Breaking News

Judge Chastises Both Sides in Maria Butina Case

Category: Political News,Politics

WASHINGTON — A federal judge chastised both prosecutors and defense lawyers on Monday in the criminal case against Maria Butina, the Russian accused of illegally acting as a covert foreign agent.

The judge’s comments came during a status hearing in federal court in the case against Ms. Butina, who was arrested this summer on charges of illegally seeking to influence Republican politicians on behalf of the Russian government by infiltrating conservative political circles, including the National Rifle Association.

Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued a gag order, saying that Ms. Butina’s defense lawyers were jeopardizing their client’s chances at a fair trial by “trying this case in the media.”

She told one defense lawyer, Robert N. Driscoll, that he had defied her explicit warning not to discuss evidence in the case publicly. “You have overstepped,” she scolded. “Your comments have crossed the line.”

Judge Chutkan also rebuked prosecutors from the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which brought the charges, for mistakenly alleging in court filings that Ms. Butina had offered sex in exchange for a job as part of her work for the Russian government. On Friday, prosecutors acknowledged that they had misinterpreted her innocent text messages with a friend.

The judge told Erik Michael Kenerson, an assistant United States attorney, that she was “dismayed” by the mistake. It took her no more than five minutes, she said, to review the messages and conclude they were meant in jest.

She rejected the latest motion by the defense to release Ms. Butina from custody, saying there was too much risk that she would flee the United States.

The allegations against Ms. Butina, 29, have generated widespread publicity in Russia and the West. Prosecutors claim she carried out an influence campaign directed by Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian central bank. Her lawyers say that Mr. Torshin was a friend and mentor, and that her efforts to connect him with Republican politicians and candidates, including Donald J. Trump, were entirely legal.

On Monday, ABC News, citing email exchanges, reported that Ms. Butina had organized a Moscow visit in December 2015 by a group of N.R.A. board members, fund-raisers and benefactors who met with Mr. Torshin. Jim Liberatore, the president of the cable-television network the Outdoor Channel, also participated. The network later paid Ms. Butina $20,000 over four months to secure the cooperation of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for an outdoor adventure series that was to have featured him in one or more episodes.

The network said in a statement that it stopped payments to Ms. Butina in June 2016, citing “lack of progress.” In an email confirmed by her lawyer before the judge’s gag order, Ms. Butina argued she could still deliver. “No Western media company (or even news organization) has EVER had this much access to President Putin,” she wrote.

Mr. Driscoll said Ms. Butina’s “access” amounted to emailing the Kremlin’s press office, which he said showed just how few connections she had.


Source link

No comments