Wondery Presents: Spy AffairAmerican Scandal
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- 29 Mar 2021
A charismatic Russian woman arrives in the US on a mission to improve relations between the two countries, and she soon makes some powerful friends. But who is Maria Butina? And who is she working for? As Maria gets closer to the rich and connected she also attracts the attention of the FBI. In the politically charged world of US-Russia relations, everyone has secrets and almost nothing is what it seems. From Wondery, the makers of The Shrink Next Door and Dr. Death comes SPY AFFAIR a story about deception, appearances and betrayal. Hosted by Celia Aniskovich.Listen today at wondery.fm/SA_AmericanScandal
Let me tell you about a new true crime miniseries from one theory called Spy Affair in 2016, news of Russian interference in the American presidential election shook the nation to its core two years later. Maria Buthayna, an alleged Russian operative sent to America to influence U.S. politics, was arrested on charges of being a foreign agent. She quickly found herself and the people around her embroiled in a massive FBI investigation. Maria would be portrayed as a spy and a woman who strung a web of lies all focused on completing her primary mission influenced government officials in positions of power to benefit her home country.
Russia wineries new miniseries Spy Affair is an inside look at the shocking true story of a woman who started her time in America with a trip to Disneyland and ended it as a convicted criminal. You're about to hear a brief clip from the show, but while you're listening, make sure to follow spy affair on Apple podcasts. Or you can listen early and ad free by starting your free trial of 100 plus in the one wrap.
Las Vegas, Sin City, the marriage capital of the world, home to America's most beloved casinos. And in July 2015, the site of what was billed as the largest libertarian conference in the country, freedom fest, thousands of business leaders, politicians, journalists, activists, finance pros flocked to Planet Hollywood Hotel. Among them was Maria Putina. Maria was from Russia and she was there with her American boyfriend, Paul Erickson, a long time conservative campaigner.
There was his idea to go there.
He showed me the American political world. Paul was my guide in this world, so he brought me to the freedom fest.
There was one last minute addition to the speakers list who was getting a lot of attention that year.
And suddenly I start seeing that people are moving in. So they come in and it's like people like these, you know, they're like stone buzzing there.
This is the reason why there's not a single empty seat in the room. We have a packed house. I've never seen anything like this in freedom fest.
Maria and Paul settled into their chairs in the celebrity ballroom.
Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm round of applause for Donald Trump. Well, thank you very much.
Now, did he say this was your biggest crowd of the weekend?
It had only been a few weeks since Donald Trump had descended the golden escalator of Trump Tower to announce his run for president in front of this crowd in Las Vegas, he spoke for about a half hour.
The American dream is dead, but I'm going to make it bigger and better and stronger than ever before and then took questions.
OK, who are the questions? Where are they?
Do you have a mic? That's when Maria sitting in the front row decided she should ask a question.
So I stand up because, well, who wouldn't do it?
Paul, on the other hand, didn't think it was a good idea. He's like, you really want to ask questions?
Of course by not, Maria wrote her question down on a piece of paper so she could read it when she got to the mic.
So I would actually ask properly mean in my English, you know, because I was quite nervous. Yes, ma'am.
I'm visiting from Russia. So my Christian good friend of Obama put my mom a lot. Go ahead. My question will be about foreign politics.
She stood before the mic with no book in hand, a baseball draped around her. She wanted to know what Trump thought of the economic sanctions the Obama administration had imposed on Russia.
If you would be elected as a president, do you want to continue the politics of sanctions that are damaging the economy or you have any other ideas?
Trump pointed at her. I know Putin, and I'll tell you what we get along with Putin. Putin has no respect for President Obama. Big problem. Big problem. I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin.
Afterwards, Maria excused herself, headed to the restroom and made a phone call to a senior Russian official. She would later call it my best report. Maria's question to Trump had been brief and might have been forgotten. But much later, people would look back on that moment in Vegas and ask, who is Maria Buthayna?
Because three years after Freedom Fest, Maria Buthayna was arrested, federal prosecutors claim Maria Buthayna was secretly sent by the Russian Federation to infiltrate political candidates and the NRA.
Investigators say she worked to gain access to American political operatives and political groups, including the Trump campaign.
I step outside and they put handcuffs on me, and that was my last minute of freedom.
Maria would tell me she was no secret agent. She was a Russian citizen who came to the United States hoping to build a better relationship between two countries she loved. But the federal government saw something different. I did not expect it, but something inside of me told me that it's going to be very bad because the answer to the question, who is Maria Buthayna?
Depends a lot on who you ask.