Target USA -- Episode 160 | EXCLUSIVE: Maria Butina's attorney speaks out about her case
From podcast one coming up in this episode of target USA. I'm gonna presentative all for Russian federation here. Russian woman arrested in Washington on conspiracy. Charges Maria boot Tina was suspected of being a Russian agent. Her attorney Robert Driscoll said at the time with the process will vindicate or at the end. And that the truth will come out. Well, the truth did come out we believe in boot Tina ended up pleading guilty on this episode of target USA. Her attorney returns to answer the question. What happened? I think at some level. She was naive. He says she didn't set out to be a spy, but he certainly sees. How it looked that way? I think that they're there. She put herself there were there are enough people around who were high profile that I understand why people were concerned a why this was looked into that question. Plus why she pled guilty why he was temporarily removed from her legal team, and what happens next coming up on this edition of target USA the national security podcast. From WTO in Washington DC. This is target USA. Russia could render huge arm to this country North Korea's secret missile capable of reaching the whole of the United States dangerous. Terraced DC is repeatedly mentioned someplace they would like to see an attack criminal. America as a target on its back and on this program. We investigate the threats the people behind them, the agencies fighting them and the impact on you. This is target USA be national security podcast. I'm Jay Jay green. This is how we started our program August first of twenty eighteen. Diff- of Russian federation here Russian woman arrested in Washington on conspiracy churches, I was so intrigued because I realized I'd had a class with her. Her former classmates were stunned journalists who got to meet her were equally. Intrigued a colleague of mine, and I took Erdal on on our Tober twenty seven two thousand sixteen few was very unique. She was pro-trump. She was pro gun rights. She was already a pretty deeply into Republican circles. She already had context to the NRA, and she was talking up to a point when we said, would you go on camera with either of us or both of us and say what to have no couldn't do that Maria Latino was arrested in July on charges of being a Russian agent. But her attorney says, we think the process will vindicator at the end and that the truth will come out. A lot's happened in the eight months since she was arrested in July of twenty eight teen. And now, according to turn Robert Driscoll, she's on the brink of possibly being released within the next month and on this program, Driscoll answers, a number of questions we started off with how they ended up together. How did you come to be Maria Boutin as attorney it was an interesting story. I got a call from her when she received a letter from the Senate finance committee really earth's before the restaurant like that. But last February year ago at this time over a little over year just out of the blue. Yeah. Just literally call call picked up the phone. It turns out that she I think probably through Paul and her boyfriend they knew Diane Denman who I represented with before the hus- Intel Senate Intel and Muller investigation. I see and it which is ironic because Diane Denman is for lack of a better term, and he Russian coal warrior who had proposed arming Ukraine in her in the Republican platform at the convention. Yep. And so they remember interesting talking to her from people say took her the process in anyway, it so happens that she was asking around asking how to respond to letter and somebody new somebody today N who's told her, hey got dressed going. He was great going through it. And so I got the call. So. You got the call from her to do that to start that representation, but you know, this situation started to get a little bit more intense a little bit maybe about a month later. I am not sure how I missed this United conversation about this before because where she lived was maybe a couple of football fields away from my office. And it was a very interesting situation happened in March of twenty eighteen that we all seem to miss step is through that. I think it was April actually, April chess five for Senate Intel and then about ten days later, it was April twenty fifth. We thought Senate intimate well thought she was pretty much done. And I'm driving work at nine in the morning now, get a call and the Russian accent is on the other end. It says baba hate to bother you never bothered. So the Russian accent was her. Bobby? There's no bottom Ray. What's up? She said there's twelve if Asians that my front door a while with guns invests, and I said, well, let them and get a warrant and tell them you're on the way. And so I drove for apartment, and there was you know, the full the full is probably by the end of the day thirteen and fourteen agents going through their turning the place upside down, you know, copying chronics. And so we sat there for few hours. And that's when I realized that that there was more more than just Senate Intel looking things so a few hours, at least that's probably six hours while they were going through their searches. And how do they conductor searches were were they were they ripping a house apart, ripping things up or was it an orderly thing how do they never seen one of the? I tried to do it. They try to be professional, and I don't think they intentionally try to record anything. But I mean, they go through everything. So if you're get searched the, you know, removed every piece of clothing from her closet. They took all the Lennon's off the bed, and they, you know, take everything out of every drawer, you know. And they they try to not leave things at complete mass. But they don't put everything back where it was. So they go through everything, and then they had people on site to take the electron IX and mirror-image hard drives and phones and things like that which got got taken, and they give an inventory of what they have. And then they left six hours later, and that's what took most of the time was the