News & Politics

Republican strategist who dated arrested Russian spy now also under investigation for Russia ties

Federal investigators are looking into Paul Erickson on suspicion of acting as an unregistered Russian agent.

credit Pavel Starikov

On Wednesday, The Daily Beast reported that GOP operative Paul Erickson is being investigated by prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia:

The Daily Beast reviewed a so-called "target letter" that federal investigators sent Erickson's lawyer, which said they are considering bringing charges against him under Section 951 of the U.S. code—the law barring people from secretly acting as agents of foreign governments.

The letter also said the government may bring a conspiracy charge against Erickson, who is the boyfriend of accused foreign agent Maria Butina. The letter, which was sent in September by investigators working out of the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, does not accuse Erickson of any crimes or guarantee that he will face charges.

Erickson, a former boardmember of the American Conservative Union who advised the presidential campaigns of Pat Buchanan and Mitt Romney, has strong ties to the National Rifle Association. His romantic relationship with Butina, who helped found a Russian counterpart to the NRA and is imprisoned on suspicion as a Russian spy, has been heavily scrutinized as a possible conduit for Russian influence in the American gun rights movement, and Republican politics generally.

And there is increasing evidence Erickson was a willing participant. In 2016, Erickson emailed President Donald Trump's campaign informing them Russian President Vladimir Putin was "deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump." And court documents from Butina's case suggest one of her contacts — suspected to be Erickson — boasted of "securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin" and the GOP.

Erickson, who is also accused of defrauding his former business partners in a separate case being pursued by federal prosecutors in South Dakota, has also been asked to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss his ties to Russia, but he has refused to do so.

As The Daily Beast notes, legal experts including former Pentagon attorney Ryan Goodman and former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti have said that charging Erickson under Section 951 in the context of Russian political activity would essentially be accusing him of "espionage-lite."

If Erickson were to be charged as a Russian agent, that would only intensify the questions surrounding the link between Russia and Republican-aligned interest groups. And the implications could force us to rethink how we understand these relationships.

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Matthew Chapman is a video game designer, science fiction author, and political reporter from Austin, TX. Follow him on Twitter @fawfulfan.