The Russian woman who was charged Monday for acting as an agent of the Russian government is actually just a high-performing graduate student, according to her American attorney.
“Maria Butina is not an agent of the Russian Federation,” Robert N. Driscoll said in a lengthy statement issued late Monday. “She is a Russian national in the United States on a student visa who recently graduated from American University in Washington, D.C. with a Masters Degree in International Relations and 4.0 grade point average.”
Butina, 29, was arrested by the FBI on Sunday and charged with “conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government.” The criminal complaint and accompanying affidavit allege that she spent years cultivating ties to high-level Republicans, using connections she forged through associates of the National Rifle Association.
Allegedly acting on the orders of Alexander Torshin, a high-level Russian politician and lifelong NRA member, Butina also sought a “back channel” meeting between Presidents Trump and Vladimir Putin during the 2016 election, the New York Times reported last year.
Butina is being held without bond ahead of her Wednesday hearing in a Washington, D.C. federal court.
According to Driscoll, the FBI’s allegations are “overblown.” All Butina wanted, per his statement, was to “promote a better relationship between the two nations”—a goal she sought to achieve through “open and public networking,” rather than “covert propaganda.”
Driscoll said Butina has been “cooperating with various government entities for months,” voluntarily sitting for an eight-hour closed-door testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He said she was rebuffed when she offered interviews to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
Butina’s case is being handled by the Justice Department’s National Security Division rather than the special counsel. According to the Washington Post, “the investigative work began before [Mueller] was appointed” and continues to be handled by FBI agents and prosecutors outside of his office.
Butina will have some high-powered assistance mounting her defense. Driscoll served as former deputy assistant attorney general under the George W. Bush administration, and as chief of staff of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. A member of the Federalist Society and regular contributor to the National Review, the conservative attorney now leads the Washington D.C. office of the law firm McGlinchey Stafford.