With Maria Butina arrested on a charge of conspiracy, many people have been wondering what would happen to Paul Erickson, a Republican political operative and lawyer with ties to Butina. At one time he was also reported to be under FBI investigation in connection to Russian interference in the 2016 election, NPR reported. But he hasn’t been officially named in an indictment or charged, unlike Maria (sometimes spelled Mariia) Butina. However, Erickson just learned that federal investigators are considering bringing charges against him. Some have speculated that he may be “U.S. Person 1” listed in an affidavit connected to Butina’s arrest. The identity of U.S. Person 1 has not yet been disclosed.
Butina, who lives in the United States, was charged with “work[ing] at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government,” according to a Justice Department press release. The Department of Justice has alleged that she was acting as an agent of Russia, developing relationships with U.S. people and seeking an influence in American politics, for the interests of Russia. Paul Erickson, who started a business with Butina to help fund her graduate studies, has not yet spoken publicly about her arrest. Here’s what you need to know about Erickson.
1. Erickson Has Been Told that He May Be Facing Federal Charges Related to Acting Secretly as an Agent of a Foreign Government
Paul Erickson may face charges under Section 951 of the U.S. Code, which bars people from secretly acting as agents of the foreign government, The Daily Beast reported. These are similar to the charges against Butina.
Federal investigators sent a “target letter” to Erickson’s lawyer, saying the government may also file a conspiracy charges against him. Ryan Goodman, a New York University School of Law teacher who was a Defense Department attorney, told The Daily Beast that these charges are serious because they’re generally reserved for “espionage-like” cases.
The letter was sent in September, The Hill reported, and didn’t accuse him of any specific crimes.
2. Paul Erickson & Maria Butina First Met Years Ago in Moscow & Later Formed a Business Together — Government Documents Suggest They May Have Had a Romantic Relationship
Paul Erickson has a significant public connection to Maria Butina, the founder of a Russian gun rights group called The Right to Bear Arms. Erickson said that met Butina when he and David Keene, a former NRA president, were at a Right to Bear Arms meeting in Moscow a few years ago, McClatchy reported.
Erickson and Butina set up a South Dakota business together in Feburary 2016 called Bridges LLC, created to help finance Butina’s graduate studies if she needed any help, McClatchy reported. But public records don’t reveal any financial transactions involving the business.
It’s unclear just how close Butina and Erickson were. Back in November 2013, Butina posted a photo to Facebook showing her with Erickson at a Russian Right to Arms event, Sioux City Journal reported. According to the criminal affidavit against Butina, in 2013 she established contact in Moscow with “U.S. Person 1,” a “United States citizen and political operative.” Many are speculating that this person might be Erickson, but officials have not yet named the person.
A new government memo just released on July 18 alleges that Butina and U.S. Person 1 had a romantic relationship. The memo, which you can read in full here, says: “Butina, age 29, and U.S. Person 1, age 56, are believed to have cohabitated and been involved in a personal relationship during the course of Butina’s activities in the United States. But this relationship does not represent a strong tie to the United States because Butina appears to treat it as simple a necessary aspect of her activities. For example, on at least one occasion, Butina offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization. Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with U.S. Person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. Person 1.”
So it looks like things weren’t too great between U.S. Person 1 and Butina toward the end of their relationship. But just how far back does that go?
According to an FBI affidavit (which you can read here in full), U.S. Person 1 “worked with Butina to jointly arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics, including an organization promoting gun rights … for the purpose of advancing the agenda of the Russian Federation.” According to the affidavit, she emailed this person in late March 2015 about a diplomacy project, because a major U.S. political party “traditionally associated with negative and aggressive foreign policy, particularly with regards to Russia,” would likely be in power after the 2016 election. She wrote: “However, now with the right to negotiate seems best to build konstructivnyh [sic] relations.” She went on to talk about being introduced to political party leaders as a representative of “informal diplomacy” and requested a budget of $125,000 to participate in the political party’s major conferences.
In March 2015, “U.S. Person 1” wrote Butina an email with a list of potential media, business, and political contacts. It read, in part: “Your challenge in your ‘special project’ will be to balance two opposing imperatives: Your desire to communicate that you speak for Russia interests … in a post-Putin world while simultaneously doing nothing to criticize the President or speed the arrival of his successor… It will SEVERELY limit your interactions with media. Most of the potential ‘guest appearances’ listed under media will only be possible if you’re willing to be more candid (honest) than is politically prudent for you… There is NO limit as to how many American companies that you can meet … if you are able to represent that you are a potential line of communication into future Russian Federation governments.”
She sent a number of additional emails to U.S. Person 1 (and another person only named as U.S. Person 2.) On September 16, 2016, for example, she emailed both of them about arranging a “friendship and dialogue” dinner in D.C. in October. She wrote, “we only have 2 month left before the US elections and it’s time for building an advisors team on Russia for a new president. I am seriously worry that the candidates some upcoming day will suddenly realize that ‘now’ is the time to do something with Russia and will look for advisory among currently popular radically oppositional to Russia crowd of experts. Bad things happen than. I believe we can prevent it.”
On October 4, 2016, “U.S. Person 1” emailed an acquaintance and wrote: “I’ve been involved in securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key POLITICAL PARTY 1 leaders…”
As stated above, it’s not known if U.S. Person 1 is definitely Erickson or not. However, Erickson and Butina do have a long history of documented connections and communications, including the company they started together in 2016.
