Defense for Accused Russian Spy Defend Bid for School Records

WASHINGTON (CN) – Attorneys for accused Russian agent Maria Butina insisted in a Saturday court filing that they followed court procedure in subpoenaing certain records from American University.

Maria Butina walks with Alexander Torshin on Sept. 7, 2012, while Torshin was a member of the Russian upper house of parliament in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Pavel Ptitsin)

“Her classmates are potential witnesses who prepared academic work and projects with her, saw her attend and participate in class, and were aware of her participation and academic performance,” the 7-page filing states.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan had demanded the explanation a day earlier to evaluate numerous motions to quash that she received from several graduate students at American University.

The students said they received subpoenas for student rosters for all classes Butina attended, but that the subpoena gave no reason for the request.

Defense attorney Alfred Carry with McGlinchey Stafford responded on Saturday by citing a local court rule he said allows the defense to issue a pretrial subpoena without prior judicial approval.

Though the students have labeled the subpoenas “unreasonable and oppressive,” Carry said his client needs the material to prepare for trial and rebut the government’s allegations that Butina was working as an unregistered foreign agent.

Carry said the information will show that Butina was a legitimate student, and that the rosters will help the defense find potential trial witnesses.

Because some students have told the press that they reported concerns to law enforcement about Butina’s Russia ties, Carry said the defense also wants American University to produce any campus police reports about Butina.

He says the government has produced no such reports to the defense.

Butina also wants information from the university about comments her professor, Svetlana Savranskaya, made to the Daily Beast, which Carry’s response cites in a footnote.

The Feb. 2, 2017, article says Butina bragged that she was “part of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia,” a claim that Savranskaya says Butina repeated.

“She said so in my class,” the article quotes Savranskaya as saying. “And she did so several times in the last semester.”

Citing Butina’s privacy rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Carry said his client had “complained to the university about both the falsity of the statements made and the appropriateness of the professor’s non-sanctioned discussions of a student to the public and media.”

Carry also said no one has challenged defense requests for that information, and urged the court not to quash those portions of the subpoena.

American University has said it would provide the requested records, according to Carry’s filing. He said the defense did not subpoena individual students directly, but rather they were notified when the university provided affected students with a copy of the subpoena.

Butina, 29, has been charged with working as an unregistered, covert foreign agent. Prosecutors say she built relationships with influential U.S. political groups and politicians to gather information as part of an effort to advance the Kremlin’s long-term agenda in the run-up to the 2016 election.

Butina has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to act as a foreign agent and acting as a foreign agent, and insists she is just a student. Her indictment includes a spelling variation for her first name, Mariia.

Butina will next appear in court on Nov. 13 for a 10 a.m. status conference.

In a response filed Monday night, prosecutor Erik Kenerson rejected Carry’s assertion that court approval is unnecessary for the defense to issue pretrial subpoenas.

“Subpoenas issued pursuant to Rule 17 are not a substitute for discovery,” but rather can be issued only in connection to an active trial or scheduled hearing, Kenerson said.

Kenerson asked the court to either quash the subpoena or direct American University to provide the documents to the court so the government can review them, too.

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