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Alleged Russian Spy’s Lawyer Situation Got Weird All of a Sudden


Maria Butina mugshot

There’s been another twist in the legal peril of alleged Russian spy Maria Butina.

A federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has appointed a public defender for Butina’s case, court records show. As Law&Crime’s Ronn Blitzer reported earlier Thursday, Judge Tanya Chutkan scheduled a conference call on short notice, five days after she scheduled a conference in the Butina case for December 19.

There was some speculation that Republican operative Paul Erickson, who was reportedly Butina’s boyfriend, may be in danger of being charged for conspiracy and for acting as a foreign agent. Pending felony charges against Butina include conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government (Russia) and for impersonating an agent of a foreign government.

Not long after that 11 a.m. phone call, however, Chutkan entered an order appointing federal public defender for the District of Columbia A.J. Kramer as advisory counsel to Butina. It’s still not clear what was discussed during that conference call or why the Kramer move is happening, but Chutkan did enter another order related to it on Thursday.

Butina’s defense has been given until 5 p.m. on Dec. 10, 2018 to “show cause in writing why the court should not unseal the sealed portion of the transcript of the telephone conference held on December 6, 2018.” We’ll see how that argument goes.

Law&Crime has reached out to Kramer, Driscoll, and a third attorney of record, Alfred Carry, for comment. Kramer would only say that there is a gag order in the case.

Kramer, it appears, previously vouched for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh‘s character in a prepared statement submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“My name is A.J. Kramer, and I am the Federal Public Defender for the District of Columbia. In that position, I represent indigent criminal defendants before the United States District Court in D.C. as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit,” he said. “I am here today in my personal capacity (and am not speaking on behalf of any Federal Defender office or the program).”

“America needs an Associate Justice who can apply the law fairly and neutrally to all cases that come before him. Judge Kavanaugh has repeatedly demonstrated that he is that judge,” he added.

The Butina case has been marred by some wackiness, both on the part of the government and the defense.

Her lawyer Robert Driscoll, in one instance, was called out by federal prosecutors for “extrajudicial statements” he made about the case. But this same Judge Chutkan memorably slammed the government for the most salacious allegations made against Butina: that she traded sex “in exchange for a position with a public interest organization,” the organization being the NRA.

Chutkan said that it took her five minutes to figure out Butina’s sex messages were jokes.

[Image via Alexandria Detention Center]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.