MADISON, Wis. — A woman charged Monday with being a covert agent for Russia inside the U.S. says she attended Gov. Scott Walker's presidential campaign launch event in 2015 and also posted a picture of herself with Walker on a blog where she praised his ability to speak a few words in Russian.
Maria Butina said in the post, reported by Mother Jones magazine in May, that Walker greeted her in Russian when they met at the National Rifle Association annual convention in April 2015 in Tennessee. She said in the post that Walker, who she said knew how to say "hello" and "thank you" in Russian, did not show any aggression toward Russia.
Walker's re-election campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger downplayed the interaction between Walker and Butina.
"Governor Walker never had a meeting," Reisinger said. "Like other speakers at the event, Governor Walker appeared in an atrium area while waiting to deliver his remarks, where event attendees had the chance to say hello. There were thousands of people at the convention and many of them approached the governor and asked to say hello and take a photo with him."
Federal prosecutors have charged Butina with conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian government and accused her of working to infiltrate American political organizations, including the NRA.
Butina hosted several leading NRA executives and pro-gun conservatives at her group's annual meeting in 2015, according to the reports in The New York Times, Time and the Daily Beast. Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, later a strong Trump supporter, was also an attendee along with Walker.
Photos of Walker meeting Butina were among thousands posted on the website of Our American Revival and had the logo of that group stamped on them. Our American Revival was a political group set up by Walker to support his run for president.
Mother Jones posted a picture of an online post by Butina from Walker's presidential campaign launch event in Waukesha in July 2015. Walker dropped out of the race in September 2015 and is now running for a third term as governor.
Walker has declined to weigh in recently on questions about Russia's relationship with the United States. On Monday, prior to news of the Butina indictment, Walker was asked after an event in Sussex for his reaction to President Donald Trump's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"I'll leave that up to federal folks," Walker said, according to WITI-TV in Milwaukee. "That's not in my jurisdiction."