Republican operative Paul Erickson, the boyfriend of accused Russian spy Maria Butina, wrote in private communications that he used the National Rifle Association as a “conduit” to set up a “very private line of communication” between the Trump campaign and Russian interests. Erickson has been notified by federal prosecutors that he is a target in an ongoing investigation.
Butina, charged with working as an agent for the Russian government and with conspiracy, reached a plea agreement with prosecutors on Monday. In the plea agreement, she admitted that she and “US Person 1” (Erickson) “agreed and conspired with a Russian government official” to “act in the United States under the direction of the Russian official without prior notification to the Attorney General”.
The description of the official matches that of Alexander Torshin, a Russian banker and close Putin ally, according to Salon.
According to the agreement, in March of 2015 Butina and Erickson drafted a proposal called the “Description of Diplomacy Project”, in which they “laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration”. Butina was funded by a Russian billionaire in her efforts to attend gun-rights conferences and make political contacts, and after reading the project proposal, Torshin told her that her proposal “would be funded, at least in part”. Erickson then “worked with Butina to arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics”, including the NRA and National Prayer Breakfast.
After Erickson helped Butina make those contacts, she organized a trip for top NRA officials to Moscow, where they had a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. After the meeting, Butina wrote to Torshin “We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later.”
Erickson’s home was raided by the FBI, and among the items found was a note that read “How to respond to FSB offer of employment?” The FSB is the successor to the KGB, the Russian intelligence agency.
“Unrelated to specific presidential campaigns, I’ve been involved in securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key [unnamed political party] leaders through, of all conduits, the [unnamed gun-rights organization],” Erickson wrote in a 2016 e-mail to an acquaintance who is also a part of the investigation.
Butina later arranged for a group of Russians to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in 2017, writing in an e-mail to Erickson that the Russians were coming “to establish a back channel of communication”, according to The Daily Beast. Erickson wrote to an acquaintance the list of Russian attendees and “Reaction to the delegation’s presence in America will be conveyed DIRECTLY” to Putin and Lavrov.
As these events were occurring, the NRA was funding Republican candidates, including President Trump, at a rate that was far greater than any previous election. Funneling the funds through an arm of the group that is not required to disclose its donors, the NRA spent more than $30 million to elect President Trump, and $54 million in total to elect Republicans in the 2016 election. Those numbers greatly exceed the $12.5 million spent to elect Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, or the $16 million spent to elect Republicans during the 2014 midterms. Since the 2016 election, the NRA has scaled back funding for Republicans dramatically, only spending $1.6 million on Republican candidates in the 2018 midterms.
The NRA and the Trump campaign are also the subjects of a complaint filed by the Federal Election Commission in which they are accused of illegally coordinating campaign ads.
After President Trump’s election win in 2016, Butina wrote to Torshin, “I am ready for further orders.”
At the time that Butina was reaching her plea agreement with prosecutors, Torshin abruptly retired from Russian central bank.
Erickson has yet to be charged.
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