Attorneys for a Russian woman jailed on charges of seeking to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and other American conservative groups for the Russian government are in negotiations with federal prosecutors, both sides said in a court filing Friday.
Lawyers for Maria Butina, 29, and the U.S. attorney’s office for the District made the disclosure about talks over a potential plea agreement in a two-page filing that asked U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan to postpone a Dec. 6 court hearing by about two weeks.
“The parties state that they continue to engage, as they did before yesterday’s defense filing, in negotiations regarding a potential resolution of this matter and that those negotiations would be potentially hindered” by simultaneous litigation, both sides wrote.
The motion came a day after Butina attorneys Robert N. Driscoll and Alfred D. Carry asked the court to dismiss the two charges their client faces, arguing that a law that bars acting in the United States as an unregistered agent of a foreign government — one of the counts — is unconstitutionally vague and criminalizes otherwise protected and legal speech by noncitizens. They said that a second count alleging conspiracy was duplicative, charging Butina with the same underlying conduct.
Chutkan granted the delay and set a new court date for Dec. 19.
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu declined to comment, as did Driscoll. A gag order is in place in the case.
Butina pleaded not guilty after being indicted July 17. Her defense said she was merely networking to develop relationships with Americans and not acting as a clandestine agent.
The court ordered Butina held without bond as a flight risk.
Butina is accused of trying to cultivate “back-channel” relationships with the Republican Party’s leading 2016 presidential candidates and develop close ties to the NRA to provide Russian officials “with the best access to and influence over” the party.
Butina allegedly was assisted by Paul Erickson, a South Dakota-based Republican consultant she met in Moscow in 2013 and with whom she has been romantically linked.
Erickson helped introduce Butina to influential political figures and sought to organize a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Alexander Torshin, Butina’s colleague and a Russian central banker, at a May 2016 NRA convention.
Prosecutors alleged that Torshin coordinated Butina’s activities, writing that, at his direction, she drafted language to persuade the Russian Foreign Ministry to let him attend the NRA meeting as a “unique opportunity” to network with Trump and his entourage.
The campaign declined a request by Erickson to have Trump meet Torshin, but Torshin and Butina briefly chatted with Donald Trump Jr. at a dinner at the convention, the president’s son has said.