Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios Pro Rata

Dive into the world of dealmakers across VC, PE and M&A with Axios Pro Rata. Delivered daily to your inbox by Dan Primack and Kia Kokalitcheva.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Nashville news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Nashville newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Columbus news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Columbus newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Dallas news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Dallas newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Austin news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Austin newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Atlanta news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Atlanta newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Philadelphia news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Philadelphia newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Chicago news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Chicago newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top DC news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios DC newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Maria Butina at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport after being deported from the U.S. following her Oct. 25 release from prison. Photo: Mikhail Japaridze/TASS via Getty Images

Convicted Russian agent Maria Butina spoke with "60 Minutes" on accusations that she was trying to influence U.S. policies and the NRA for the Kremlin in an interview broadcast Sunday. And she outlined why she asked then-presidential candidate Donald Trump about Russian sanctions at a 2015 event.

A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

Why it matters: Maria Butina is the first Russian national convicted for seeking to influence U.S. politics during the 2016 campaign. She pled guilty in 2018 to conspiracy charges alleging she worked with her American boyfriend, Republican operative Paul Erickson, to infiltrate conservative circles including in the NRA with the goal of influencing U.S. policy on behalf of the Kremlin.

Highlights from the "60 Minutes" interview

On her exchange with President Trump in 2015 at the Libertarian convention FreedomFest:

  • CBS played footage of Butina asking Trump if he wanted to "continue the politics of sanctions that are damaging on both economies," to which he replied, "I don't think you'd need the sanctions. I think that we would get along very, very well."
CBS journalist Lesley Stahl: "One of the goals of the Russian government at this point in time was to get rid of those sanctions. It was a major goal."
Butina: "It was also a major goal for every Russian citizen that suffers today from these sanctions, I believe that our countries shall not fight." 

On the NRA:

Butina: "We were trying to get the changes in Russian law that would allow guns for self-defense."
Stahl: "So you hear that, an American hears that, and they say, 'Come on, [Russian President] Putin is not going to allow people to run around owning guns.' Here's the case against you, that you started this organization as a way to infiltrate the NRA here to meet people as a way in to influence us." 
Butina: "That's nonsense."
Stahl: "But you did that. You used your organization to meet people in the NRA."
Butina: "The NRA, for us, has always been an example. Because there is no more powerful lobbyist gun group in the world than the NRA. Learning from them was an honor."

On Russian official Alexander Torshin, who gave her directions in the U.S., per court papers:

Stahl: "So you wrote him a message and you said, 'You are an influential member of [Putin's] team.' Your words."
Butina: "It doesn't suggest he's close to Putin in any way."
Stahl: "But was he an influential member of Putin's team?"
Butina: "I don't know."

Reality check: Stahl also spoke with John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, whose office helped prosecute Butina. Demers viewed her CBS interview and called it "a masterpiece of disinformation."

Background: Butina was sentenced in April to 18 months in prison, with credit for nine months already served. She was released on Oct. 25 and deported to Russia.

  • Butina's case was handled separately from former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
  • The fallout from her case saw Patrick Byrne resign as CEO of online retailer Overstock.com in August after he admitted to having a relationship with Butina from 2015 to 2018. He said he helped law enforcement agents with their "Clinton Investigation" and "Russia Investigation," per the New York Times.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

Former Defense Secretary Esper sues Pentagon over book

Former President Trump and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the White House in 2020. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper filed a lawsuit Sunday against the Defense Department, accusing the Pentagon of "censoring" his First Amendment rights by redacting parts of his upcoming book on the Trump administration.

The big picture: Esper, who served as defense secretary from July 2019 until he was fired by then-President Trump in November last year, alleges in the suit that "significant text" is "being improperly withheld from publication" of the manuscript "under the guise of classification."

WHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The World Health Organization called on countries Sunday to not impose travel bans on southern African nations amid concerns over the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The U.S. and countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific announced travel restrictions in response to Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa. It's since spread to several European countries, Canada, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. The WHO noted in a statement that only two southern African nations have detected the new variant.