Russian President Vladimir Putin says he had never heard of a woman who is accused of working as an unregistered foreign agent in the United States until her July arrest.
Putin said on December 11 that when he asked Russian intelligence services for information about 30-year-old Maria Butina, he was told that no one knew about her existence.
Butina, who is accused of working for years to cultivate relationships with U.S. political organizations and conservative activists, is being held without bail.
"She risks 15 years in jail. For what?" asked Putin. "...I asked all the heads of our intelligence services what is going on. Nobody knows anything about her."
She initially pleaded not guilty to charges of acting as an unregistered agent for the Russian government.
However, court documents released on December 10 indicated that prosecutors and her defense lawyers have reached an unspecified deal, asking a U.S. court to set a date for a change-of-plea hearing this week. That's an indication she may change her plea to guilty.
Butina ran a small Russian group called the Right To Bear Arms that appears to have been funded in part by Russian politician Aleksandr Torshin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin.
The Justice Department said her efforts were part of the Russian government’s secret campaign to try to influence high-level Republican politicians, including Donald Trump, both as a candidate and after his election as U.S. president.