Russian national Maria Butina has pleaded not guilty before a US court on charges of conspiracy to act in the interest of Moscow. Her attorney described the 29-year-old as an "innocent student."
Suspected Russian agent Maria Butina appeared before a US federal judge in Washington, DC, on Wednesday for the first court hearing following her arrest three days earlier. The court ordered the woman to remain in jail until the start of her trial.
The 29-year-old Butina faces charges of conspiracy and acting illegally as an agent for the Russian government. Specifically, prosecutors claim Butina was working with an influential Russian official and two Americans, trying to infiltrate a pro-gun rights organization and influence Washington's policy on Russia.
During the Wednesday hearing, lead prosecutor Erik Michael Kenerson said Butina was engaged in the "covert influence campaign" at least as early as 2015.
The prosecution showed a photo of Butina, who had attended American University in DC, meeting a suspected Russian intelligence agent in a restaurant in the city. Also, the prosecution displayed a copy of a handwritten note found by the FBI, allegedly by Butina, in which she asks how to respond to an employment offer by a Russian intelligence agency.
'Not a spy case'
Butina showed up in court wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and entered a not-guilty plea through her lawyer, Robert Driscoll.
Addressing reporters after the hearing, Driscoll protested the court's decision to keep Butina jailed and told them she posed no flight risk.
"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.
He added that the trial was "not a spy case."
"The government is speculating that someone is a Russian spy, but thousands of Russians met intelligence operatives" in the US, he said.
According to Driscoll, Butina has cooperated with the government and testified voluntarily about her activities before US Senate Committee on Intelligence.
Separately, a Russian official described Butina's arrest as a political move aimed at undermining positive effects of the meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
"There is an impression the FBI is simply carrying out a clearly political order," said Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
dj/rc (Reuters, AFP, Interfax)