The Geography of Maria Butina’s Cooperation

The government had another embarrassing docket fail Friday, like the cut-and-paste release that disclosed charges filed in EDVA against Julian Assange.

Yesterday, a motion for permission to transport Maria Butina was briefly published to the docket, then withdrawn, but not before reporters who get automatic docket updates got copies. And the details in the filing suggest that Butina’s cooperation may be more limited than Mueller watchers would like.

The docket fail may stem from complaints that the judge in Butina’s case, Tanya Chutkan, made back on December 6, about how many details of Butina’s imminent plea deal attorneys were trying to keep sealed.

THE COURT: Why? Why is the fact that — you know, Mr. Driscoll, I have to tell you, I’m a little perplexed. In this case, you’ve filed several motions for transportation of your client to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and you asked that that information be placed under seal; and that was certainly appropriate, and the government joined in that request. And I placed those requests under seal because the possibility of a defendant’s cooperation is always something that is very sensitive.

Since Butina’s plea, those prior motions to transport her that Chutkan referenced in her complaint — one dated September 21 asking to move her for a September 26 interview but lasting through October 25, and one dated October 23 specifically authorizing transport on November 7 but lasting through December 6 — were unsealed. Presumably, that’s why Friday’s order got filed unsealed, as well.

The problem, per CNN’s report, is that the latest one reveals Butina may be transported to testify before a grand jury in DC.

Russian political conspirator Maria Butina is set to meet with federal prosecutors in Washington and Virginia over the next several weeks, according to a court filing that was posted and quickly removed from a federal docket Friday afternoon.

Butina pleaded guilty Thursday to one criminal count of acting as an illegal foreign agent in the United States.
US attorneys may want to interview Butina in their offices well into January, according to the filing. She may also be requested to appear at the grand jury in Washington, according to the filing, which is a request to a federal judge to allow the currently detained Russian to be transported by the FBI for cooperation interviews.

“The purpose of the transfer is to interview the Inmate concerning an ongoing federal investigation,” the filing says.

So in addition to providing details about Butina’s future travel (possibly even a date) that might pose a security risk or put her in physical danger, it includes grand jury information that is supposed to remain secret.

All the filings together, however, reveal something of more interest: Butina has been proffering information to the Feds, probably primarily against her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, since September 26.

She was submitting to interviews in this investigation at a time when Erickson was regularly visiting her in jail.

Despite the ongoing investigations and his reported ties to Butina’s activities, Erickson frequently visits her in jail, two individuals with knowledge of the meetings told The Daily Beast. Erickson apparently expressed frustration to friends over the fact that jail staff forced him to sign into the main visitor log, fearing the media would find out.

You know how everyone hopes that a cooperating witness might wear a wire? In Butina’s case that could, potentially, have happened during her meetings with Erickson (though in the context of a jail visit, would hardly be necessary to capture the couple’s conversations). The period of her cooperation also sort of matches the time when she got moved from protective custody into the general population in Alexandria (67 days after her arrest would be September 20); she was subsequently put back in solitary, possibly because (as was discussed at the December 6 hearing) she had been communicating with the outside world via other detainees and at least one journalist.

While those revelations are of interest, what’s equally notable is the geography described, at least in the public filings. As noted, CNN says she’s cooperating on a federal investigation, singular, which is what the past motions said as well. And the locales to which she can be transported in the public filings — an interview room attached to the Alexandria jail, the DC US Attorney’s office, and a DC grand jury — don’t include Robert Mueller’s office, which is a different location in DC. There may be some involvement of the EDVA US Attorney’s Office (which might bode ill for the NRA, which is headquartered in that district). But thus far, there’s no sign that she’s being transported to cooperate with Mueller’s office.

That’s consistent with her plea, which only describes cooperation with the DC US Attorney’s office.

The plea deal is in no way definitive — after all, Mike Flynn’s plea said he’d cooperate “with this Office,” meaning SCO, but he has recently told us about cooperating with “other components of the Government” and the addendum to the government’s sentencing memo seems to reflect at least one criminal investigation outside of Mueller’s mandate (which is widely believed to involve Turkey).

But Butina has already been in custody almost as long as she’s likely to be sentenced to, meaning to do much more would entail holding her in jail to get her to cooperate for no benefit, something her lawyers presumably would be unwilling to countenance. So it may well be that she has told investigators about her boss (who, of course, retired suddenly not long ago) and her boyfriend. She may well even had gotten Erickson to incriminate himself in a venue where prosecutors easily collected it.

There’s no evidence, however, that she’s cooperating with Mueller or expected to.

56 replies
  1. obsessed says:

    >There may be some involvement of the EDVA US Attorney’s Office (which might bode ill for the NRA, which is headquartered in that district). But thus far, there’s no sign that she’s being transported to cooperate with Mueller’s office.

    At this point, Trump’s goose seems so cooked in so many ways that I’d prefer that her cooperation be against the NRA. I keep thinking about their leadership shakeup immediately after the indictment. (

    • Trip says:

      Yeah, I hope this is about the NRA, at some point. However, is it possible that Torshin kept her compartmentalized away from any funding?

  2. scribe says:

    I have to wonder whether these are actually docket “fails” or deliberate leaks designed to spook the targets into doing something or goad the press.
    As to talking during jail visits, those are routinely surveilled and recorded. One can be quite sure for someone like Butina, they were recorded. She didn’t have to wear a wire – the walls did it for her. Problem for people like Erickson: he is one of the kind of people who have had minimal if any involvement with the criminal justice system and are shockingly naive about both how the system works, how few rights the average person actually has, and the chicanery even the dumbest cop gets away with, as assisted by judges and juries.

    • emptywheel says:

      That’s sort of what I figured. But then I’m still trying to figure out how Joshua Schulte got multiple devices into an MCC jail cell and may have been leaking his discovery using one of them.

      • Peterr says:

        What’s missing for me is any sense about how often docket mistakes like this happen. When I consider what I’ve seen in lots of tech-related but non-legal systems stuff, it’s clear that there are lots coding errors that are a regular part of life, as opposed to evidence of some planned, under-the-table plot.

        The question I wonder about is whether this is something irregular, or are we simply seeing the expected kind of glitches but giving more import to them because of the case(s) in question and the fact that we haven’t been watching the ordinary cases with their ordinary glitches?

        • JohnJ says:

          I seem to remember the court system hanging on to glitchy WordPerfect for years, even through its worst versions.

          They never had a history of keeping up with tech.

          (I am, of course dated, since I worked on modifying an IBM word processor for secure Gov’t use that you sat in like a video game! )

          • bmaz says:

            Okay, couple of things. First Scribe is right. If you know what you are doing as a lawyer, you always take a couple of legal pads with you. You talk, but the important stuff is done on the legal pad silently and you take it out with you. This is becoming more problematic as facilities try to make your contact less personal, but is still the rule.

            Secondly, Schulte “got away” with his devices by design. Come on man.

            Lastly, as to JohnJ’s dissing of WordPerfect, it was indeed the standard in law forever. And for good reason…it simply worked better than Word or any other software for what we do. FAR better. Ask any lawyer that has been around for a long time and they will say the same thing. I know lawyers that still use old versions of it for formatting appellate briefs and pleadings before publishing. If WP transferred to others easily in email and uploaded into ECF easily, I would still use it too. The “tech” is not the problem. The universality, while maintaining security, is.

              • P J Evans says:

                I know of one big-name writer who still prefers (and uses) WP, because of the ability to track changes and reformat.

              • bmaz says:

                Exactly. And it was so easy to create pleadings with the line numbers and vertical lining on. It took Word another decade to even come close. And WP was still better at it. Try to lay out an appellate brief. I don’t have WP anymore, but swear it would still be easier than cantankerous Word.