technological stuff. The technical stuff. You think those both, you know, they do because she had she lived in a an apartment it was on. Replace it was it was kind of hesitate to even find any humor because it just serious situation when you get searched. But I mean, she had like the the batter of like Muffin mixture banana bread mix where literally making breakfast and the the pyrex with the wooden spoon was sitting there on the counter. And then just you know when things blew up. Yeah. So it was and I called Muller's people 'cause I seemed it was them. Yeah. They called special counsel's office and said, hey, why did you guys search replace? We we just turned over eight thousand documents to the Senate Intel committee figured, no research place. I would just give me a copy of the thumb drive. Right. And they said not us we never gonna do those DC. And so when I found out talked to the agents from counter info, and they're being directed by trains office in DC national security division. So. That was the search in March and that things calmed down after that. And I think if I remember the first time, I asked you about this. You said it looked like a Detroit auto show out there in the parking lot. You weren't sure how we all miss this. Because I think one of the reasons why is because this is right across the street from Sidwell friends, which is where the Obama girls went to school. So we were used to seeing a lot of back SUV's with blue lights on them. I was I was frankly surprised as well that didn't get any media attention. We had no need to draw any media tension to it. But it was you could see it from the street you could see her apartment from the street. And there was a lot of a lot of people there. So getting into the heart of this later on something happened in July. She was arrested in July. I think it was a weekend. If I remember correctly, but what happened between April twenty fifth and July not much substantively there to things that. Happened. Manley. One was we had two warrants that were served on her for the search was from DC one was from South Dakota and south court KOTA warrant applied only two occasions, Mr. Ericsson, which has been indicted for recently in the DC case related only to her. And so I called South Dakota got in touch with them confirm that she was not a target of the South Dakota investigation. And we were trying to make arrangements to have our interview with them under limited grant of immunity, just kind of take least that part of it off the table for that. I kept repeatedly calling DC in San asking. Can we get together with Artie ahead or testify before Senate Intel? I think there's all explainable is not fair issue is not registration issue. You need explanation may the documents. Let me know, please, let's range something to get together and talk this through and I tried two or three separate times. And basically got message that we'll talk if we need to and we never were able to have a conversation with attorney's office and then the arrest came out of the blue okay step is through what happened. There was she. Did she call you when it happened is you have time. How did that have? I was called by her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, basically, she had graduated in may from American with her masters degree, and she was gonna move out to Paul's place. In South Dakota that rented a u haul from place in DC at box everything up and they're were leaving that Sunday. The fifteenth believe it was and sometime middle of the day. Maybe newness I was driving somewhere, and I got a call from Paul, and he said the FBI just came in arrested Maria, and it's point again called special counsel's office to see them. It wasn't called DC confirm was them. It was and went down to the Washington field field off. So the FBI. Okay. So how is she doing emotionally at that time, mentally what was that situation? Like the first couple of days on. Anything like this? I think traumatic for anybody. She she was in a bit of a panic. You know, she's still under civilian clothes and all that stuff and she was in a sale at the Washington field office, and I met with her for a couple hours there, the FBI gave some time explain to her that she was going to be in jail at least overnight of a couple of days before we get in front of a judge. And there was some chance that the government might move to to keep her in custody. You know, we talked about calling her parents and doing some other things, and then we we asked our asked the FBI if they could just leave her in that holding cell overnight 'cause on weekend arrested. You gotta go down central cell block, the D C jail, which is a little bit grim. I've heard about that only sandwiches and. And cockroaches. Yeah. It's and you know, metal grades sleep on and all that stuff in multiple people Sam sale, but she ended up being brought to center cell block that Sunday night when we got her out Monday morning for the initial detained hearing, you know, she would've played guilty the OJ murder to get out at that point, you know, issues very upset, but we've actually went through hearings where you know, we we lost. We tried to get her out on bond and shoe Vangelis put into the D C jail where you know, the filling the DC jails not going to be Shangri LA, but it's much better than central. Cellblock? Those leash since normalcy. They're not really used to having kind of high profile people. So she had a like an whole intake unit to herself for the isolation shoes in there. But you know, they they did their best in and she was treated pretty well there there. About a month. Yeah. So that's my next question. And this the situation in the jailhouse situation did come up that prompted her to be moved. She had to be moved to Alexandria Virginia. What brought that on? I still don't know. It's been kind of a learning experience for me that there's a lack of transparency on the judicial side of these things when someone it handed over to custody of the marshalls. So I mean, literally the night she was moved. I believe it was a Friday night. I got a panic. Call from her from Alexandra jail at midnight on a Friday