A Russian woman charged with attempting to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and other American political groups as a covert agent for the Russian Federation has been moved from the District of Columbia jail to the Alexandria jail in Virginia, her attorney and jail officials said Saturday.
Maria Butina, 29, was indicted July 17 by a grand jury on charges of conspiracy to act and failing to register as an agent of a foreign government. She pleaded not guilty; her attorney said Butina was merely networking to develop relationships with Americans.
An Alexandria jail spokeswoman declined to say why Butina was moved, and a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service said, “As a matter of policy, we do not disclose information related to individual prisoners to protect their privacy, safety and security.”
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia said it does not oversee the detention of defendants nor typically disclose their location.
The Russian Embassy in Washington has called Butina’s arrest politically motivated and complained about jail conditions, saying in a post on its website Thursday that embassy diplomats had visited Butina in jail and would be lodging a complaint with the U.S. State Department “demanding to stop psychologically pressuring and humiliating our fellow citizen.”
“It seems as if Washington is trying to force her to cooperate with the investigation by making her living conditions as difficult as possible,” the embassy said in a Twitter post, adding in a statement that jail officials had reinstated 15-minute overnight checks on Butina — consistent with what the embassy said was a suicide watch — without cause.
The embassy asked jail officials to provide a translator so that Butina could receive letters written in Russian that it said were denied her because they might contain “coded messages,” and to fully provide “necessary medical attention,” not just painkillers, for leg swelling that it said resulted from cold temperatures in Butina’s cell.
Butina’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, said that Butina was not given a reason for the move between 5 and 6 p.m. Friday and that he did not know if it was related to the complaints. He said prosecutors told him they were unaware of the move.
“She’s a little shook up, just by the unannounced move,” Driscoll said after visiting her Saturday.
Driscoll on Friday announced the creation of a legal-defense fund for Butina, including an English- and Russian-language fundraising website.
Driscoll said District jail officials had been largely responsive to the issues but that it took 20 days for Butina to be allowed to place a phone call to Russia, and it also took some time to provide her with her eyeglasses and to allow the funding of her canteen jail account. She is seeking better arthritis treatment for one of her legs, he said.
Butina’s attorney said she has not been allowed outdoors since her confinement because, jail officials told him, she is in protective custody and the jail does not have the extra personnel needed to monitor her. He said that being in protective custody probably meant a “well-being check” every 15 minutes, which can be conducted discreetly or disruptively by guards.
Butina’s next court date is Sept. 10. She was ordered held without bond pending trial by U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson of Washington, who cited risks that Butina might flee or resume her alleged unlawful activities, as well as the government’s significant evidence against her.
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