian officials. That plan included identifying and establishing contact with people she believed would win the presidential nomination for the Republican Party the following year.

She also organized “U.S.-Russia Friendship Dinners” in Washington, DC that were approved by a Russian official, the filing alleges. Additionally, Butina is accused of using her political contacts to network with U.S. government officials at the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast and with members of a “Gun Rights Organization,” a reference to the National Rifle Association.

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Butina, 29, was arrested in July. She has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent.