New Lawyer Tapped for Butina as Court Readies for Plea

WASHINGTON (CN) – Accused Russian spy Maria Butina is entitled to a public defender, a federal judge ruled Thursday afternoon after a hearing where attorneys appeared to set the stage for a plea deal.

Maria Butina in Moscow, in a photo she posted to Facebook in October 2013.

A.J. Kramer, who is identified as “advisory counsel” in the one-line order from U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington, has not responded to request for comment on the unexplained appointment. Robert Driscoll, the private lawyer who has represented 30-year-old Butina since her arrest in July, also has not responded to a request for comment.

Typically, advisory counsel can be assigned by a judge when questions arise over a defendant’s legal representation.

Thursday’s order came on the heels of a status conference this morning featuring Driscoll, fellow defense attorney Alfred Carry, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Erik Kenreson and Thomas Saunders.

Prosecutors signaled in the call that they planned to cancel a Dec. 18 status hearing as well as potentially withdraw subpoenas on deck for American University, where Butina attended graduate school.

Judge Chutkan is keeping a portion of the call under seal, with instructions for Butina’s attorneys to argue by Dec. 10 why the transcript should be kept out of public view.

Butina, who has been in solitary confinement at the Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia, was indicted in July by a grand jury on charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent.

Her prosecution is separate from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Prosecutors claim Butina used her ties to the National Rifle Association to create a backdoor for Russian special interests.

Butina has roundly denied the allegations.

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