Court appoints public defender to be advisory counsel for accused spy Maria Butina

Who is accused Russian spy Maria Butina?

Attorneys for Maria Butina, the alleged Russian spy who is being held in solitary confinement in a Virginia jail, told a U.S. District Court judge on Thursday that they plan to cancel a status hearing scheduled for later this month, on December 19. The judge in the case, Tanya Chutkan, instead unexpectedly held a sealed hearing by teleconference in Washington, D.C. Thursday, at the request of both the defense and the prosecution. 

Hours after the surprise hearing, Butina was appointed a public defender to serve as an advisory counsel by the court. The public defender may act as her lawyer but could also be assisting her with issues relating to her legal team.

The focus of Thursday's hearing is unknown and comes on the heels of a failed request by Butina's attorneys to remove her from solitary confinement, citing a lack of "meaningful human contact" and "sensory stimulation."  The Russian national was recently returned to solitary confinement after a brief release from a two-month stint in isolation.

In July, the U.S. attorney indicted Butina on charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent. The case was investigated by the Washington, D.C. field office of the FBI, with charges brought by the U.S. attorney's office of the District of Columbia and the National Security division of the Justice Department. It's not a part of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in U.S. elections.

 She is accused of trying to infiltrate American political organizations on behalf of a high-ranking Russian official over several years. At one point during the presidential campaign, she and the official tried unsuccessfully to broker a meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

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