US Prosecutors "Misunderstood" Text Messages When They Fingered Russian Woman As Gun-Rights Honeypot

US Prosecutors are walking back their claim that a now-jailed Russian woman, Maria Butina, traded sex in exchange for a job wihin a "special interest organization," reports the Washington Post

Following the July arrest of Butina, 29, Assistant US Attorney Erik M. Kenerson said that she was offering "sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization." 

Now, months later, the government is backpedaling: 

The concession came in a late-night court filing Friday in which prosecutors said Maria Butina, 29, should stay in custody as a flight risk but wrote “the government’s understanding of this particular text conversation was mistaken.” -Washington Post

The 2015 text exchange between Butina and a married, longtime friend who does public relations work for a Russian gun rights group, and did her a favor by renewing her car insurance, reads:

"I don’t know what you owe me for this insurance[.] They put me through the wringer," her friend texted her in Russian.

"Sex," responded Butina, who added: "Thank you so much. I have nothing else at all. Not a nickel to my name."

The man later replied: "Think of something!! . . . Sex with you does not interest me." 

Prosecutors say that their mistake shouldn't derail the government's overall case - which is not part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election. 

Separate of the text exchange in question, Butina allegedly worked with South Dakota-based GOP Paul Erickson, whom she met in Moscow in 2015, after which a romantic relationship ensued. 

Butina moved to the US on a student visa in 2016, graduating from American University in Washington DC with a master's degree in international relations earlier this year. After her July arrest on charges of acting as a foreign agent without registering with the US government, Butina was transferred to another prison in August. 

Erickson, who has strong ties to both the National Rifle Association and the Russian gun rights community, allegedly attempted to develop a back-channel between the NRA and the Russian government. In May, 2016, Erickson sent an email to Trump campaign adviser Rick Dearborn and Jeff Sessions with the title "Kremlin connection," seeking a meeting between then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at an annual NRA convention. 

Butina, meanwhile, allegedly tried to use Erickson to introduce her to influential political figures in order to arrange a meeting between Trump and her boss, Russian central banker Alexander Torshin.

The Trump campaign declined the invitation, however Torshin and Butina did have a brief interaction with Donald Trump Jr. at a dinner. 

Butina is accused of trying to cultivate “back-channel” relationships with the Republican Party’s leading presidential candidates and develop close ties to the NRA to provide Russian officials “with the best access to and influence over” the party.

Butina allegedly was assisted by Erickson, who helped introduce her to influential political figures and who sought to organize a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Alexander Torshin, Butina’s colleague and a Russian central banker, at a May 2016 NRA convention. -Washington Post

US prosecutors on Friday argued that Butina should remain in jail pending trial, providing additional evidence that Torshin coordinated her activities - claiming that at his direction she drafted language which would persuade the Russian foreign ministry to let him attend the meeting at the NRA event, which she called a "unique opportunity." 

Prosecutors have cited Moscow's vehement protests of Butina's detainment in making their case that she is a Russian operative. 

Prosecutors also cited Moscow’s vehement protests of her case — including six consular visits to Butina in jail, four diplomatic notes, two personal complaints by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the official Kremlin Twitter account placing Butina’s face as its avatar — in telling the judge they “confirmed her relationship with, and value to, her own government.” -Washington Post

The Russian embassy has complained that Butina is being subjected to unwarranted strip searches and denial of proper medical care in an effort to "break her will." Her defense attorney, Robert Driscoll, claims she has suffered health problems in jail and has been denied proper treatment. 

"There’s no allegation of espionage, there’s no allegation of classified information, there’s no allegation she was paying anyone off, there’s no allegation she was recruiting spies. None of the things you would typically see in an espionage case," Driscoll told RT in August

“The significance of defendant Butina to the government of the Russian Federation is evident in light of the Russian government’s actions since her arrest,” prosecutors wrote, adding “so too, does it underscore her risk of flight.”