Accused ‘spy’ Maria Butina wouldn’t be in jail if she ‘wasn’t Russian’ - attorney
“Anyone who thinks that someone who wasn’t Russian would be in this situation is fooling themselves,” attorney Robert Driscoll told reporters on Friday. Butina had just been sentenced to 18 months in prison, with nine served already, and will be deported to Russia after serving her time.
From the moment of her arrest, right up to her sentencing, Butina’s treatment at the hands of the US justice system and in the court of public opinion has been tainted by the cloud of Russian hysteria hanging over Washington DC.
A gun rights activist who wanted to make Russia’s restrictive gun laws more like the US’, Butina landed in the US in 2016 on a student visa. As the founder of a pro-gun group in Russia, Butina hobnobbed with National Rifle Association and Republican figures in America.
This is a complete disgrace. Butina, who was falsely smeared by prosecutors and journalists as a transactional whore and then thrown in solitary confinement, is now getting even more prison time for the crime of essentially "networking" in Washington, DC https://t.co/2y8B5hwtdP— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) April 26, 2019
So, the judge in the Maria Butina case took the prosecutors' side and sentenced her to 18 months in prison. Her horrific crime was networking with Americans who might be favorably-disposed toward Russia. None of that is a crime. It boils down to failure to register under FARA.— George Szamuely (@GeorgeSzamuely) April 26, 2019
However, Butina was arrested last year for failing to register as a foreign agent, a requirement that the 30-year-old didn’t even know she had to meet. Curiously, as she was unaware of the requirement, Butina was charged with a more serious offense that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who knew the law but didn’t follow it.
Given the timing of Butina’s arrest, the media and prosecution went into overdrive. Here, at long last, was a Russian agent caught meddling in American affairs. Assistant US Attorney Erik M. Kenerson claimed she was offering an individual “sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization.”
Kenerson later backtracked his statement, which he said was based on a “mistaken” understanding of text messages between Butina and a romantic partner.Also on rt.com ‘I beg for mercy’: Maria Butina’s TEARFUL plea for leniency
The media took the bait though. “Sex and schmoozing are common Russian spy tactics. Publicity makes Maria Butina different,” read a USA Today headline. Butina, Time Magazine wrote at the same time, “lived a double life by using sex and a love of guns to infiltrate American political organizations...in order to advance Moscow’s agenda.” Journalists didn’t question Butina’s operation in the open, with USA Today concluding her transparency about her agenda is “evidence the Russians have grown bolder in their spy efforts.”
Would the same low-grade Cold War spy erotica have graced the pages of national news outlets if Butina were, say, a French gun activist?
Maria Butina did what most college students who study in DC aspire to do; mingling with politicians, attending political events and supporting issues that she believed in. The difference between her and any other swamp socialite? Being a Russian in the U.S.— Julia Rapp (@juliaerapp) April 26, 2019
With the outrage machine at full steam, Butina spent much of the past nine months stewing in a Virginia jail. There, she was allegedly subjected to conditions described by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as “normally reserved for dangerous repeat offenders.”
The Russian embassy in Washington DC, which sent staff to meet with Butina frequently, described the conditions of her detention as “borderline torture,” and detailed a litany of abuses against the Russian activist. Butina was strip searched, denied medication and hygiene items, kept in solitary confinement, and regularly had her sleep disrupted, the embassy claimed.
Lavrov stated that such treatment was designed to poke Butina into accepting a plea deal with prosecutors, which she eventually did in December.Also on rt.com The long history of US-Russian ‘meddling’ (by Stephen Cohen)
But why were American authorities so desperate to prove sinister Russian activity?
“There’s no allegation of espionage, there’s no allegation of classified information, there’s no allegation she was paying anyone off, there’s no allegation she was recruiting spies. None of the things you would typically see in an espionage case,” Driscoll told RT last year.
“I think this was a political gambit to deal with bigger geopolitical issues to try to ruin the outcome of the summit between Trump and Putin,” human rights lawyer Dan Kovalik told RT at the time, noting that Butina was arrested one day before Presidents Trump and Putin met in Helsinki. As long as the case against Butina dragged on, the US government had human proof that the specter of ‘Russian meddling’ in US politics was alive and well.
In court on Friday, prosecutors did their best to keep the narrative alive.Prosecutor Erik Kenerson told the judge that Butina was concocting a plan to establish communications between the Trump White House and Russia, an issue he said was ‘of extreme importance to the Russian Federation.”
“Her conduct shows how easy it can be for a foreign government to target Americans in the US,” he added.
Butina’s treatment, meanwhile, shows how easy it can be for an innocent student to be targeted by a justice system bent on finding Russians meddling in everything.
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