Mariia Butina carried a shirtless Putin phone case and bragged about connecting the GOP and Russia, classmates say

Maria Butina.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When she wasn't allegedly spying for the Russian government, Mariia Butina was just your average American University graduate student.

She carried a phone case featuring the shirtless Russian President Vladimir Putin on horseback. She regularly downed horseradish-infused vodka shots at a Russian bar. She bragged about working for the Russian government.

Yes, the woman accused of being an unregistered Russian agent made her homeland ties pretty obvious, former classmates have told The Washington Post. So much so that acquaintances alerted AU to possible Kremlin ties, but say the school appeared to brush it off.

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AU affiliates didn't just assume Butina had Kremlin connections because of the Russian flag pin she often wore. Her former professor told The Daily Beast in February 2017 that Butina explicitly and repeatedly told the class she connected President Trump's campaign and Russia. Classmates say she repeated that claim in front of Trump campaign aides at her birthday costume party, where she dressed as the Russian Empress Alexandra. Paul Erickson, a conservative political operative tied to Butina, dressed as Rasputin and told guests he was on the Trump transition team.

Prosecutors have "numerous witnesses" lined up to testify about Butina's alleged attempts to sway conservatives in Russia's favor, per a Justice Department filing released Tuesday. But Butina's indictment also has classmates wondering why an apparent Russian spy wouldn't have been a little less obvious. Read more about Butina's backstory at The Washington Post.

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