Alleged Russian Agent’s Lawyers Call U.S. ‘Craven’ for Misstatement

(Bloomberg) -- Lawyers for alleged Russian agent Maria Butina filed a fiery brief late Sunday accusing the U.S. of overstating its case by either mistakenly or intentionally including false statements in earlier motions to keep their client in jail ahead of her trial.

Those statements “are either the product of a stunning disinterest in reading the documents already in the government’s possession or a craven willingness to mislead the court — and the public — in an attempt to detain a woman convicted of no crime,” Butina’s lawyers wrote in response to prosecutors who oppose granting her bail.

The government said Friday that it “was mistaken” in interpreting a text conversation between Butina and an unidentified individual as her offering sex in exchange for a role in a special interest group. Butina’s lawyers said in an Aug. 24 filing rebutting the prosecution’s reading of the text that she had been joking with a friend who also handled press relations for her Russian guns rights group, whom they referred to as DK. They quoted the exchange, which followed DK taking her car in for inspection and insurance renewal and went like this, according to on the government’s translation:

  • “I don’t know what you owe me for this insurance they put me through the wringer.”
  • “Sex. Thank you so much. I have nothing else at all. Not a nickel to my name.”
  • “Ugh . . . ( ”
  • DK continues, saying the car “is at the house, the insurance and documents are on the table at your house, winter tires are in the trunk of your car.”

In arguing that Butina presents a significant flight risk, government lawyers disputed Butina’s lawyer Robert Driscoll’s depiction of a romance she had with an unidentified U.S. Person 1, saying she “recently offered to provide information to the government about his illegal activities.” That was presented as proof that her ties to the U.S. were fading and so she couldn’t be trusted to stay in the country if released on bond.

U.S. Person 1 matches the description of Paul Erickson, a conservative political operative. Driscoll shared with ABC News photos and video of Butina and Erickson and has identified Erickson as her boyfriend.

Butina’s lawyers countered that she had little to no information to offer the government about Erickson’s activities and that prosecutors’ attempts to paint her as a “snitch” are meant to raise more doubt about her integrity.

“The court should deny the government’s invitation to endorse its ‘snitches get stitches’ argument as unlawful and a wrongful contention that providing evidence or testimony to the government is disloyal rather than upstanding,” Butina’s lawyers said.

Butina, a gun-rights advocate who came to the U.S. on a student visa, has been in custody since her July arrest after prosecutors alleged that she had ties to Russia’s intelligence services and oligarchs who are capable of helping her flee. She’s accused of trying to establish back-channel connections between Russia and conservative groups, and has denied any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors in the case have also asked U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan for a gag order to prevent Driscoll from speaking to the media. Driscoll has opposed the motion, saying it prevents him from providing a “competent and vigorous defense.”

Chutkan is expected to rule on both the motion for pre-trial release and a gag order Monday.

The case is U.S. v. Butina, 18-cr-00218, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

(An earlier version of the story corrected who Butina was wrongly alleged to have offered sex to.)

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