Judge in Maria Butina case threatens gag order, in fight over accused Russian spy's files

The federal judge in the case of accused Russian spy Maria Butina threatened Wednesday to issue a gag order, as prosecutors revealed they have a massive trove of information from her devices -- and voiced concern her attorney could leak it.

Butina, a 29-year-old Russian woman, was charged this month with covertly working as a foreign agent while living in the United States. Butina has pleaded not guilty and has been held in jail without bond.

In federal court in Washington on Wednesday, Butina had on an orange jumpsuit with her red hair worn down. The hearing before U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan was mostly about discovery, with prosecutors revealing they have about 4 to 6 terabytes of information ready at this point -- or about 1.5 million documents.

Much of that information came directly from Butina's laptop and phones, prosecutors said, and a second batch of roughly the same size could be ready in several weeks.


Butina's lawyer Robert Driscoll has requested that information, but prosecutor Thomas Saunders voiced concern Driscoll would leak it to the press. He argued Driscoll is trying the case in the public square by doing "the cable circuit" and talking to news outlets like CNN and Fox News.

"There is a line, and it's been crossed repeatedly," Saunders said.

Driscoll responded that Butina "is the subject of national news and incorrect reporting and I'm pushing back."

"I've got to represent her and [my interviews] are an eye dropper in a tsunami of negative press,” he said.

Chutkan warned Driscoll she could impose a gag order to prevent the attorneys from speaking in public about the case if necessary, though she would prefer not to have to take that step.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 10.

According to court documents, Butina is accused of conspiring to infiltrate U.S. political organizations — possibly including the National Rifle Association — at the direction of an unnamed senior Kremlin official.

Butina, who accompanied Republican activist Paul Erickson to President Trump’s inauguration, also has been charged with conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian government.

According to prosecutors, the FBI uncovered evidence that Butina was in contact with officials believed to be Russian intelligence operatives. She also had contact information for people identified as employees of the Russian FSB, the main successor agency to the USSR’s KGB.

Prosecutors said Butina was regarded as a covert agent by a Russian official with whom she was in touch, with text messages discovered by the FBI showing how the official likened her to Anna Chapman, a Russian woman who was arrested in 2010 and then deported as part of a prisoner swap.

In March 2017, following news coverage of Butina, the Russian official wrote, "Are your admirers asking for your autographs yet? You have upstaged Anna Chapman. She poses with toy pistols, while you are being published with real ones," according to the court filing.

Butina and the official messaged each other directly on Twitter, prosecutors said. One such exchange occurred a month before the U.S. presidential election when Butina said she understood that "everything has to be quiet and careful."

They also spoke on January 20, 2017 when Butina sent the official a photo of her near the U.S. Capitol on the day Donald Trump was inaugurated as president.

According to court papers, the Russian official responded, "You're a daredevil girl! What can I say!()" Butina responded, "Good teachers!"

Driscoll has called the allegations "overblown" and said prosecutors had criminalized mundane networking opportunities. Driscoll said Butina was not an agent of the Russian Federation but was instead in the U.S. on a student visa, graduating from American University with a master's degree in international relations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.