By Chuck Ross
In her first interview since her release from federal prison in the United States, Maria Butina denied ever acting as a spy for Russia, and said she pleaded guilty in her case because she didn’t stand a chance for a fair trial because of “anti-Russian hysteria” in the U.S.
Butina, 30, was released from jail in Florida on Friday after serving most of an 18-month prison sentence. She was deported to Russia, where she gave her first interview to RT, the Russia-owned media outlet.
“I’ve never been a spy, and I have never been charged with any espionage charges,” she said in an interview that aired Saturday.
“I did plea to be a foreign agent, because, look … I am in solitary confinement in jail facing 15 years, knowing that statistically Americans plea in more than 90% of cases. Why do they do that?”
She added that “if you go to trial, you’re going to lose that trial.”
“Especially me, a Russian, on trial in Washington, D.C., in the middle of anti-Russian hysteria? I would have gotten all 15 years. So, my choice was obvious.”
A federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., indicted Butina on July 17, 2018, on charges that she acted as an unregistered foreign agent of Russia and conspired to do the same.
She pleaded guilty Dec. 13, 2018, to the conspiracy charge, and admitted that she operated under the direction of Aleksandr Torshin, who previously served as deputy chairman of Russia’s central bank, to establish “unofficial ties” to Republican political operatives in the U.S.
Butina captured media attention well before the indictment, in part because of her appearance — she has long red hair and a penchant for guns. Butina and Torshin operated a group called Right to Bear Arms, which advocated for gun rights in Russia.
Through that group, Butina and Torshin established relationships with executives at the National Rifle Association. They also made contacts with conservative political operatives, and attempted to establish ties with the Trump campaign.
U.S. prosecutors initially floated the theory that Butina used sex as part of a scheme to collect information from targets. But they admitted in a Sept. 8, 2018, court filing that their interpretation of allegedly salacious text messages was inaccurate.
Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, also accused prosecutors of withholding exculpatory information regarding Butina, who studied at American University in Washington, D.C., before her arrest.
In a July 26 letter to the Justice Department, Driscoll pointed to statements made by Patrick Byrne, the now-former CEO of Overstock.com, who said he was tasked by the FBI to develop a relationship with Butina and keep tabs on her. Byrne said he told his contacts at the FBI that he did not believe Butina was engaged in wrongdoing.
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