                • JohnJ says:

                  re: BMAZ

                  Ouch, commenting outside of my expertise. I use Excel for about 90% of what I do and just write tech papers in mostly bullet points. Word is fine for that. You guys use word processing for a living.


                  As I said, my memory is dated. Specifically to the DOS/Win 3.1 days when my sister was using WP as a legal Secretary/paralegal. Word, admittedly, was nowhere as proficient at formatting and did not import from WP very well because of it.


                  I actually thought WP was no longer available.

                  • bmaz says:

                    I “think” it is, at least on Windows. It has been almost 15 years since I last used it. You are right about it being obsolete, but it really did work better for lawyers than Word. Then, again, Betamax worked a hell of a lot better than VHS, and still went the way of the dodo bird. Before VHS went that way to digital media.

                    • P J Evans says:

                      I think you can get it from Corel – I’ve seen it at big-box office places (which are not bad locations to find software like this).

            • emptywheel says:

              I admit that when I had to do VERY large documents with very complex formatting I vastly preferred WP too. Mind you I lived in UT then, and it was a local product to boot.

  3. punaise says:

    @ Rusharuse
    December 15, 2018 at 6:29 pm

    Nice Beatles segue.

    Not sure I’d want to entrust my legal matters to Avenatti. He burned hot and flamed out quickly.

    • Peterr says:

      As a lawyer, Avenatti understands that the opposing side is vulnerable to both legal and non-legal pressures. IMHO, he’s got a very good grasp of the non-legal pressures he can use to his advantage in high-level, news-worthy cases. For cases without a whole lot of news value, OTOH, this isn’t terribly helpful. As for his attention to matters that take place inside the courtroom, and his legal acumen with respect to briefs, motions, and trial-based concerns, I am much less confident in his skills. I’m not saying those skills aren’t there, but only that I haven’t seen them.

      • Desider says:

        Avenatti’s role bringing Cohen down was incredible. I’m sure the usual actors are trying to bring him down because of it. And yeah, he’s promoting his approach, play hard since they show no signs of stopping – Obama years are over, but fighting back the last 2 years has brought a lot of court and ballot wins.

        Playing the supposed presidential sweepstakes this early for someone w no track record is irrelevant and silly – Avenatti used it just to pressure people I’m sure. Tho if you look at the elephants in Beto’s closet as a relatively failed & corruptable novice, Avenatti stacks up well. But I prefer charisma with experience.

        • Errant Aesthete says:

          In the court of public opinion, Avanatti gave as good as he got, if not better. As a communicator, he was unmatched – clear, concise, confrontational. A worthy opponent in the medium of Trump. After all, Mr. Reality TV was elected President of this country for saying “You’re Fired” for fifteen seasons on air. Yet, to date he’s directly fired no one. Has Trump actually fired anyone as president?

  4. Rugger9 says:

    OT but interesting enough for a bit of digging: it seems that Mueller is not entirely satisfied with the answers on the take-home exam from Kaiser Quisling and still wants to talk to him in person. Of course the Palace lawyers are terrified and with good reason.

    And there’s also the option of striking by way of the kids (and let’s also remember that Pence headed the inaugural committee IIRC). I’m not sure a former Marine of the old school like Mueller is would play that sort of rope-a-dope unless he had to by OLC constraints. It doesn’t mean the $107 million inaugural scandal wouldn’t be prosecuted regardless of the leverage factor (like Starr would do).

  5. Rugger9 says:

    Also OT but something we as a nation will doubtless pay a price for: the death of the 7-year-old while in ICE custody. If Nielsen doesn’t go down in flames for this our already shaky moral authority that distinguished us from the Soviets in the eyes of the world will have been pissed into the shrubbery by Kaiser Quisling, Steve Miller, John Kelly and the rest of the Palace including good “christian” Pence.

    • hester says:

      Our modern day Ilse Koch blamed it on the girl’s family.  She really is a horrid human.  Nothing will happen to her. Not One. Thing.

      • allison holland says:

        i think she is done. its hard to be a souless women on tv and stay on tv,  megan kelley couldnt cut it or get away with it on non fox platforms . i think a lot of female reporters are going to pounce on her. i hope so. strong women who are visible must have a soul. nielson will go.

      • koolmoe says:

        This tragedy is one that really bothers me deeply. All this Trump/admin/corrupt aside, as horrible as it all is, the only response to this child dying while in the ‘care’ of ICE is along the lines of, “This was terribly tragic and we are horrified it happened under our watch. We take full responsibility, will compensate the family as best we can, and take immediate steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

        Any other blaming is just unethical and inhumane. The US tool forced custody of this child and ICE’s actions seemed to have directly resulted in her death. No freakin’ excuses, no blaming someone else. It was a child and it didn’t have to happen. The lack of accountability of this admin is just disgusting.

  6. Jockobadger says:

    Is Avenatti even a reasonably good attorney? I’ve seen his tweets about his recovery record and all….

  7. Rugger9 says:

    The NRA’s been waiting for a visit from karma for a long time. Another organization shanghaied by conservative hypocrites for political power (they used to be all about gun safety once upon a time).

    Good riddance.

    • oldoilfieldhand says:

      As long as karma is out and about, how about a visit for the Talibangelical racist doctrine disguised as the gospel of prosperity?


  8. hester says:

    Our modern day Ilse Koch blamed it on the girl’s family.  She really is a horrid human.  Nothing will happen to her. Not One. Thing.


    • skua says:

      As we saw when Obama had to decide on what to do when faced with many senior CIA staff being involved in torture, both the pragmatic reality and the ethical forces pushing towards having a functioning nation in the present and near future are overwhelming. And so wrong-doing that would be highly inconvenient and disabling to punish is pushed aside.

      But if a few of the ultra-elite had twisted personalities and malformed understandings of their social responsibilities and decided to, entirely within the legal boundaries, financially target the wealth of those who have enabled, and benefited from, the Trump presidency then I’d smile.

      Such a campaign could even be justified ethically as making explicit the dangers , on a purely monetary level, of being involved in a program of weakening the nation.

      Perhaps Trump cronies would feature in slow news pieces on TV with titles like,
      “Where are they now?: Slime Grifter, former FitH for ex-President, now jailed felon, DJ Trump”.
      And we’d see an interview with some crony who now works for their money, or lives in a van out the back of their sister’s.

      I’d be watching.

  9. Barry says:

    Yes, where is Pence in all this? To me he is like Waldo in the “Where Is Waldo?” books. He appears everywhere, silently smiling, but never truly a part of the crowd he’s in. My assumption is that he was and remains an outsider to Trump World, beamed into the VP slot by party officials to bolster Trump’s questionable conservative credentials.

    • koolmoe says:

      I imagine he is just staying as far away and untainted as possible so he can step in when/if Trump is indicted, flees, or isn’t renominated in 2020. While no fan of Pence, I think he’s playing it smart – just back up and let it the crazys play.

      • P J Evans says:

        I suspect he’s also hoping that no one has anything on him and whatever he did – or should have done but didn’t. He’s small fry, but still involved.

  10. e.a.f. says:

    She may find being in jail safer than being on the street. She may want to stay in the U.S.A. We know Vald and the boys aren’t keen on people who co operate against the mother land.
    The NRA would appear to have a big role in all of this and if she has confirmation of Russian money going into the campaign, via the NRA, really, who would want to go back to Russia. she may try to stay in the U.S.A. or arrange to go to another country.

    We know a lot about her movement in the U.S.A, but who was she in Russia. Now that might be interesting.

    • JohnJ says:

      The MSM has reported that she has Vlad’s blessing with turning. She’s got a limited lifespan if she talks without it.

      I have personally (to myself) predicted Vlad would eventually let his work be known as a second part of his long term goal of disruption of our system. He will let his monkeying do its work and when its effect was waning, he would let the evidence of the Repug conspiracy loose to goose the disruption with evidence for our system to use and extend the pain through our lengthy legal process.

