A lawyer for Maria Butina, the NRA-linked Russian national accused of acting as an agent for the country without properly registering, expressed serious doubt Wednesday about allegations made by prosecutors that she offered an individual sex in exchange for a job.
Butina’s attorney Robert Driscoll told a federal judge in D.C. that they had “no idea” what the government was “talking about” in making the claim.
“We don’t believe it’s true,” Driscoll said.
The remark came during a hearing in front of U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, where the parties were debating the limits that could be put on discovery in the case. Driscoll pointed specifically to the claim — made in a government court filing seeking to put Butina in jail pending trial — and said her defense team would like to see the evidence underlying the allegation.
Butina was arrested earlier this month and faces charges of failure to register as a foreign agent and conspiracy against the U.S. She has pleaded not guilty.
At Wednesday’s hearing, the lawyer for the government Thomas Saunders accused Driscoll of mischaracterizing the case on television appearances. He said the government has some 1.5 million files its ready to turn over to Butina in the next few days for discovery, but that they are being held up by a fight over what’s known as a protective order, which lays out the rules on how the discovery material is handled.
Saunders said Butina’s lawyers were demanding “free rein” for what they can do with the discovery, and that Driscoll’s media appearance since Butina’s arrest had “magnified” prosecutors’ concerns that her lawyers would inappropriately share the discovery material with the press.
The prosecutors cited specifically ongoing investigations in other cases as a reason public dissemination of discovery materials should be limited.
Driscoll defended his efforts to “zealously represent” his client, and said that his TV appearances were an “eye dropper” in the bucket of negative press she has been subjected to.
He said he had no issue with the proposed rules placed on materials from the government, but he claimed that, according to the government, most of the evidence was from Butina’s computer.
“We’re not talking about state secrets here,” he said.
Driscoll said that his client’s objections to the government’s proposed protective order were based on the limits imposed on materials previously in her possession, including her diary and her immigration papers.
Chutkan seemed skeptical of that argument.
“Simply because it was in her possession doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be subject to protective order,” she said.
She ordered that the government file its proposal and for Butina’s lawyers to respond with their objections. She also scheduled another hearing for the afternoon of Sept. 10.