night saying that she'd been moved in the middle of the night. She had no understanding why what was going on. I I didn't either know untold, which we're gonna be moved. An I still haven't received a reason why she was moved. I think it's up to the marshalls to house or wherever they think is best. I know Alexander is a, you know, in general good facility, they keep a lot of high profile people there, not not unusual for federal detainee to be their retrial. But it no one ever told me I could never find out. So it wasn't anything to do with her physical condition because I, you know, one of the things that the Russian embassy and people from things the Russian consulate or Harvey wanna term it. They were visiting are fairly regularly, and they were complaining about the conditions and her health. So you don't think that had anything to do with it? It might have you know, I think it's all. Always you know under the Vienna convention, the Russia's a consular access country. So they get notified when Russian nationals detained and they get to visit her fairly often, which they've done a DC continue to do in Alexandria in DC. She was having some problems relating to an arthritic condition. She hasn't one leg which was exacerbated by kind of the cold of the cells. It's kind of funny. It was like a hundred degrees out of the time. But apparently, very cold day Seon. Yeah. And so there were some complaints about that from the Russians. I think that I don't wanna say the Russians complaints were invalid because they weren't. But I think that. Maria was in are not atypical of a general detainee in DC jail. I don't miss you treated any worse than the average. I think people sometimes and aren't familiar with the system are a little shocked. Let's see what the conditions are say what you want to say about the validity or not of their complaints. They were persistent about it because every single day after maybe I the first couple of days, it was something about Maria Boutin o- on the Russian foreign ministry website. In fact, they even swapped out the picture from the flag to her. And and and they did and they referred to. They these pretty loaded language, they referred, torture and things like that. Which you see anything like that going on not that I would consider I think what they were most complaining about were that I mean under some international standards solitary confinement for over fourteen days as viewed as torture assume, that's what they mean when they? About torture. United States is kind of very unusual in our aggressive use of isolation for prisoners generally most places in the world. Don't don't do it. And don't do it for more than a couple of weeks at a time. The other part that was unfortunate in DC was shoes. Under a because she was alone, and they had her under a generalized particularized reason kind of suicide watch kind of protocol the way the implementation it was they flipped on the lights every fifteen minutes to check on her at night. And so she went good two three weeks without really ever getting a full night's sleep. And I think that can be pretty exhausting, but I don't think any of that was intentional or directed by the government necessarily. I think that there's just, you know, jail implement their policies as best they can another situation developed once he was moved to Alexandria. And this one involved you, and this was really kind of it seems sketchy, you know. To be honest with you, it seemed kind of odd to those of us watching not really knowing what was going on. And in this particular situation, regarded supposed- interview or something that she did in jail with reference to reporter after judge Tanya shut can had imposed a gag order. So what was that about? How did you get mixed up in that? Because we after this situation next time she appeared in court, at least what we saw a little bit later. The judge appointed another council, right? And there was some suggestion that you had somehow been involved in this. Yeah. This this is I can I can tell you what happened is less. Lot less exciting than it. Seems the article is out is James Bamford who you may have read wrote an article about Maria James new Maria about a year before any of this happened, you met her foreign policy workshop or meeting or something he thought she was interesting. And so he started to an interview any of you process right article about her before around the time of the Senate finance or the Senate Intel committee investigation, and so they met for a few times for lunch yet on the record converse. Stations with some hours tape, and he was in the middle of preparing this article when she was arrested. And so then she was arrested, and there wasn't a gag order in place for while he visited her in jail. Couple times talked to her took calls from our from jail. And then the gag order was entered and because Maria knew him was kind of friends than before this. I didn't wanna cut off all contact completely. Because Marie is you know, obviously, kinda lonely can't go home that often doesn't have that many friends in the US. So I had a conversation with Maria and Bamford at separately. They continue to talk. But that everything that happened wants to gag order placed was off the record not pub- publication could never be used and they both here to that. As far as I know. And then when gag order was lifted eventually Bamford article came out. So I think that the government was concerned that if I had helped facilitate a violation of the gag order. I I'm not sure what they thought the conflict might be. But that was create some kind of conflict and incent me to plead Maria out. So with all due respect. Did you do anything? No, no, no. I didn't do still Tate. I mean because I know immediately after the. The appearance in court, and the it was all hashed out the judge you were back doing what you were doing on the beginning. It was. I think it was it's one of those difficult ethical things. I don't blame the government for raising it. I mean, the government's concern was could some from the outside look at it and say that if I assisted with an invasion of the gag order that