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Maria Butina asks to be released pending trial in government’s case against accused Russian agent

August 24, 2018

Lawyers for accused Russian operative Maria Butina asked a federal judge Friday to release her from jail while she awaits trial for allegedly acting as an unregistered foreign agent, slamming elements of the government’s case against her as “pure fiction.”

Attorney representing the 29-year-old former American University student filed documents in D.C. federal court opposing an earlier ruling that ordered her to be held in custody pending trial, arguing instead in favor of releasing their client on a “home detention basis with electronic monitoring.”

“To be sure, the counts alleged in the indictment (acting as a foreign agent without registration and conspiracy) are serious charges that carry ten and five year maximum sentences, respectively,” they wrote in a memorandum filed in support of a motion for bond review. “However, they are not offenses that carry a rebuttable presumption that no condition of release or combination of conditions would reasonably assure a defendant’s appearance.”

Attorneys prosecuting Ms. Butina on behalf of the Justice Department did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Ms. Butina was arrested July 15 in connection with allegedly attempting to covertly infiltrate American political organizations for the purpose of advancing Russian interests. A magistrate judge subsequently labeled her a flight risk and ordered her to be held pending trial, prompting defense attorneys to mount a challenge in the form of Friday’s filings.

″[T]he government’s claim that no release conditions will reasonably assure her future appearance in court is an exaggeration,” lawyers Robert Driscoll and Alfred Carry wrote on behalf of Ms. Butina.

“The assertion that she was arrested for an alleged ‘role in a covert Russian influence operation in the United States’ ... is a war drum based on pure fiction,” her attorneys added. “Nothing about her activities in the United States were covert or clandestine.”

Federal prosecutors previously took aim at the defense lawyers’ earlier characterizations about the case, writing in a letter filed in court Thursday that a gag order will be requested if Ms. Butina’s attorneys continue to publicly comment on her case in violation of local court rules.

According to the filing, Ms. Butina’s attorneys have repeatedly discussed aspects of their clients case with members of the media in spite of being previously instructed otherwise.

“Further, if the government continues to encounter evidence of further violations of the Rule, the government may seek relief from the Court,” prosecutors wrote.

Neither Mr. Driscoll nor Mr. Carry immediately returned messages seeking comment on the government’s warning.

Ms. Butina allegedly attempted to covertly influence U.S. policy in part through her contacts with people associated with the Republican Party and organization linked to the GOP. Moscow strongly condemned her arrest and has previously requested her release.

She is currently being held in Alexandria, Virginia, at the same facility as Paul Manafort, the former Trump election campaign chairman convicted this week of tax and bank fraud.

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