Maria Butina, the Russian woman charged with acting as a foreign agent, tells 60 Minutes on Sunday that she never “sought to influence” U.S. policies and that she only “wanted to learn from the United States and make Russia better.”
The CBS newsmagazine landed the first U.S. interview with Butina, who was released on October 15 after serving for 15 months in prison.
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When she was arrested in July 2018, just as Special Counsel Robert Mueller was in the midst of his investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 election, there was intense speculation over her contacts with members of the National Rifle Association.
In the U.S. on a student visa, she posted pictures of herself with Republican politicians and organized meetings in Russia with NRA members and Russian officials. Also under scrutiny were her contacts with the Trump campaign’s Russia advisers in 2016.
In a Twitter message to a friend in Russia that was obtained by 60 Minutes, she wrote: “We made our bet. I am following our game.” The friend, Alexander Torshin — who was at the meetings with NRA members — replied: “This is the battle for the future. It cannot be lost…patience and cold blood.”
Butina told 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl that the reason she used such phrasing was that “everything was toxic” during the 2016 election and the role of the Russians. “Tell me that there is no racism here against the Russians,” she said. “Oh, please. It is.”
Butina said that her actions were distorted.
“I think it’s an American, very old saying that suggests that wolves have teeth, but not all animals with teeth are wolves,” Butina said. “You cannot judge a person based on appearance.”
The 60 Minutes segment also features an interview with John Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security. He told the newsmagazine that Butina was an “influence agent” and that even her interview is a way for Vladimir Putin’s government to “leverage her as an instrument of propaganda.”