Maria Butina, who pleaded guilty to failing to register as an agent for the Russian government while in the United States and was sentenced to 18 months in U.S. prison, says she believed her notes and analysis would be "valuable" for Russian officials.
Butina, who admitted covertly gathering intelligence on the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other groups under the supervision of former Russian lawmaker Aleksandr Torshin, spoke to National Public Radio (NPR) in an interview airing May 10.
Butina admitted in the NPR interview that she knew that the information she was gathering was being passed on by Torshin to Russia's Foreign Ministry and said that she was honored to help.
"I said that I would be honored because, well, I am a young woman and there you have people in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who would consider my notes, my analysis, as valuable," Butina said. "It was very pleasant for me. So, of course, I said, 'Of course, yes.'"
Butina, 30, was sentenced in April to serve 18 months behind bars after pleading guilty to a charge of conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent.
Butina violated U.S. law because she did not report her activities to the U.S. government and has been jailed since her arrest in July.
She admitted that she should have registered with the U.S. government but insisted that she wasn't a spy and all her actions took place out in the open.
"I never hide my love to my motherland, neither to this country.... I love both countries, and I was building peace," Butina said in the interview.
She said she is "embarrassed that instead of creating peace, by not registering I created discord," something she says she's "going to carry for the whole of my life."
Her lawyers argued she was just a student with an interest in U.S. politics and eager to improve bilateral relations with Russia.
Butina is to be deported to Russia immediately after she finishes her prison sentence, which is expected in January 2020 after receiving credit for the time she has already spent in U.S. custody.
Butina said she knew nothing about Russian efforts to interfere in U.S. elections.
She said she does not worry about going back to Russia since those who know her "know as a matter of fact that I am not a spy, nor do I have any secret information."
The charges against Butina were brought by Justice Department prosecutors in Washington and her case was separate from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
"Acquiring information valuable to a foreign power does not necessarily involve collecting classified documents or engaging in cloak-and-dagger activities," federal prosecutors wrote before Butina was sentenced.