Redhead in Background of Oval Office Photo Isn’t Accused Russian Spy Maria Butina

Russian Foreign Ministry / Flickr


A young red-headed woman in the background of an Oval Office photo last year is not an accused Russian spy, but a rumor promoting the opposite went viral on Tuesday.

Maria Butina was arrested Sunday and charged as a Russian government operative attempting to carry out a secret effort to influence American politics. According to the charges, she worked as an intermediary between Russian government officials and American politicians through the National Rifle Association to push a Russian Federation agenda.

Twitter users began sharing a photo of an Oval Office meeting last year between President Donald Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, charging that Butina was in the background of the photo. Some journalists shared the unproven nugget as fact.

Mic reporter Emily Singer tweeted out the picture on Tuesday morning, declaring, "I thought this was a photoshop, but it's not. This is Maria Butina—arrested for being a Russian spy—in the Oval Office with Trump."

The photo went viral on Twitter, but users began pointing out the woman in question did not resemble Butina aside from her red hair. Later, Singer said it "may be Cari Lutkins" from the National Security Council and she deleted the tweet in question.

BuzzFeed writer Tom Namako reported a National Security Council source said it was an NSC staffer, although the source did not say whom.

Twitter users created an instant meme out of Singer's phrase, "I thought this was a photoshop, but it's not," tweeting out pictures of redheads like Jessica Chastain and others and saying they were Maria Butina.

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