Prosecutors acknowledged that they misunderstood a series of text messages and are backing off their explosive claim that a Russian woman accused of working as a spy offered to trade sex for access. Maria Butina’s lawyers had long contested the way prosecutors had been portraying their client as a character straight out of a spy novel. “On at least one occasion, Butina offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization,” prosecutors said in a July court filing.
Late Friday though, prosecutors acknowledged in a court filing they were “mistaken” in how they interpreted a series of conversations. Regardless, government attorneys insist there are still plenty of reasons to question Butina’s commitment to her boyfriend, Paul Erickson.
“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,” notes the government’s filing.
The 29-year-old Butina has pleaded not guilty to charges she was acting as an agent for the Russian government. And while the change in tune about the sex-for-access claim may not actually alter the fundamentals of the case, it does provide a big victory for the defense considering the claim is one of the main reasons why the case received so much national attention in the first place. “The impact of this inflammatory allegation, which painted Ms. Butina as some type of Kremlin-trained seductress, or spy-novel honeypot character, trading sex for access and power, cannot be overstated,” Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, said.