Maria Butina’s Legal Team Embraces Disinformation (with Help from Russia)

One key prong of Republican propaganda attempting to discredit the Mueller investigation has been to claim Trump associates were targeted by informants. Perhaps the most brazen example was when Roger Stone claimed a Russian whose offer of dirt he entertained (but claims to have refused to pay for) was an FBI informant. But George Papapdopoulos has spawned an entire subindustry of such claims.

It appears that Maria Butina’s attorneys have adopted that approach. In a letter to her attorneys the prosecutors posted to the docket the other day, they insist (as DOJ has had to insist to Republicans in Congress) that they are not sitting on evidence of approaches by informants.

During our previous discussions, you have advanced certain hypothetical scenarios involving your client, including a supposed “dangle” operation or the acquisition of exculpatory information from “Cis,” which we take to mean confidential government informants. It appeared at the time of our discussions, that you based these ideas not on firsthand knowledge of any events, but rather on speculation based on claims made in some unidentified media articles. Inexplicably, however, in your October 18, 2018 email, you–for the first time–firmly assert that “[w]e know this information exists [and] have called it out by name…” [emphasis added]. The government was surprised by this newly adamant assertion, and we invite you to provide us any additional information you may have concerning the provenance or existence of the information you request.

Notwithstanding its speculative nature, the government took your original request seriously and made specific inquiries about the hypothetical scenarios you advanced. Regarding the scenarios described in your October 18, 2018 email, based on our reviews to date, we are not aware of any information that would trigger any disclosure obligations regarding either a “dangle,” successful or otherwise, or information obtained from any confidential informant. We are aware of no surveillance targeting your client that occurred prior to in or around [redacted] We will obviously continue to review the government’s holdings for such information, as well as any additional surveillance records of your client and we will continue to discuss with you any other materials that you consider potentially exculpatory. If that ongoing review yields information that should be disclosed to you, we will certainly do so.

Don’t get me wrong. DOJ has a history of playing games with discovery, or of interpreting discovery narrowly so as to hide other prongs of an investigation. So the allegation from Butina’s lawyers, by itself, is not outrageous.

Except it seems to be a part of the Devin Nunes/Mark Meadows/Jim Jordan propaganda effort in Congress, driven by a bunch of half-wits who leak information that they don’t understand.

Indeed, this incident raises real questions for me on whether the House effort has now taken not only to defending Donald Trump, but also Maria Butina, an alleged foreign spy whose own writings indicate Putin knew of her operation.

Meanwhile, DOJ’s letter to Butina’s team reveals that they have not picked up a hard drive of discovery DOJ made available a month ago.

With respect to materials provided to you so far, we have made an FBI CART examiner available to you to help you navigate the electronic evidence, and we made a second hard drive of electronic evidence available to you over a month ago, which you have thus far reclined to retrieve.

The claim that Butina’s team has left evidence sitting for a month comes just days before Russia’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, claimed that DOJ has not handed over discovery to her and used that to claim DOJ is treating her unfairly.

It is baffling that the court considering Maria Butina’s case has not yet handed over the case material to her, although the hearing is scheduled for November 13. Unfortunately, this gives us yet another reason to doubt the impartiality of American justice system.

Again, it is not unheard of for DOJ to play games with discovery. But in this case, particularly in context of obvious propaganda serving Trump and other Republicans’ interest, it seems like Butina’s defenders both in and outside the country have decided on a disinformation strategy rather than a direct defense of her case.

Update: The parties just asked for Butina’s case to be put off for three weeks to deal with discovery. Maybe in the interim, the government will find the evidence of informants sidling up to Butina that the claim is not exculpatory.

7 replies
  1. Rick Novak says:

    As far as the propaganda campaign goes, in any case it is not surprising that the defense would  implement those type of  strategies

    What is surprising is when the government gets caught in engaging in not only propaganda, but an outright lie in the court filling

    The government claimed the defendant traded information for sex, the judge, said a careful 5 minute read of the text messages in question, one could clearly see she was joking

    If we assume the government is not stupid, than we can assume 3 things

    1) they made an accusation they knew was false

    2) this being a very inflammatory accusation, it would draw all (most all anyway) the media coverage(people will immediately connect it with the tv show The Americans)

    3) This was done for a specific reason or reasons, to

    A)taint the jury pool (no one remembers the correction)

    b) take the focus from the the true facts of the case which maybe 1)incredibly weak or 2) the facts of the case are solid and strong, but too boring to get the media attention the government would like to see it get

    While I am never surprised when the the defense, uses any trick they can, I expect the government to be above those sort of tactics, and make the case for the jury, not the public

  2. Rapier says:

    Disinformation in service of what?  Circle jerks on FOX news? Such won’t serve the defense in court.

    Oh, maybe on appeal.

  3. Fran of the North says:

    Disinformation in the court of public opinion of course! It doesn’t matter what the facts are, or even what the legal outcome might be, the story lives on in the talking points. For the iD’Yots, all can be discounted as long as there is some tortured story that might be plausible once in a blue moon.

    • Doctor My Eyes says:

      Yikes! The smug nastiness now appears in legal filings as well as on twitter. Tweety Bird, indeed! Is this standard fare, lawyers? I’m hoping one of you will rip the argument to shreds, showing it to be so much tap dancing. Obnoxiously insulting is what it is, almost as though they feel confident of having no need to respect the DOJ.

      I understand that there is a sound legal basis for raising questions of motive and willfulness; nonetheless, this sentence strikes me as expressing a shiny fresh cultural value in this brave new world:

      Mueller’s case against Concord threatens to “criminalize innocent conduct [like] pretending to be someone else on the internet,” Dubelier wrote.

      What does “innocent” mean again?

  4. Trip says:

    On Russian arms:
    Meduza in English‏Verified account @meduza_en Oct 24
    Meduza asked one of the Soviet diplomats who helped draft the INF Treaty what he thinks about its looming collapse….

    Good article, but I won’t link, you can find it at the twitter link above. This diplomat is pro-arms control. I think I excerpted enough for it to be fair use since it is a long interview.

    Disarmament was in vogue back then. It’s a dirty word now, because we’re supposed to arm ourselves, surrounded by enemies on all sides. Even “arms control” is a questionable phrase today…We showed the world that we were a decent country, and that we were interested in reducing the threat of war. But I’ll emphasize that this didn’t undermine our defensive capacity in any way. We didn’t disarm completely, after all. When the negotiations on arms reductions started in 1972, we were simultaneously in a mad race to achieve parity with the U.S. on all fronts, both strategic and non-strategic. … I want to say that the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress isn’t the only one with a strong lobby that wants to scrap this treaty. We’ve got these lobbyists, too. I was at hearings with our deputies, where some hawkish military officials said the treaty was a mistake from the start — that all arms control is a mistake — and that we need these missiles deployed, because we’re surrounded by countries that have this class of weapon, in China, India, and the Middle East.
    What you’re describing sounds like some kind of fanatical militarism.
    You think we’re short on fanatical militarism? Okay, it’s one thing to take pride in winning the [Second World] War, but we’ve got girl-journalists [sic] starting to say things like, “Oh my, look at that pretty Armata tank over there. I’m simply in love.” Of course, we’re militarizing propaganda in ways I haven’t seen for a long time (“We’re encircled by enemies”), and serious people (people in the Duma) are saying that NATO tanks are about to invade. Yeah, guys, everyone in those tanks is suicidal. They’ll start rolling in, just to get melted in a nuclear strike.

    Scary times.

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