Gov’t Chastises Butina Lawyers For Implying They’re Withholding Evidence

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October 23, 2018 10:53 am
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In a detailed Monday court filing, lawyers for alleged Russian agent Mariia Butina accused federal prosecutors of failing to provide easy access to key evidence involving their client, including “exculpatory information.”

In their response, the government said there was just one problem with those accusations: they were baseless.

“During our previous discussions, you have advanced certain hypothetical scenarios involving your client, including a supposed ‘dangle’ operation or the acquisition of exculpatory information from ‘Cis,’ which we take to mean confidential government informants,” U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu wrote in a letter to Butina attorney Robert Driscoll. “It appeared at the time of our discussions that you based these ideas not on firsthand knowledge of any events, but rather on speculation based on claims made in some unidentified media articles.”

Noting that Driscoll has now insisted that his team “know[s] this information exists,” Liu continued: “The government was surprised by this newly adamant assertion, and we invite you to provide us any additional information you may have concerning the provenance or existence of the information you request.”

This is the latest clash in the case involving Butina, who was charged this summer with one count of failing to register as a Russian agent and another of engaging in conspiracy against the United States. Butina has pleaded not guilty. She has been deemed a flight risk by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan and is being held in an Alexandria, Virginia jail.

Chutkan has criticized both sides in the high-profile case. At a September hearing, the judge chastised Driscoll for violating the gag order the judge imposed by chatting with the media about the case. Prosecutors were scolded for making “salacious” allegations in the indictment about Butina offering to trade sex for a job, which they largely walked back in subsequent court filings.

The parties are next due in court on Nov. 13 for a status hearing.

Their latest kerfuffle is over the defendants’ access to discovery materials. Driscoll’s letter lays out his desire for a discovery index that includes Russian-English translations of all the relevant materials, page numbers, and other identifying information. He accused federal prosecutors of intentionally turning over “a huge file of useless and superfluous material to frustrate the defendant’s review.”

Driscoll also asked for material that he said would “undermine the allegations in the indictment, attack the credibility of the government’s case, [and] impeach government witnesses.”

In the government’s response, Liu said she was unaware that such material existed: “We welcome any further information from you which might assist us in locating what, if any, information might be the basis for your concerns.”

He said that the government is conducting an ongoing review into the “hypothetical scenarios” that Driscoll floated about prosecutors luring a confidential informant into divulging damaging information about Butina.

As for the materials already provided, Liu said, prosecutors have made an FBI Computer Analysis Response Team (CART) analyst available to help sort through the trove of electronic evidence.

Liu also noted that a second hard drive of electronic evidence made available to the defense over a month ago has yet to be retrieved.

Correction: This article initially said Butina was being held at a Washington, D.C. jail. Butina was moved in late August from a D.C. facility to the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria. 

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