U.S. Fears for Safety of Russian Cooperator Butina, Filing Says

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. government fears for the safety of Maria Butina, the 30-year-old Russian who’s cooperating with U.S. prosecutors after admitting she failed to register as a foreign agent, according to a court filing.

U.S. Fears for Safety of Russian Cooperator Butina, Filing Says

The disclosure late Friday appeared briefly on the public court docket for the case before it was removed. In the filing, stamped with the words “Under Seal,” prosecutors asked a judge for a court order that would ensure Butina’s safety as she’s transported from an Alexandria, Virginia, jail to the venues where she’ll be debriefed as part of her cooperation agreement. The filing said the defense didn’t object to that request.

“Although the fact of defendant Butina’s cooperation is now public, the details of her transportation to and from the jail are not,” Justice Department lawyers told U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in the filing. “Once disclosed, such information could be used by individuals or entities who might seek to harm or intimidate the defendant to prevent her from continuing to cooperate with law enforcement.”

Butina may attend interviews at U.S. attorneys’ offices in Alexandria and Washington as well as before a federal grand jury in the capital, the filing said. Prosecutors want Chutkan to sign an order ensuring that more than one law enforcement agent is involved in transporting Butina to and from her lock-up.

There’s no indication of what perceived threat prompted the unusual filing. Russians who fall out of favor with their government sometimes die mysteriously. But U.S. cases like Butina’s stir political emotions domestically as well.

Butina on Thursday pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S., and admitted being an unregistered Russian agent who worked to ingratiate herself with influential Republicans and the National Rifle Association.

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