WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal judge on Wednesday ordered accused Russian agent Maria Butina jailed until her trial after U.S. prosecutors argued she has ties to Russian intelligence and poses a serious flight risk.
The Justice Department said Butina has been in contact with Russian intelligence operatives, kept contact information for several Russian agents and had a handwritten note in her Washington apartment asking how to respond to an offer of employment with a Russian intelligence agency.
During a preliminary hearing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, prosecutors showed a photo of Butina meeting an alleged Russian intelligence agent at a Washington restaurant.
The 29-year-old former American University graduate student wore an orange prison jumpsuit and showed no emotion as her lawyer entered a not-guilty plea.
She has been accused of working with a high-powered Russian official and two unidentified U.S. citizens, trying to infiltrate a pro-gun rights organization in the United States and influence the United States’ foreign policy toward Russia.
The gun rights group was not identified. However, her social media accounts show she attended many National Rifle Association events and met with many top officials of the lobbying group.
Her attorney, Robert Driscoll, has said she is not a Russian agent and poses no flight risk, after she was arrested on Sunday without warning.
In a statement to reporters after the hearing, Driscoll said Butina wanted to send love to her parents and tell them she was OK. “While we respect the court, we strongly disagree that there were no conditions of release short of incarceration to detain an innocent student before trial,” he said.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said there were no grounds for her arrest, and that its embassy in Washington has requested a meeting with Butina.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Tim Ahmann and Jonathan Oatis