American University facing subpoena from accused Russian agent Maria Butina
Former classmates are fighting Butina's request for class rosters
A lawyer for Maria Butina, the gun activist and American University graduate charged with acting as a Russian agent in the U.S., has issued a subpoena for university records, including copies of class rosters for each of Butina’s courses, AU police reports concerning Butina and a complaint Butina filed against an AU professor who made comments about her to the media.
Multiple former classmates of Butina, who would be identified in the class rosters, have fought the order, arguing that Butina’s defense did not provide sufficient reason for the subpoena. The Daily Beast first reported the existence of the subpoena, which is a court order requiring an organization, such as AU, to produce documents or face punishment, such as being held in contempt of court or paying a fine.
Mark Story, a university spokesperson, said that although AU is not a party to Butina’s case, "we have a legal obligation to comply” with the subpoena.
“The University has been in communication with some students impacted by the subpoena, and we will continue to work with those community members to address their concerns and questions,” Story said.
AU’s general counsel notified all students named in the rosters requested by Butina’s defense, according to a Sept. 11 letter sent to those students obtained by The Eagle. Butina was a master’s student in the School of International Service before graduating in May.
The University’s associate general counsel, Justin Perillo, wrote in the letter that student educational records are protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
“According to FERPA, the University must notify students in advance of complying with any subpoena or judicial order for the release of their student records,” Perillo wrote.
Perillo added that the students had the right to “take any appropriate legal action which would require the University to refrain from complying” with the subpoena. Multiple former classmates of Butina have done just that, filing identical motions on Sept. 21 to have the subpoena “quashed,” or rejected, by the court. AU had originally planned to comply with the subpoena on Sept. 24, according to the letter.
In the motion, the former classmates said Butina had “not shown good cause for the requested information” and that “compliance with the subpoena would be unreasonable and oppressive.”
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan asked Butina’s defense team last week to “show cause” why she should not reject the subpoena, according to the Courthouse News Service. The subpoena was issued without prior judicial approval.
In a Sept. 22 court filing published by the Courthouse News Service, Butina’s attorneys — Robert Driscoll and Alfred Carry of D.C. law firm McGlinchey Stafford — said they were not legally required to have judicial approval before issuing the subpoena. The attorneys also argued that the order should not be rejected because “it was neither unreasonable nor oppressive.”
“To the contrary, the documents requested are relevant, necessary, and material to the preparation of her defense in that they will reveal important evidentiary information as well as witnesses to rebut the government’s allegations in this case,” Driscoll and Carry wrote.
The attorneys argued that Butina was “merely exercising her constitutional right to obtain relevant evidence from a third party” in her request for class rosters, AU police reports supposedly filed against Butina and the university’s records regarding a complaint Butina filed against Svetlana Savranskava, an adjunct professor in the School of International Service. Savranskava told The Daily Beast in 2017 that Butina had claimed to be part of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia in class “several times.”
Driscoll and Carry said that only the class roster request had been challenged and that the other elements of the subpoena should not be quashed. They added that the defense is “not seeking information to impugn, annoy, harm, or invade the privacy of any student.”
Government lawyers wrote on Sept. 24 that the subpoena should be thrown out because Butina’s attorneys should have sought judicial approval before issuing the order, according to a court filing published by the Courthouse News Service.
If the subpoena remains, the prosecution wrote, the judge should direct AU to give all requested documents to the court and allow both the defense and prosecution to inspect them.
Chutkan, the judge in this case, has not publicly decided to reject the subpoena as of publication time.