Emily Singer, a senior political reporter for Mic.com, set off a mini Red Scare Tuesday morning by suggesting a White House staffer pictured in the Oval Office was actually an alleged Russian spy — then scrubbed the quickly debunked claim from her verified Twitter account.
Singer shared a photo of President Donald Trump hosting a group of top Russia officials at the White House on May 10, 2017, including then-Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov — seen in a New York Times story covering that meeting — and zeroed in on a red-headed woman in the door of the Oval Office.
Singer soon after expressed doubt over whether she correctly identified Butina in the photo, conceding that it “may be Cari Lutkins,” a member of the White House National Security Council. “I may delete this tweet,” Singer told her 20,000 Twitter followers.
OK all, this may be Cari Lutkins from the NSC. I may delete this tweet… https://t.co/DI0zpju68I
— Emily C. Singer (@CahnEmily) July 17, 2018
Lachlan Markay of the far-left Daily Beast said that a former White House staffer also suggested the picture showed Lutkins, saying that her role includes “logistics” for events like Lavrov’s visit.
A fmr WH official tells me he thinks the person in this NYT photo is Cari Lutkins, the WH's deputy director of events, who plans logistics for events like these pic.twitter.com/NZJ0z7IUqt
— Lachlan Markay (@lachlan) July 17, 2018
A few minutes after expressing doubts about her original conclusion, Singer deleted her erroneous tweet.
I've deleted the tweet. I cannot confirm that it is Butina and may be an NSC staffer. https://t.co/DIm1grRI9w
— Emily C. Singer (@CahnEmily) July 17, 2018
Oh look. Maria Butina. In the Oval Office. https://t.co/J5FUyNlFey
— Emma Kennedy (@EmmaKennedy) July 17, 2018
Deleted the Oval Office photo, as it’s apparently NOT Butina.https://t.co/nYExahbQUX
— Dr. Dena Grayson (@DrDenaGrayson) July 17, 2018
— Peter Daou (@peterdaou) July 17, 2018
Tfw you're a spy and you're still not the biggest scammer in the Oval Office pic.twitter.com/rnlkWFMHDT
— Emily Colucci (@emilycolucci) July 17, 2018
Too little, too late. You’ve already showed your colors on the world stage @realDonaldTrump. Hey also, look at this picture of an ACTUAL RUSSIAN SPY with you in the Oval Office. pic.twitter.com/0zZvuu6lxh
— Michael Kent (@michaelkent) July 17, 2018
Wow!!! Right there in the Oval Office. My god what is this horrific president doing to this country. @GOP stand up and defend America. Speak out against your Russian apprentice @realDonaldTrump https://t.co/VzIhk4TfoI
— Victoria Stilwell (@VictoriaS) July 17, 2018
Look, it's nine Russian operatives in the Oval Office. https://t.co/1NsQt0f6ue
— Greg Olear (@gregolear) July 17, 2018
Singer’s misfortune continued as conservatives began spoofing her tweet with photos of various red-headed women.
I thought this was a photoshop, but it’s not. This is Maria Butina — arrested for being a Russian spy — winning an Oscar. pic.twitter.com/TfnQPWEEa6
— CJ Ciaramella (@cjciaramella) July 17, 2018
I thought this was a photoshop, but it's not. Here's Maria Butina infiltrating our early air exploration efforts, posing as someone named "Amelia Earhart." pic.twitter.com/1jpUUe0spc
— Ed Morrissey (@EdMorrissey) July 17, 2018
I thought this was a photoshop, but it’s not. Here's Maria Butina hosting a working family summit by the Obama administration pic.twitter.com/XncutJ2Sok
— Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) July 17, 2018
I thought this was a photoshop, but it’s not. This is Maria Butina — arrested for being a Russian spy — reading the Art of the Deal. pic.twitter.com/5XsNfXbfB6
— Michael Malice (@michaelmalice) July 17, 2018
I thought this was a photoshop, but it’s not. This is Maria Butina — arrested for being a Russian spy — about to have sex with Superman pic.twitter.com/wNGrPBEHSG
— Greg Pollowitz (@GPollowitz) July 17, 2018
I thought this was a photoshop, but it’s not. Here's Maria Butina during her espionage training at the Academy of Foreign Intelligence's Yurlovo facility. pic.twitter.com/bSQSFoeRhJ
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) July 17, 2018
I thought this was a photoshop, but it’s not. This is Natasha Romanoff — a Russian spy arrested for leaking SHIELD secrets — testifying before congress. pic.twitter.com/gdtxV0mIkK
— yokotaster (@neontaster) July 17, 2018
I thought this was a photoshop, but it’s not. These are all Marina Butinas. pic.twitter.com/KNQKj0RMqq
— Brandon Morse (@TheBrandonMorse) July 17, 2018
Federal prosecutors in Washington revealed Monday that they arrested the 29-year-old Maria Butina and accused her of working as a covert Russian agent, gathering intelligence on American officials and political organizations through her gun-rights contacts.
The announcement of the arrest of Butina came just hours after President Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and just days after special counsel Robert Mueller charged 12 Russian intelligence officials with directing a sprawling hacking effort aimed at swaying the 2016 election.
Mueller did not file the charge against Butina, but court papers show that her activities revolved around American politics during the 2016 campaign and included efforts to use contacts with the National Rifle Association and American politicians to gather intelligence for Russia.
Court papers also reveal that an unnamed American who worked with Butina claimed to have been involved in setting up a “private line of communication” ahead of the 2016 election between the Kremlin and “key” officials in an American political party through the NRA. The court papers do not name the political party mentioned in the October 2016 message, but they contain details that appear to refer to the Republican Party.
Butina, a Russian national who has been living the U.S., was charged with conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian government. A federal judge in Washington ordered her detained until a hearing set for Wednesday, according to a statement from the Justice Department and Jessie Liu, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.
In a statement, Butina’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, called the allegations “overblown” and said prosecutors had criminalized mundane networking opportunities. Driscoll said Butina was not an agent of the Russian Federation but was instead in the U.S. on a student visa, graduating from American University with a master’s degree in international relations.
“There is simply no indication of Ms. Butina seeking to influence or undermine any specific policy or law or the United States — only at most to promote a better relationship between the two nations,” Driscoll said in a statement. “The complaint is simply a misuse of the Foreign Agent statute, which is designed to punish covert propaganda, not open and public networking by foreign students.”
The Associated Press contributed to his report.