Sitting in an orange jumpsuit in a hearing room in Washington this week, Maria Butina was either a Russian government agent, as federal prosecutors claim, or just an international graduate student targeted for her nationality, as support his defense. The Justice Ministry accused Butina on Monday of conspiring to defraud the United States and act as an unregistered foreign agent. She is liable to a term of imprisonment of up to 15 years, according to the federal district judge who presided over a pre-trial detention hearing this week.
Lawyer Robert Driscoll, who defends the 29-year-old woman, spoke Saturday with NPR's Scott Simon. His comments provide insight into the defense that he will defend on his behalf.
Driscoll says that despite the communications described in the government complaint, people do not have any history of Butina and a Russian official named Alexander Torshin. .
"I think if people know the whole story of their relationship, Alexander Torshin and Maria, they would understand."
He characterized this relationship as two friends who exchanged "thousands of messages, pictures of dogs and questions about the pickup of American toothpaste."
The lawyer said that they met in a gun defense group in Russia and that their relationship has nothing to do with Torshin's position – once a politician and now a senior official of the Russian Central Bank who has been sanctioned by the US government.
The relationship she maintained through the NRA and the gun defense group she founded in Russia, he said, simply represented "groups sharing the same ideas. "
the interactions described in the government's complaint. "For starters, you read direct Twitter messages that are not encrypted," he said. "I imagine that Russian intelligence probably communicates in different ways."
When asked how a graduate student could afford Driscoll's services, he said, "I do not discuss my arrangement with her but I'm sure and she's the one who controls the defense of this case. "
Dana Verkouteren / AP
Former Deputy Deputy Attorney General for Civil Rights, Driscoll once represented the former Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, accused of failing to hand over arrest and arrest documents. Other documents requested by the government as part of a Hispanic investigation President Trump has pardoned Arpaio for a criminal contempt conviction last year.
Driscoll also represented Jason Lundell, a Republican staff member who was blamed in a 2004 Senate report for "spying" on Democrats, consistently downloading and distributing thousands of memos. In the courtroom, along with staff from Russian government offices and members of the nearby Kremlin-funded RT and Sputnik agencies, US prosecutors attempted to paint a photo of Butina as someone secretly working for the move forward. The interests of the country with the help of Russian services
Driscoll said that this case was not related to the charges of 12 Russian intelligence officers earlier this month, the Lawfare blog reported.
"I think our minds fill a lot when we see a big redhead with a Russian accent," Driscoll told NPR.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told state secretary Mike Pompeo Saturday that Butina was being detained "Made accusations" and should be released, reports Reuters.
Earlier this week, the Russian Foreign Ministry changed its profile picture on Twitter for a sunny picture of a smiling Butina. tweeted "# NewProfilePic #FreeMariaButina."
Sarah Knight contributed to this report.