Exclusive: NPR Talks To Sentenced Russian Operative Maria Butina
: [Editor's note: Part one of NPR’s interview with Maria Butina is here.]
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A moment ago, you heard Maria Butina, the only Russian serving time behind bars in connection with Russia's efforts to intervene in American politics. She infiltrated conservative circles in the U.S., connecting powerful Americans to powerful Russians. She called it peace building. U.S. prosecutors called it illegal. Butina should have registered as a foreign agent. She didn't. She ended up pleading guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy. As she answered our questions about this from a room crowded with other inmates at the Virginia prison where she's being held, the phone line cut out. And so Butina called back to keep talking with our co-host Mary Louise Kelly.
(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)
MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Hi, Maria. Can you hear me again?
MARIA BUTINA: Yes.
KELLY: Great. I want to go back. When I asked you directly, are you a Russian spy, you said no. Were there ever attempts to recruit you? Did the FSB or the SVR, two Russian intelligence agencies, try to get you to work for them?
BUTINA: No, they didn't.
KELLY: One of the things that came out in court is that the FBI found papers in which Paul Erickson, a Republican political operative who became your boyfriend - papers in which he scribbled what to do about this FSB job, FSB being the Russian security service. Explain that note. What was it?
BUTINA: We were really afraid that if my opportunities here - excuse me. Can you wait for one second? There is a conflict in the...
BUTINA: All good?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And before you know it, the (unintelligible)...
KELLY: Can you tell us what's happening?
BUTINA: Yeah, there's a little issue, but that's OK.
KELLY: Yeah, just - are you OK? Are you in a position...
KELLY: ...To continue talking?
BUTINA: No, no, no. It's fine. I mean, they - look; it's fine.
KELLY: OK. I was pressing you on, why was your then-boyfriend scribbling something about an offer of employment from the FSB if the FSB did not make an offer of employment?
BUTINA: Yeah, so the issue is very simple. I thought that if my activity is successful, what if someday I go back to Russia and there are people in the suits that show up next to my door and say, well, we're from FSB, and would you like to cooperate with us? This is kind of a question that we don't ignore. So they're...
KELLY: But just - I'm sorry, but just persuade me. Your boyfriend is scribbling a note about something that was purely hypothetical that could maybe someday happen in the future back in Russia.
BUTINA: But that's very serious, yeah. It's purely hypothetical, but it's very serious. If that had happened, I don't know what I would say because to saying, like, oh, no, I'm not going to do that would probably mean for me that, do I need to take my family to the United States or at least somewhere abroad? That was a serious question of me of life and death.
KELLY: When you eventually go back to Russia - because the plan is that when you have served your term, you will - you'll be deported back to Russia - are you worried about your safety, about your security when you go back?
BUTINA: No, absolutely not because I think the people who know that I am not a spy is, in fact, the Russian government because they never asked me to do something. So I don't think I have any concerns about my safety.
KELLY: Although I'm imagining Russian security services will be very interested in interviewing you. There's very few Russians who have lived in Washington, met with the FBI, met with senators on the Intelligence Committee.
BUTINA: And I'd love to talk to anybody. And I will say what I have always said. I do not lie.
KELLY: So regrets - what would you do differently other than, it sounds like, you should have registered?
BUTINA: Register. I would do absolutely the same. And I will tell you more. I will absolutely continue my peace building efforts because if we don't do that, this is the worst thing that I could imagine. I do love this country. I've met a lot of great people here.
KELLY: Still? I mean, can I just jump in and ask, still? You still love this country after everything that's happened.
BUTINA: Absolutely, yeah. I do love this country. I have two attorneys working for me pro bono coming to see me every single day that stand for me. How can I hate this country after I have wonderful friends here, friends who will talk to me through my solitary confinement experience at nights, always picking up the phone? No, I do love this country, and I wish you guys the best.
KELLY: That's Maria Butina speaking to us from the Alexandria Detention Center in the suburbs of Washington, her first U.S. media interview since she was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Maria Butina, thank you.
BUTINA: Thank you very much.
KELLY: Thank you. Bye-bye.
COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: The caller has hung up. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.