I would somehow encouraged Maria to take a plea in order to avoid. I don't know in town is in the government and having them raise this other issue. And so my point was if there's any concern anyone's part, bringing independent lawyer for the public office AJ's, obviously been around forever, and as well respected in the court house and have Marie get some independent advice on the play as whether or not it's going to differ to play not. So he did he gave her independent advice where it was questioned about it age. It was questioned about it. He didn't see a problem. And then he was allowed to withdraw from the case that a little hiccup was resolved. But it was I it's never fund that stuff like that publicly dragged out. But there was no real problem with it. Yeah. So as a result of that situation, she then pled guilty. And if I let me just read what got here, she pled guilty. I believe that she and an unnamed US person number one, which some have identified as Paul Erickson the boyfriend. You referred to with whom she had a longtime romantic relationship agreed and conspired with a Russian government official, and at least one other person and conspired with the idea that she would act in the US under the direction of a Russian official without private. Prior notification rather to the attorney John was correct. That's what she pled to broccoli. Why did she plead guilty? Well, because depending on how one reads the statute one accepts the government's reading the statute she's guilty. She's accepting responsibility. I think that the the problem both for her and for people covering her has been drawn the distinction between being an agent of a foreign government and being a secret agent or covert agent, or spy is the government is of the view, the US government is of the view that if she did anything essentially at the direction of Alexander. Torsion while she was in the US. And that just for a moment is the Russian official. We're talking about. If she did anything on his behalf that would be a violation without registering. And so I didn't have to be anything nefarious or anything else. So if you if you take the government's interpretation of the law all the way, if you bought opera tickets for the ambassador from Japan, you were acting as his agent, you didn't register in your subject to prosecution. They would tell you that prosecutorial discretion would prevent that from happening, and it would but from a purely strict legal reading, that's as broad as they read it. And so because Maria did things like, you know, she went to Scott Walker's presidential nounce -ment, and she got an Email requesting. Hey, what what do you know about him? And she copied competed page Senate who Russian official in the garments view that act even though there's nothing confidential about a Wikipedia page was a was a act on the direction Russian. Visual inviolate law. And so there was no registration. Do do you? See? Well, yes, you do see because you're an attorney you better twenty four while and you're very good at what you do. But you do see why some people, and why in this particular case there was a lot of concern about what she was doing because of because of Mr. torsion because of his relationship vitamin Putin because of many other things that were going on. And we've heard this a few times in her case about some of the other cases that are going on including the case other investigations that are going on where essentially Russian cutouts other people who in some cases may have been even and other cases knew exactly what they were doing. We're in this country operating on behalf of the Russian government. And it wasn't a good intention that they had so you she did understand doesn't understand the situation. Correct. They were referring to is. Yeah. I mean, the context in which this happened. This timeframe is one of. Conflict between the two countries in is one where there has been this is what's unfortunate. And this is what the judicial system is generally to protect against is. There are certainly I think pretty convincing allegations that the Russian government interfered with the election two thousand sixteen in some way. I don't want to vote counts or anything. But there were social media Muller's indicted, some people believe what the US intelligence community said about that. Yeah. I have no reason not to and she she aware of she was she was aware at the time that there were that their allegations. In fact, she knew she sent a message torsion at some point saying that she was reluctant to go to an event because she was worried that that it would be misinterpreted in light of what had happened with the FSB actions against poltics. Was she naive? I think at some level. She was naive. Very smart. The reason why I asked the question very sophisticated. But I think that you know. I think that they're there. She put herself there were there are enough people around who are high profile that I understand why people were concerned a why this looked into. And I think that you know, she I don't think she I mean, she certainly not a spy, and I don't think this case is anything to do with the kind of broader Russian narrative, espionage. But I think it doesn't matter with that. But I think that she. You know, I think that that given the narrative was going on things she could have done things differently. She would have. So basically do think she was careless. I it's hard for me to say careless. I'm not sure how I would, you know, I think violent to Russia and was know. Yeah. I'm not sure how know what the laws would be. I mean, I think that that probably she was ambitious. She's trying to make contact with people. She was trying to kind of build up reputation on both sides the ocean. But you wouldn't say she's arrogant. No, no, she's knowing what she knew. And how smart he is. Now wouldn't issues issues arrogant about it at all. I think she was I think a lot of issues idealistic. I mean, she was kind of. I mean, it's kind of almost humorous if you read some of the stuff with her trying to set up the dinners with mister O'Neil and others, you know. I mean, I'm sorry. I mean, even