Prosecutors in talks with accused Russian agent to resolve case - filing

By Sarah N. Lynch
FILE PHOTO: Maria Butina appears in a police booking photograph released by the Alexandria Sheriff's Office in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. August 18, 2018. Alexandria Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors and defence lawyers are in talks potentially to resolve a criminal case accusing gun-rights activist Maria Butina of acting as a Russian agent to infiltrate a pro-gun rights organisation in the United States and influence U.S. foreign policy toward Russia.

The parties "continue to engage ... in negotiations regarding a potential resolution of this matter," they wrote in a joint filing on Friday, without elaborating on what a resolution may entail.

The filing also asked a federal judge to delay a status hearing on the case scheduled for Dec. 6 and said that defence lawyers are poised to withdraw motions they filed on Thursday asking for the case to be dismissed if the judge agrees to delay the hearing.

Judge Tanya Chutkan in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the delay later on Friday, and scheduled a new hearing for Dec. 19.

Robert Driscoll, attorney for Butina and who is under a media gag order imposed by the judge in the case, declined to comment when asked whether his client may plead guilty in order to resolve the case.

Butina, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, has been held in a federal jail since her arrest over the summer.

The former American University graduate student was charged in July with acting as an agent of the Russian government and conspiring to take actions on behalf of Russia.

Butina is accused of working with a Russian official and two U.S. citizens to try and infiltrate the National Rifle Association and influence American foreign policy toward Russia.

Butina's lawyers have previously identified the Russian official as Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia's central bank who was hit with U.S. Treasury Department sanctions in April.

They also identified one of the two Americans mentioned in the criminal complaint as being Paul Erickson, a conservative U.S. political activist who was also dating Butina.

Neither Erickson nor Torshin have been accused of wrongdoing.

Prosecutors have said they believe Butina is a flight risk and claimed she had been in contact with Russian intelligence operatives and kept contact information for several Russian agents.

However, they have also made some serious missteps in handling the case, including erroneously accusing Butina of offering sex in exchange for a position in a special interest group.

They later backed off the claim and earned scorn from the judge, who said the incorrect allegations were "notorious" and had damaged Butina's reputation.


(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Dan Grebler and Richard Chang)