WASHINGTON — A Russian gun rights activist who admitted she was a secret agent for the Kremlin and tried to infiltrate conservative U.S. political groups while Donald Trump rose to power said she believed her notes and analysis would be “valuable” for Russian officials.
Maria Butina, who admitted covertly gathering intelligence on the National Rifle Association and other groups at the direction of a former Russian lawmaker, spoke to National Public Radio in an interview airing Friday.
Butina pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent and was sentenced in April to serve 18 months behind bars. The 30-year-old has been jailed since her arrest in July.
Butina admitted that she had worked with former Russian lawmaker Alexander Torshin to use their contacts in the NRA to pursue back channels to American conservatives during the 2016 presidential campaign. She violated U.S. law because she did not report her activities to the U.S. government.
As part of her plea agreement, Butina acknowledged she “sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics.”
In the interview with NPR, Butina admitted that she knew Torshin was providing the information she gleaned to Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and said that she was honored to help.
“I said that I would be honored because, well, I am a young woman and there you have people in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would consider my notes, my analysis, as valuable,” Butina said. “It was very pleasant for me. So of course I said, ‘Of course, yes.’”
Butina admitted she should have registered with the U.S. government but argued her actions took place out in the open and she wasn’t a spy. Her lawyers argued she was simply a student interested in American politics and better U.S.-Russian relations.
“I love both countries, and I was building peace,” Butina said in the interview.
Now, Butina is “embarrassed that instead of creating peace by not registering I created discord,” something she said she’ll carry with her for the rest of her life.
Butina will be deported back to Russia after she finishes serving her prison sentence. She said she has no concerns about returning to Russia because people who know her “know as a matter of fact that I am not a spy nor do I have any secret information.”
“I don’t think I have any problems or I could have any concerns about my safety,” she added. “I don’t see that happening.”
The charges against Butina were brought by federal prosecutors in Washington, and her case was separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Butina said she knew nothing about Russia’s efforts to interfere in U.S. elections.