      I still predict that he will eventually “leak” the pee pee tapes just for icing on the cake.

      I am still waiting for evidence of his causing the Brexit.

  11. Trip says:

    Rudy Giuliani is turning into the malign Yogi Berra of quotes.

    Unless you’re god, you’ll never know what the truth is.

    Truth isn’t truth.

    We don’t all agree on everything. I don’t agree with myself on everything.

    Nobody got killed, nobody got robbed. This was not a big crime (broken windows mayor, stop and frisk)

    I do know a lot about intensive questioning and intensive questioning techniques…. Now, intensive questioning works. If I didn’t use intensive questioning, there would be a lot of mafia guys running around New York right now and crime would be a lot higher in New York than it is. Intensive question has to be used. (on torture, from the guy who complained about a take home questionnaire for Trump)

    • Trip says:

      New one, on a potential special counsel interview with Trump:

      Over my dead body, but you know, I could be dead

      Who needs satirical comedy? Also, he might be called Ghouliani for a reason.

  12. Lulymay says:

    @ Trip – Rudy is a rank amateur when it comes to notable quotes. I have a collection that I pull out every once in a while just to relieve me of all the chaos that is now the norm:

    “I offer my opponents a bargain: If they will stop telling lies about us, I will stop telling the truth about them” (Adlai Stevenson, 1952 campaign speech)
    “A politician is a fellow who will lay down YOUR life for HIS country” (Texas Guinan)
    “The problem with political jokes is they get elected” (Henry Cate, VII)
    “We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office” (Aesop)
    “When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it” (Clarence Darrow)

    This just a small sample that surpasses Rudy’s inane comments any day!

    • Trip says:

      But none of those are dopey/funny.

      Of course no one beats Yogi for that kinda stuff. ex:
      Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.

  13. Naomi says:

    Geography likely International-
    Current reports say Erickson and Butina were introduced in Moscow 2013. Guessing: Target Letter supposedly to Erickson… they had all they needed. He’s bleeped.
    Cooperation up one step… NRA, Erickson, Butina, Prayer Breakfast, Tennessee poll watchers (who else?) were tools of Alexander Torshin. Guessing our gubmint is looking for the money laundering Torshin was suspected (Spanish even before Torshin became the Russian Bank Director).

    • Trip says:

      I’m pretty sure, IIRC, that Torshin was caught dead to rights laundering in Spain, but somehow he slipped away. somehow.

  14. Semanticleo says:

    I hope I dont remember Mueller in the same sense I do Fitz and the other legal enabling .( Iran/Contra.) making great cynics swoon.


    Is justice really a thing?

  15. Trip says:

    Shitty mercenaries ruining the world. Whose weaponry is he selling? Is he really independent?

    U.S. Imposes Sanctions on
    Retired Israeli General Over Role
    in South Sudan’s Civil War

    Maj. Gen. (ret.) Israel Ziv is mentioned for using an agriculture company as cover for the sale of around $150 million worth of weapons. He denies any wrongdoing and vows to ‘correct this mistake’

    • Trip says:

      I forgot to add, speaking of mercenaries, and black market arms:

      What’s Erik Prince and Felix Sater been up to? (We know where Flynn is and where Putin’s chef’s forces are).

  16. Trip says:

    Meduza in English‏Verified account @meduza_en

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Maria Butina was “tortured” into cooperating with U.S. law enforcement. “I understand this woman,” he says.

    “I understand this woman. She finds herself in extreme conditions, and for months on end they’ve been subjecting her to a kind of torture: taking her for walks in the middle of the night, forcibly interrupting her sleep, throwing her in solitary confinement, and a whole lot more,” Lavrov explained on Friday, arguing that U.S. authorities did what was necessary to “break her” and force her to confess to crimes she did not commit. “But I repeat: this is her fate and her decision. We will do everything to ensure that our citizen’s rights are ensured so that she may return home as soon as possible.”

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