We’re hearing for the first time from the family of a woman who is accused of being a Russian spy.
Twenty-nine-year-old Maria Butina has been in jail in Virginia since July 15 and is charged with conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent.
Now her father is sharing his side of the story from her hometown in Siberia.
Maria was a regular at gun rights events in the U.S. before she was charged this summer. Over email, Valery Butin told CBS News’ Bianna Golodryga, the charges against his daughter are not true and that she came to America to study.
Prosecutors claim she was actually part of a “covert Russian influence campaign,” gaining “access…to an extensive network of U.S. persons in positions to influence political activities.”
According to the FBI, her focus was on gun lobbyists and conservative politicians, including National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Maria was here on a student visa to study international relations. Her father claims that’s why she reached out to political figures, not to spy on them.
Prosecutors say Maria infiltrated those social circles using a romantic relationship with Republican consultant Paul Erickson. Her father says his family has known Erickson since 2014.
He sent CBS News videos of himself, Maria’s mother and grandmother wishing Erickson happy birthday last year. Butin says his daughter’s relationship with Erickson is genuine and that fate brought them together.
Maria faces up to 15 years in prison. Last week, she was denied a request to be released into house arrest. In that same hearing, prosecutors backed off their earlier claims that Maria traded sex for access. No date for her trial has been set.