A federal judge in Washington, D.C., Monday denied the request of alleged Russian agent Mariia Butina to be released from jail before her trial.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said at a hearing Monday that she agreed with the conclusions previously reached by a magistrate judge that Butina was a flight risk, due to the serious nature of her crime, her lack of connections to the United States and the fact that Russia does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.
Chutkan also issued a gag order in the case, scolding Butina attorney Robert Driscoll for his public comments about the case and saying he had “crossed the line.”
There comes a point, Chutkan said, where you defend your client in court, and “not on the public airways.”
At the same time, Chutkan scolded prosecutors for making “rather salacious” allegations about the defendant offering to trade sex for an employment position. The government largely walked back those allegations in a new filing Friday. Chutkan said it took her a few minutes to look at Butina’s text messages about sex and tell they were a joke. “I am concerned” that someone at the Justice Department would look at those messages and make that allegation, Chutkan said in court.
“Mr. Driscoll is right” Chutkan said, that the “notorious” allegations “damaged [Butina’s] reputation.”
Butina is charged with conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent without properly registering. According to the government’s court filings and independent reporting, she sought to make connections with influential members of the Republican Party, particularly through the National Rifle Association, in order to improve U.S. relations with Russia.
She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Driscoll also got a tongue lashing from the judge for submitting videos Monday morning to go along with Butina’s request to be released from jail. The videos, according to the judge, were tapes of birthday greetings from Butina’s parents for her “boyfriend” — known as Person 1 in the court docs, but reportedly GOP operative Paul Erickson — as well as a video of Butina and Erikson lip-synching the theme from the Disney classic “Beauty and the Beast.”
“I am not on sure what on earth their relevance is,” Chutkan said of videos, while chiding Driscoll for submitting them mere hours before the hearing.
Lawyers for Butina have mounted a blistering defense, accusing prosecutors of wrongfully smearing her as a seductress, mischaracterizing the evidence against her, and misrepresenting benign conduct as criminal.
The defense counsel’s fiery rhetoric in their pleadings also got a call-out from Chutkan, who called the language “inflammatory” and “quite descriptive.”
The judge said she was “not sure if the language is designed” to influence her thinking about the case, hinting that here too, Driscoll is speaking to the press rather than to the court.
Correction: Due to an editing error, the judge was initially misidentified in this post. We regret the error.