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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

UN poll: Most see climate change as global emergency amid pandemic

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (C) fronts a Fridays For Future protest at the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm in September. Photo: Jonathan Nacksrtrand/AFP via Getty Images

64% of people from around the world say climate change is a global emergency, a United Nations poll published Wednesday finds.

Why it matters: It's biggest global survey on climate change ever conducted, with some 1.2 million participants from 50 countries — including the U.S. where 65% of those surveyed view climate change as an emergency.

Collins helps contractor before pro-Susan PAC gets donation

Sen. Susan Collins during her reelection campaign. Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

A PAC backing Sen. Susan Collins in her high-stakes reelection campaign received $150,000 from an entity linked to the wife of a defense contractor whose firm Collins helped land a federal contract, new public records show.

Why it matters: The executive, Martin Kao of Honolulu, leaned heavily on his political connections to boost his business, federal prosecutors say in an ongoing criminal case against him. The donation linked to Kao was veiled until last week.

How cutting GOP corporate cash could backfire

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Companies pulling back on political donations, particularly to members of Congress who voted against certifying President Biden's election win, could inadvertently push Republicans to embrace their party's rightward fringe.

Why it matters: Scores of corporate PACs have paused, scaled back or entirely abandoned their political giving programs. While designed to distance those companies from events that coincided with this month's deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol, research suggests the moves could actually empower the far-right.