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Maria Butina, alleged Russian agent, asks DOJ to dismiss charges

Attorneys for alleged Russian agent Maria Butina have asked a U.S. federal court to dismiss the government’s case against her, calling the Justice Department’s charges “overbroad and unconstitutional.”

Lawyers for Ms. Butina, 30, argued their case for dismissal in documents filed in D.C. federal court Thursday, four months to the day since the former American University student was arrested in the nation’s capital and subsequently charged in connection with allegedly acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian government.

Prosecutors have claimed that Ms. Butina forged relationships with American politicians while attending college in order to create private lines of communication between D.C. and Moscow that could be used “to penetrate the U.S. national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation.”

Arguing for dismissal in a 28-page memorandum, Ms. Butina’s legal team claimed that their client’s alleged conduct was constitutionally protected, and that the federal statute prohibiting unregistered foreign agents is “overly broad” as applied against her.

“The government does not allege that the Russian Federation employed her as an intelligence officer or foreign agent in any traditional sense,” defense attorney Robert Driscoll wrote in the filing. “The government contends Maria is a Kremlin agent because she shared her memorable American happenings and naïve, youthful optimism for better Russian-American relations with others, including an individual claimed to be ‘Russian Official,’ who did not employ her, pay her, request her to pursue better relations between the two countries or exert any control over her daily activities.”

Representatives for the Justice Department did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Ms. Butina has been charged with two counts of acting as an unregistered foreign agent without prior notification to the attorney general. She previously pleaded not guilty and is being held pending further proceedings.

Addressing the statute cited by prosecutors, Ms. Butina’s lawyers said the government’s rules for foreign agents “criminalizes any act taken in the United States at the direction of a foreign government or official by someone who is not a diplomat, consular office or attaché without prior registration.”

“It does not matter whether the act was lawful at the time and place it occurred, so long as the offender did it at the direction of a foreign official,” Mr. Driscoll argued. “There are no exceptions for ‘activities that in ordinary circumstances constitute an exercise of freedom of speech.’”

Moscow has previously called Ms. Butina a “political prisoner” and has protested her arrest.

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