Butina was arrested Sunday on the charge of conspiring to act as a foreign agent of Russia, according to a Department of Justice (DOJ) statement and indictment released Monday. Tuesday, yet another charge was filed against Butina, this time accusing her of not just conspiring to work as an agent of Russia, but of actually having done so.
Tuesday's charge against Butina was handed down by a grand jury at a federal court in Washington. A legal adage in America declares that "a good prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich." In Butina's case, Russian President Vladimir Putin was the ham and the National Rifle Association (NRA), an organization widely reviled by US liberals, was the bread.
So far, the Russian Embassy in the US has not been granted consular access to Butina despite pushing for it for more than a day, Sputnik News reported.
Journalist and author Daniel Lazare spoke with Radio Sputnik's Loud & Clear Tuesday prior to the announcement of the second round of charges against Butina, calling the case against her a "real nothingburger."
"What's there? Everyone's going crazy in Washington," Lazare noted.
The allegation against Butina "strikes me as something that is kind of a dead letter in Washington; it's rarely prosecuted," Lazare told Loud & Clear hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker.
Butina's lawyer, former deputy assistant attorney general of the DOJ's civil rights division Robert Driscoll, called the conspiracy charge "overblown" in a statement obtained by Sputnik News Monday. The indictment is a "misuse of the Foreign Agent statute, which is designed to punish covert propaganda, not open and public networking by foreign students," he said at the time.
— Mark Sleboda (@MarkSleboda1) July 15, 2018
"I really can't believe that there aren't countless British — or Israeli, Chinese, French, et cetera — people running around in Washington [attending] dinners and parties and trying to put their government point of view across and when they actually fill out the form with the Department of Justice; I can't believe that many of them really even bother taking that small step," Lazare said.
Butina has long advocated for gun rights in Russia and was endorsed by none other than opposition leader Alexey Navalny. Navalny receives considerable coverage from the Western press hailing him as Putin's primary opponent despite the fact he consistently polls in the single digits. In the US, he is promoted as a liberal reformer, notwithstanding his deeply racist views.
In 2014, Navalny wrote on his website that Butina was "probably the only candidate who is campaigning properly" for the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, a civil organization in Russia that gives citizens a say in legislation and helps connect them, and special interests, to the government. Navalny also noted Butina's lobbying for the right to bear arms in Russia, a measure Navalny has separately promoted as a way of dealing with Russia's Muslim neighbors.
— Mark Ames (@MarkAmesExiled) March 27, 2017
One of Russia's main opposition news outlets, Medusa, spoke with a source who personally knew Butina through work. They said she holds views in line with the opposition and even demonstrated in Moscow's Bolotnaya Square in 2011 amid protests against the result of elections to the Duma, Russia's parliament. The New York Times notes that the protesters were against "Putin's party" and that Navalny, who was arrested during the demonstrations, later addressed the crowds from prison.
"I hope that the prosecutors realize that about her political persuasion. If they didn't, this looks to me like individual lives are being ruined here in the pursuit of this geopolitical strategy and this mania against Russia and stopping Trump from doing anything positive about it," Joe Lauria, editor-in-chief of Consortium News, told Loud & Clear in a later interview after the charges were announced.
"I don't know whether she'll be convicted, but this will probably come to court, because she lives here in Washington, she's been arrested, so we're going to have… [some] legal resolution to this, which will not happen with the 12 indicted GRU agents," Lauria said. "In this case we'll see whether they really have any evidence against her."