Accused Russian Spy Maria Butina Talks in First U.S. Interview Since Arrest: 'You Cannot Judge a Person Based on Appearance'

Accused Russian spy Maria Butina has finally broken her silence about her time in U.S. Federal prison, having been accused of trying to influence NRA and U.S. policy in a way that favored Kremlin policies, according to CBS News.

Appearing on 60 Minutes, interviewed by Leslie Stahl, Butina said her intention was to foster better relations between Russia and America, and that she meant well.

Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as a foreign agent after being arrested in 2018. She had been a regular figure at Washington, D.C. NRA events going back to 2014, and apparently spent much of her time there currying favor with Republican politicians. Butina had posted pictures of herself with Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum at various NRA gatherings, and organized a trip for NRA members to Moscow, where they met with multiple top Russian officials.

As time went on, she became closer to Trump's Russian advisers, according to the interview. She was also in regular contact with Alexander Torshin, a Russian official who appeared at both the NRA gatherings and the Russian meeting. Butina also attended other political events, such as Freedomfest, a Libertarian convention. She described her interest in firearms as stemming from her childhood, and said her interest in NRA activities stem from a gun movement she began in Russia.

Newsweek subscription offers >

CBS News, Marina Butino
Accused Russian spy Maria Butina denies she was working on behalf of the Russian government to influence policy changes in the NRA and American Government. Screenshot/CBS News

When asked if she sought to influence American policies, Butina said, "I never sought to influence your policies… I wanted to learn from the United States and make Russia better."

CBS and 60 Minutes obtained thousands of direct messages from Butina's Twitter. An exchange between Butina and Torshin is highlighted:

"We made our bet. I am following our game," wrote Butina.

Newsweek subscription offers >

Torshin tweeted: "This is the battle for the future. It cannot be lost… patience and cold blood…"

Butina replied: "Only incognito! Right now everything has to be quiet and careful."

Asked by Stahl to clarify the tweets, she said, "Let me take you back to 2016…around the election time. Do you remember at that time how American media treated Russia? Everything was toxic. Tell me that there is no racism here against the Russians. Oh, please. It is."

"I think it's an American, very old saying that suggests that wolves have teeth, but not all animals with teeth are wolves," she said. "You cannot judge a person based on appearance." She accused the American government of mischaracterizing her intentions, and went on to criticize its justice system, saying she encountered cockroaches in prison and was forced to spend 100 days in solitary confinement.

John Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security, called Butina "an influence agent....She was getting access to Americans who she thought were close to power in America." According to him, Butina broke the law by acting as an agent pursuing Russian interests "and pretended that she wasn't." He added that it was "very likely" that Russia would leverage Butina's arrest for propaganda means.

60 Minutes airs Sunday nights on CBS.

Accused Russian Spy Maria Butina Talks in First U.S. Interview Since Arrest: 'You Cannot Judge a Person Based on Appearance' | Politics