really good twenty something year old grad students, not going to bring peace to the world. And this is a reason why asked the question I spoke to some of her classmates at American University, they said to me from the very beginning. At least one of them. We wondered why there's twenty nine year old woman who has multiple degrees in entry level. Class at American University. And this this all their knowledge with their suspicions coincided when she was arrested. This is the reason why you the questions about naievety, you know, carelessness or air again's. No, I think it's of the American situation arose the way, we're as often arises, I think she wanted a way to to be in the US and be with her boyfriend for longer periods of time. And also just to get what would be viewed internationally as a more credible degree, her masters degrees from Russia from all ties state university, which you know, doesn't mean much if you're outside Siberia. And so she wanted the degree in the US. And so, you know, that's all that's really what she was doing. She went to all our classes and did. Well, so I don't think it was a cover for anything. But it's again, I think that that she's learned from learn a lot from this. And she's she's. I think going to be a lot more careful in the future. So speaking of the future last thing here, she's about to seems to be finished with this whole process. We were in court. Today's March fourth twenty nineteen we were in court about a week or so ago and the judge said during the process that she has served. A great deal of substantial. I think was the term she used amount of the time. She would likely be sentenced to when she is sentenced. So you get the sense that she will be. It's possible that she'd be sentenced to time served and then set home I'm looking for wood to knock on as I say that certainly we we've argued we've argued for time served. It's up to the judge the judge can do whatever she would like we've argued time served. The government hasn't taken a contrary view. They haven't actually adopted what we've said, but they haven't proposed another number. You know, a lot of Americans would find that. Very surprising consider considering all the attention that this right? But I think at the end of the day there there is, you know, she's taking responsibility for felony which is a serious crime for failure to register before she undertook activities. But by the same token, if you're going to the standards, we would any crime. You know, there's no financial loss. There's no physical harm to anyone. There's you know. There are plenty of crimes Merida's cents in the range that were arguing for it's not it's not the the worst crime ever happened. And certainly she suffered reputational in, you know, done for seven months, she's been in isolation. So she's suffered enough. What about the the boyfriend is she cooperating against him? This is just a lawyer loyal thing of mine. I'm not trying to be a vase of what I always say is when I'm in clients that our cooperation is you're not never cooperating against anybody. You're telling the truth is that what she's doing, you know? And so she agrees to tell the truth about what she knows they still a couple they they still talk. And I mean, I it's hard to find what a couple is. When one of them's incarcerated of the other ones under a Dighton. I'm not sure when they'll be in the same physical location again. But they certainly have a relationship and talk, and I think, and I think that when she was with for a long time, and she has an appreciation for him. Okay. Is she going to be swapped for somebody? I have not heard that. But I would presume would be the last to know. I know there are couple of Americans that are in Russia right now in, you know, some of the speculation is that Paul Whalen, for example, is you know, he's getting slow walled by the Russians. So you nobody said anything to you about any of that. No one has mentioned anything to me about that. But I've been following it probably close as you have. And I noticed that when our last status conference was set for the end February his next conference was set for like a day or two afterwards. Interesting. Yes. I I I'm about the same thing happened in both of them. Right. You know status quo. Yeah. I think it's. I don't know if there's a little bit of gamesmanship or signal sending being being done by the Russians, but it wouldn't shock me for which is the broader question about applying these foreign agency laws to civilians who aren't members intelligence services. That's the risk is you get into tit for tat with countries around the world. That's bob. Driscoll Maria Boutin is attorney thank you for taking time to talk with us. Thank you having magician. That's it for this episode coming up on our next program. Whether it's terrorism anarchist, cybercriminals nation-states intelligence or the US's own counterintelligence drama that's playing out in the congress. Join us on target USA for the latest. Thank you for checking in with us. Follow us on Twitter at t- USA podcast. That's tango. Uniform Sierra alpha podcast. You can also let me know what you think at J green at W T O P dot com. That's the letter j the color green one word at whiskey Tango. Oscar Papa Jay green at WTO p dot com. Also, something new I wanna tell you about it's a newsletter that we're doing it's called inside the skiff. I'd like you to check out this newsletter. Because it keeps you up to date on everything we're doing on target USA in all of the other national security work that I'm doing so you can go to WTO p dot com to the alert section and sign up for it. And again, thank you. I'm Jay Jay green. And this his target USA. Nasa security podcast. It's time. To celebrate the Adam Corolla show just hit its ten year anniversary and Adams kicking it off in style. Join out this week as he welcomes late night talk legends Jimmy Kimmel on the Adam Corolla show and Jay Leno on car cast. Congratulations. Adam download the Adam Corolla show and car cast every week on podcast one or wherever you get your favorite podcasts. Now, stay tuned for the latest headlines from the Associated Press.