APPLETON, Wis. – Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday he talked only briefly with a woman now accused of being a Russian spy, saying he had his photo taken with her just as he does with others who say they are supporters.
"As we go to events, we meet people, they introduce themselves, often they ask for a picture," Walker told reporters during a stop in Appleton. "And that's not a meeting. A meeting is where you sit down in a room and have a discussion."
Walker was referring to his interaction with Mariia Butina, 29, who was indicted this week for conspiring to interfere with U.S. politics and advance Russian interests. At a hearing Wednesday, a federal magistrate ordered the Russian national, who allegedly infiltrated American political organizations including the National Rifle Association, be held without bond.
Magistrate Deborah Robinson sided with federal prosecutors who argued that Butina represented an “extreme” risk of flight from the country.
Walker posed for a photo with Butina at a National Rifle Association meeting in Tennessee in 2015. In the photo, Walker stood between Butina and Alexander Torshin, who is not named in court filings but is the "Russian official" who gave Butina orders as part of the conspiracy, according to the New York Times.
At the time of the photo at the NRA event, Walker was preparing to launch his presidential bid. Soon afterward, Butina attended Walker's event announcing his campaign launch.
Walker said he has not been contacted by authorities and knows of no one from his campaign who has been.
Butina said in online posts in 2015 that Walker said "hello" and "thank you" to her in Russian and that she did not detect any hostility toward Russia from him.
Walker said he did not recall whether he spoke Russian to her, but did take one semester of the language in college.
Asked if he remembered talking to her, Walker said, "Well, I do now because it's all over the media. But to me, it's just another person we met."
In a court filing Wednesday, prosecutors alleged Butina was in touch with Russian intelligence operatives and once offered sex to someone in exchange for a position with an unnamed special interest group
An affidavit filed earlier by an FBI agent alleged a "Russian official" – Torshin, according to media reports – requested that Butina write a brief report about a political event she was to attend in 2015.
The next day, Butina wrote a report that "included descriptions of her speaking to a political candidate on the night of the announcement, as well as Butina's previous private meeting with the candidate at the 2015 annual gun rights organization members' meeting."
It is not clear if that portion of the affidavit is referring to Walker.
Butina, the founder of the gun rights group Right to Bear Arms, frequently posted about guns on social media. She promoted the right to carry weapons in frequent interviews in excellent but heavily accented English.
Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, told the Washington Post she was "like a novelty" because running a gun rights group in Russia appeared radical.
Photos of Butina and Torshin with Walker were posted on the website of Our American Revival, a political group set up by Walker leading up to his presidential run. At the time, Walker's team frequently loaded photos onto the group's website of the governor posing with people who attended his events.
"I just ask the logical question. If it was something covert, why would we post that picture on a website?" Walker said to reporters. "It just seems ridiculous to think that would be the case.
"The reason we did is because every day we took hundreds of pictures with people who met us at events and then we put them on a website so that people could take them off that website."
The exchange with Butina and Torshin occurred in a VIP area of the NRA event, according to the Washington Post.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY.