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Judge imposes gag order in Russian foreign agent case

Monday, September 10, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge imposed a gag order today on the lawyers involved in the case of Maria Butina, a Russian gun-rights activist accused of working in America as a secret agent for Moscow.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan also denied a defense request that Butina, 29, be released on bail and placed under house arrest.

The gag order comes days after prosecutors admitted they were wrong to accuse Butina of trading sex for access, saying they misinterpreted one of Butina's text message exchanges. But the prosecutors said there is other evidence to support keeping Butina in custody.

Judge Chutkan said she was "dismayed" by the mistake and by the "rather salacious allegations" made by prosecutors. She said the joking nature of the text message exchange was immediately "apparent on their face" when she read them.

The judge also took aim at Butina's attorney, Robert Driscoll, saying he had "crossed the line" in his frequent public comments about the case.

Prosecutors say Butina gathered intelligence on American officials and political organizations and worked to develop a relationship with American politicians through her contacts with the National Rifle Association.

They say her work was directed by a former Russian lawmaker who was sanctioned this year by the U.S. Treasury Department for his alleged ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.