Eric Metaxas Sides with Russians over U.S. Dept of Justice in Maria Butina Case (UPDATED)

David Barton (left), Eric Metaxas (right)

Yesterday, Eric Metaxas tweeted this defense of admitted Russian agent Maria Butina (see my post about her case):

Butina was charged in July with attempting to advance Russian interests via the development of contacts within the Christian right, the National Rifle Association and the Republican party. Last week, she struck a plea agreement in which she admitted her guilt in exchange for a reduced sentence. About 97% of such cases end up in a plea agreement.

Read Maria Butina’s Plea Agreement

In 2015, Metaxas interviewed Butina on his radio program. With the two tweets shown above, he has come to her defense. In doing so, Metaxas has adopted the position of the Russian government over his own. The only people espousing the view that Butina was kept in or threatened with solitary confinement and forced into a plea are Russian authorities and their sympathizers. According to the Voice of America fact checking website Polygraph, Butina and her attorney said in court that she was allowed visitation and time out of her cell.

During the hearing for the change of plea Butina and her lawyers denied any physical or psychological pressure telling the judge the decision to enter the plea deal was voluntary.

Butina’s attorney Robert Driscoll told the court his client is allowed a “time out of her cell, daily activities and visitations, including those from the representatives of the Russian foreign ministry,” and that she is “doing well and competent.”

In addition to her own statement and her lawyer’s statement, we have a transcript of a pre-trial conference call where it is clear that Butina’s rights were respected. Not only did Butina get counsel about the nature of her right to a plea agreement, she had another attorney advise her when her own attorney thought there might be a conflict of interest. In the transcript, it is clear that Butina had been talking to other inmates and had been allowed to talk to others, including journalists, on monitored phone calls.

Metaxas’ tweet is interesting in that he implies he has information that isn’t public. “Wait until the whole truth comes out,” he pleads. Somehow he knows something about her faith he tells us. Has he spoken to her? He should enlighten us about his sources. The only sources I can find for the story that she has been kept in solitary confinement or threatened with any unusual treatment is Russia Today and the Russian Foreign Minister.* As noted above, those claims fly in the face of what Butina and her lawyer told the judge in the plea agreement hearing (although in November her attorney did claim she had been in solitary confinement at least some of her stay in jail. The U.S. Attorney’s office did not confirm or deny it).

Given what we have learned over the past year about Russian disinformation campaigns in the U.S., it doesn’t seem prudent or wise to trust the word of Russian authorities. While I don’t accept everything anyone tells me without examination, I reserve the highest level of skepticism for Russian claims. There is a high likelihood that these stories of torture and threats of unusual solitary confinement are aspects of an ongoing disinformation campaign the Russians have cultivated among conservative Christians (see this Christian Post article). Sadly, without providing any evidence, Metaxas is helping the Russians promote their position.

*(UPDATE: In November 2018, Butina’s attorney Robert Driscoll claimed in court that Butina had been held in solitary confinement for 22 hours at a time for a combined 67 days. There was no confirmation of this claim by the Justice Department. In her plea agreement hearing, Driscoll and client told a different story.

Having come across this media report, I am prepared to revise my position. I will wait to get more information now that Maria Butina’s gag order has been lifted and her plea deal becomes clearer. I would also like to hear from the Justice Department. When I contacted the DOJ, the answer was “no comment.”

Also in Maria Butina’s request to remove the gag order (which was successful) her attorney wrote:

Importantly, the sentencing has not yet occurred, and the government holds in its sole discretion the determination of whether the defendant has offered “substantial assistance” to other investigations and will evaluate, as will the court, the defendant’s acceptance of responsibility. Thus, the defendant and her counsel have no incentive to publicly contradict the Statement of Offense or her guilty plea or otherwise take issue with the plea, nor to discuss any aspect of possible cooperation.

In other words, Butina isn’t going to debate or dispute the governments account of her treatment or whether or not she was forced to enter a plea deal. She and her attorney already said she did so voluntarily.

Image: Twitter

12 thoughts on “Eric Metaxas Sides with Russians over U.S. Dept of Justice in Maria Butina Case (UPDATED)”

  1. Last week, she struck a plea agreement in which she admitted her guilt in exchange for a reduced sentence. About 97% of such cases end up in a plea agreement.

    Combined with the 93% conviction rate if you do take your case to trial, this is not a good thing. Far too often, defendants are essentially forced into taking pleas after prosecutors threaten to pile on far more serious charges if you decide to chance your arm in court. It’s little short of legal blackmail.

    Yes, there is a place for plea bargains, but it’s gotten to the point where it’s propping up a judicial system gone wild — if fewer cases could be railroaded by the current system, there wouldn’t be the time or money to convict so many people, and perhaps then the US prison population wouldn’t be five times the European average any more.

    All that said, I doubt Metaxas has ever shown the same amount of concern for the millions of American citizens who have been railroaded by the system…

  2. I wish George W. Bush had “sided” with Saddam Hussein “over” our intelligence agencies. Perhaps we could have avoided a protracted and costly war.

    James Clapper is a documented liar on the matter of domestic spying, James Comey is a complete weasel who willfully or incompetently threw the election to Trump with his meddling, and individual government agents acted on gross political bias with little to no oversight. Wikileaks is the best friend any American ever had.