In April 2015, Butina gave a lecture at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion about the right to bear arms in Russia. Promotional materials showed the lecture was sponsored by W.O. Farber Center, an organization with which Erickson is a life executive board member, Sioux City Journal reported.
Butina’s connections to Erickson continue from there. In July 2015, she hosted a pro-gun meeting attended by several NRA executives including Erickson. Then it was February 2016 when she and Erickson created their business, Bridges LLC.
After Trump was elected, Butina held a costume party in D.C. attended by Erickson and other Trump campaign aides, Mother Jones reported.
3. Erickson Emailed Trump’s Campaign About Setting Up a Meeting Between Trump & Putin During an NRA Convention in 2016, & He Used to Spend His Summers ‘Helping Freedom Fighters’
In May 2016, Erickson sent an email to President Donald Trump’s campaign advisor, Rick Dearborn, asking Dearborn and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions to help him set up a meeting between Trump and Putin during the annual NRA convention. He wrote: “Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump. He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election,” the New York Times reported.
In January, McClatchy DC reported that the FBI was investigating whether Butina’s former boss, Alexander Torshin, funneled money from a Russian bank to the NRA to help Trump’s campaign. It’s illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections. The sources for McClatchy’s article were all anonymous due to Mueller’s ongoing, confidential investigation. Torshin, a Russian politician, former Russian senator, and deputy governor of the Bank of Russia, has worked closely with NRA leaders in the past. He reportedly met with Donald Trump Jr. at the 2016 NRA Convention, NPR reported, and made repeated attempts to meet Trump at the convention, but there was no evidence that his attempts were successful.
Erickson later advised Trump’s transition team after Trump was elected.
Erickson’s connections to Russia date back to when he was traveling the world. He told the Rapid City Journal that he used to spend his summers helping freedom fighters. In 1982, he traveled to Israel while leading college students on a summer tour. While there, he witnessed the beginning of the 1982 Lebanon War. In 1983, he acquired provisions for insurgents fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, including tents, medical kits, camels and mules. He said he had recently been helping Marshall Plan Charities with redeveloping Afghan villages. In 1990, he returned to Nicaragua to observe U.S.-backed Contra rebels stop fighting after the Soviet-supported President agreed to honor a popular election’s results.
4. Erickson Has Worked with Numerous Republican Campaigns, Including Pat Buchanan & Mitt Romney
Erickson has helped with numerous campaigns over the years. He coordinated a youth campaign for Rep. Jim Abdnor in 1980 while working on his bachelor’s degree. He was the deputy campaign manager for Richard Viguerie’s campaign for Virginia lieutenant governor in 1985. The campaign was not successful. He was the national political director and campaign manager for Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign in 1992. At one point, he got into a fight with Bill Clinton campaign members in a parking lot, Rapid City Journal reported. He even threw some punches and then slipped on the ice, breaking his nose.
He served as an advisor for both of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns. He was a board member for the American Conservative Union, a group that organizes the CPAC conferences. In addition to campaigns, he helped with the Marshall Plan Charities in 2008, a group focused on redeveloping Afghan villages. And in 1997, he founded Compass Care, a company focused on developing non-nursing home options for Midwest seniors. Investors later sued the company for not receiving promised returns.
As an attorney, Erickson served as the lawyer, agent, and media advisor for John Wayne Bobbitt in the mid 1990s, and he produced an anti-communist action film called Red Scorpion in 1989.
5. Paul Erickson Created a Democratic Parody That Was Shown at the 1984 Republican National Convention, & He’s Been Taken to Court Multiple Times By Investors
Paul Erickson has always been outspoken about conservative issues, dating back to the 1980s. He attended the University of South Dakota for his bachelor’s before transferring to Yale, where he graduated in 1984. He graduated from the University of Virginia with his law degree in 1988.
In 1984, he wrote a comedy critical of the Democrats called “Fritzbusters,” which was a parody of Ghostbusters. The comedy focused on the Democratic presidential nominee, Walter Mondale. He and other College Republicans performed the comedy at the 1984 Republican National Convention, and even as an opening act for some of Ronald Reagan’s campaign rallies.
Erickson, who is in his mid-50s, is a resident of Sioux Falls. He’s been taken to court on multiple occasions by people who invested in his businesses and has numerous unpaid debts, Rapid City Journal reported. The Journal found $421,212 worth of court judgments against Erickson in South Dakota — totaling seven since 2003. Some judgments were still pending, and some of the cases involved Erickson’s writing badge checks to creditors.
Dennis and Daniel Bieldfeldt filed a lawsuit against Erickson in 2015. They said he persuaded them to invest $30,000 in his Dignity Medical Inc. company in 2009. His letter included promising a personal guarantee for what was invested, and predicted returns of 25 to 100 percent. Bieldfelt never saw those returns, Rapid City Journal reported, and they sued for deceit, fraud, and breach of contract. One of Erickson’s attorneys withdrew from the case after Erickson wrote him a bad check. They were awarded a $30,000 settlement, but only received $10,000, with checks bouncing after that.
Erickson is single and never married. He has offices and homes in New York, Los Angeles, and Sioux Falls.