Maria Butina, the notorious Russian agent who admitted to working with her American ex-boyfriend to infiltrate U.S. political circles, is finally speaking out about her whirlwind romance with conservative operative Paul Erickson.
Five years after her confession—in which she admitted to trying to “establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics,” according to her plea deal—Butina is living large as a media personality and Duma member back in Russia. She was deported from the U.S. in 2019, after serving a fraction of her prison sentence for conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent. Since then, the 34-year-old has emerged as a prominent advocate for the Russian war effort in Ukraine, lambasted by some as a Kremlin propagandist.
In an interview with the Infamous podcast set for release Thursday—a transcript of which has been shared exclusively with The Daily Beast—Butina lamented the downfall of her five-year relationship with Erickson, who had allegedly helped the Russian agent establish connections with the National Rifle Association through his ties to the organization.
“It still hurts,” Butina told Infamous host Paul Glader. “You love a person, you’re about to get married to a person who knows your parents and is so nice [and he] turns out to be a monster.”
Erickson, 61, was never charged with a crime in connection with the Butina case. In 2020, however, he was accused of running a fraudulent, years-long investment scheme linked to home-building projects in North Dakota. He pleaded guilty to the charges, and was handed a seven-year prison sentence—only to be pardoned by then-President Donald Trump less than a year later.
In her interview, Butina accused Erickson of spending thousands of dollars from her Russian bank account on himself while she was in prison—money she said was sent to her account by her parents to help pay for her legal fees.
The Daily Beast made multiple attempts to reach Paul Erickson for comment on this story, but has not heard back by time of publication.
‘Not Very Nice’
“He actually used my card because all his credit cards were blocked because of his FBI case. So they blocked everything,” she said. “I am his girlfriend. I am in jail. I’m in solitary confinement facing 15 years. And with no questions asked. He didn’t ask me, my parents, he just takes this money,” she went on.
The Daily Beast has not been able to independently verify the claims made by Butina, who said she only found out about the alleged spending splurge after asking Erickson for bank documents that she needed for the legal case. She claimed he failed to deliver the documents despite being repeatedly asked to.
“Well, eventually my sister contacted my lawyer and she delivered this piece of paper to the lawyer… and I saw all the payments,” she said, later adding that: “I made the decision after your podcast came out to tell the truth, because honestly, I don’t think he’s gonna stop. I don’t think he got his lesson, I think by being pardoned.”
Butina was referring to a previous episode of Infamous that had been shared with The Daily Beast in advance of its release, which included an interview with Erickson, who appeared to have fonder memories of Butina than she did of him.
“The ultimate insult of her travails in the United States was that not only was she not a spy until she was treated harshly by the justice system, she was once a potentially future ally to America in global relations in a post-Putin world,” Erickson said in his interview, which was released in May. “The government’s charge against her was so flimsy,” he added in defense of his ex-girlfriend. “She was a reformer, an enemy of the state, Top 10 dissident.”
Speaking of their eventual split, Erikson had alleged that it was just too difficult for them to continue their relationship given the legal issues that plagued the couple.
“When my arrest happened… we just said, right, this is farewell for now, until we didn’t know when, if ever. Because we couldn’t,” he said in the January 2021 interview. “Every communication, everything would have been monitored or used against her or against me.”
Butina, however, appears to have a different perspective on the downfall of their relationship.
“By taking and spending money for himself that were actually for my lawyers, for my defense, it’s not very nice. So do I see it as a betrayal? Absolutely do. And that’s the most painful betrayal in my life,” she said.
Despite having moved on with her life back in Russia, where she serves as a member of parliament and frequents Russian state media shows, Butina said in her interview that she “still cannot process the two people I know,” referring to Erickson. “The person I knew during my five years of dating him, and… the person who lied to me when I was in prison.”
You can listen to the Infamous podcast here.