    If I have to choose between trusting our government or trusting the Russian company that bilked someone by producing those hamfisted and absurd Facebook ads, I choose Mickey Mouse.

    1. I fear your attitude and conclusions here reflect exactly the sort that Russian operations wish to elicit. I would challenge you to step back a bit and re-evaluate.

      1. Yes, I have been co-opted by the dirty Russians. They have sullied my opinions of our upstanding and unassailable intelligence agencies and politicians.

        Seriously, though… I am baffled at how the left transformed in only one year from skeptics about the red scare and our intelligence apparatus, and then alarmism about Russian geopolitical influence and beligerence, to indignantly defending the sacred honor of the CIA and FBI and warning us about the subversive (and nearly subconscious) influence of evil Russia.

        1. Your last comment is full of cartoonish stereotypes and implied straw men. This brand of discourse is not the norm for you in my experience.

          Each situation is different, but this sort of activity has always been a staple of the USSR and Putin’s Russia. The evidence of this most recent case comes from far more than our intelligence community and should not be partisan. Even so, are you suggesting that we never trust them again because of selective intelligence displayed by the Bush administration? That we should rather trust governments such as Putin’s?

          1. Yes, they are cartoonish stereotypes that the left invented to ridicule cold war conservatives.

            I don’t think we should extend unearned trust to anyone in authority over us or in positions of great power, rather we should look carefully at what they do. The Russians (government? self-interested individuals or factions? companies?) interfering in our affairs should be dealt with accordingly, and any aggression by Russia against its neighbors should be dealt with. IMO, the greatest threat from Russia is that they will cooperate with China to topple the American dollar, but we apparently have no problem dancing with brutal, totalitarian China. Thankfully, Russia can’t make dirt cheap flat screen televisions.

            In terms of our intelligence agencies? I see little to give me encouragement, and IMO it has only gotten worse since Bush was the President. I have been appalled at the actions and statements of James Comey, but he’s just one entitled meddler in an intelligence community with no substantive outside accountability.

          2. I think I’m going to let someone else pick this up if they care to as I honestly can’t discern a coherent pattern here. You normally make more sense to me even if I disagree with your point.

    2. Intel about Russians is historically more reliable than intel about what middle east players are doing. We have a long history with the Russians. You are also conflating the intel Bush received and what he and Congress chose to do with it. Furthermore, it is not logical to reason from a past incident to the current situation. Because the intel was inaccurate in certain aspects before doesn’t mean the intel is wrong now.

      If Metaxas has evidence for his position he should say what it is. The evidence I found is the best that can be gleaned by those outside the situation. Given the history of the Russians and their disinformation campaign, I will still choose US institutions over Mickey Mouse or Putin.

      1. Thank you Dr. Throckmorton for your clarity, evidence-based decision-making, and commitment to truth.

      2. I don’t believe we ever had truly unreliable intelligence about the Middle East in the case of Iraq (nor do I think what we knew was handled dispassionately or apolitically). In fact, all of the intelligence we needed from prior to 9/11 apparently existed, but we failed to put together the correct scenario or to act on it (no blame, just saying). Which is not to say that we do not have more established and reliable channels of info on Russia, but our intelligence gathering on virtually everything has likely never been more complete thanks to the vulnerable nature of communications, satellite technology, etc.

        All of my current misgivings about the intelligence community come from what particular officials say and what they do, or what they electively choose not to say or do, despite what they demonstrably know. The lies, misdirection and meddling are indefensible. “The Russians” could only DREAM of pushing election results around at the level of one entitled, self-congratulatory man named James Comey.

        I have no clue about Metaxas’ claims. He makes my head spin these days. But I have to say, having listened to primarily NPRs coverage of the Butina/NRA/Republican story, what was lacking was any specific information about scale and results. The same is true of the Russian election meddling. I understand that the Russian government is not a trustworthy entity, and that they have avidly sought to penetrate our own defenses on every front for decades. But the concern from certain quarters about Russia and some decidedly inept actors seems suddenly outsized and alarmist.

  3. Anyone familiar with Russian intelligence practices could see what Butina was from miles away. A classic honey trap. She was bankrolled and controlled from Day One. Anyone who read a decent spy novel back in the day would have recognized her for who she was, and stayed clear away.

    Every former and present intelligence expert I saw asked about this – from the day this story started to break – had the same reaction: “This is what the Russians do,” “This is classic infiltration,” etc. Yet all the hardboiled conservatives, the ones who prize the steely glint in their eyes and the ability to see the world for what it is that they lord over liberals, displayed no skepticism or reluctance. And the route the Russians took, exploiting the NRA to make contacts with Republicans, was pure poetry. Talk bout hoist on one’s own petard.

    Maybe Metaxas can overlook the money pouring into the NRA, who then used it to help elect Trump. I am sure there will be a special toast to this “useful idiot” in the Kremlin tonight. Hell, maybe Metaxas will be there drinking with them.

  4. So is Eric Metaxas claiming that Maria Butina and her own lawyer are lying? This isn’t going to play out well for Eric Metaxas and his White Evangelical followers.

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