Accused Russian agent Maria Butina is cooperating with U.S. federal investigators in a fraud probe likely involving a Republican operative, according to her attorney.
Butina’s lawyer Robert Driscoll noted her cooperation last week during a detention hearing and has released a letter concerning a cooperation request from the U.S. Justice Department.
Driscoll argued July 18 that she be released on bail, pointing out that his client was not a flight risk and was cooperating in a federal fraud probe in South Dakota, Mother Jones reported.
The prosecutor said in court that the fraud investigation concerned Butina’s romantic partner from Sioux Falls. Though the court case against Butina, 29, doesn’t identify the man by name, at the time of her arrest she was living with GOP conservative activist Paul Erickson, 56, of South Dakota. Federal officials said Erickson reached out to Trump campaign leaders in a bid to establish a “back channel” between the campaign and the Kremlin, The New York Times reported.
Butina was indicted earlier this month on charges of conspiring to influence American politics while covertly serving as an agent of the Russian government. She cultivated political contacts through the National Rifle Association and appeared to be at least partially bankrolled by controversial Russian billionaire Alexander Torshin, former deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank, according to the case against her.
It’s not clear what fraud is being investigated by federal authorities. But Erickson has lost lawsuits for unpaid debts and fraudulent behavior, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
The Rapid City Journal also obtained a letter from Driscoll’s law firm written in May, before Butina was indicted, from the U.S. attorney in South Dakota seeking an agreement on her cooperation in the investigation. The letter sought Butina’s help in providing “information and possible testimony regarding her knowledge of the illegal activities of others.” The letter included statements with room for signatures agreeing to cooperate, though it’s not known if the papers were signed by Butina and her attorney.
Driscoll entered the letter as an exhibit the day he argued that Butina be released on bail, according to the Rapid City newspaper. The judge ruled after the hearing that Butina should remain in custody.
According to the hearing transcript, one of two warrants the FBI used to search Butina’s Washington, D.C., apartment in April was “related to matters in South Dakota.”
The man believed to be Erickson is called “U.S. Person 1” in the indictment against Butina. According to the court documents, U.S. Person 1 helped Butina choose a student visa as her cover in the U.S., lived with her and provided access to politically influential Americans.
Driscoll has said his client is innocent of any criminal activities and that she was simply “networking” in the U.S.