Judge orders alleged Russian agent to remain in custody

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They add to the portrait of a Russian woman who the Justice Department contends worked covertly to establish back-channel lines of communication to the Kremlin and infiltrate U.S. political organisations, including the National Rifle Association, and gather intelligence for a senior Russian official.

"I know Putin and I'll tell you what", Trump told Butina, "we get along with Putin..."

Court papers do not name the individual or the special interest group.

The DOJ charges that from 2015 through at least February 2017 Butina worked at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government - Alexander Torshin, the state secretary-deputy governor of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation who was sanctioned by the Treasury Department in April - and at times with "an American political operative " (identified as U.S. Person 1) to "jointly arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics for the goal of advancing the agenda of the Russian Federation".

Butina's attorney Robert Driscoll entered a not guilty plea on behalf of Butina, who appeared in court Wednesday in an orange prison jumpsuit.

They also claim she's "well-connected to wealthy businessmen in the Russian oligarchy", by detailing a correspondence with a "funder" who is a "known Russian businessman with deep ties to the Russian Presidential Administration".

"The defendant's legal status in the United States is predicated on deception", they wrote in a filing Wednesday.

A federal grand jury indictment returned on Tuesday accuses Butina of partaking in a Kremlin-directed plot to ingratiate herself with USA political figures in order to convince them to pursue Russian interests.

The Russian official is believed to be Alexander Torshin, deputy head of the Russian Central Bank and a target of USA sanctions since April. In the days leading up to her arrest, prosecutors said that Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance observed her taking steps to possibly leave the country.

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She also had contact information for people who investigators believe were employees of Russia's Federal Security Services, or FSB, the successor intelligence agency to the KGB.

In March 2017, following news coverage of Butina, the Russian official wrote, "Are your admirers asking for your autographs yet?"

Like Chapman, prosecutors say Butina used sex appeal to further her aims.

In October 2016, "U.S. Person 1" told Butina in an email that he had "been involved in securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key "Political Party 1" leaders through, of all conduits, the "Gun Rights Organization.'" Helson concluded that this email showed the American's "involvement in Butina's efforts to establish a 'back channel" communication for representatives of the Government of Russian Federation". Butina responded, "Good teachers!"

The description of "U.S. Person 1" in the hearing and in court records appear to match that of 56-year-old Paul Erickson, a conservative political activist who lives in South Dakota.

USA prosecutors allege that Butina sought to cultivate close ties with the NRA as a conduit to the Republican Party during the 2016 presidential election.

Russia's foreign ministry, calling the allegations against Butina "groundless", said her detention was carried out to minimize the impact of the recent summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Zakharova added that the Russian authorities were looking to secure access to her.

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