Republican operative Paul Erickson, the boyfriend of admitted Russian spy Maria Butina, allegedly used the National Rifle Association as a “conduit” to establish a “very private line of communication” between Russia and Republicans, Salon reported on Wednesday.
Butina, a 30-year-old Russian gun rights activist, worked for years to cultivate relationships within Republican and NRA circles. She was charged with working as an agent of the Russian government earlier this year and on Monday agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy charges and cooperate with prosecutors.
In her plea deal, Butina admitted that she and “US Person 1,” who is longtime Republican operative Paul Erickson, “agreed and conspired, with a Russian government official,” whose description matches Russian banker and close Putin ally Alexander Torshin, for Butina to “act in the United States under the direction of Russian Official without prior notification to the Attorney General,” ABC News reported.
Under Torshin’s direction, the document said, Butina “sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics.”
Erickson has been notified by federal prosecutors that he is now a target of the investigation, according to ABC News.
In her agreement with prosecutors, Butina said Erickson assisted her in drafting a proposal, “Description of the Diplomacy Project”, which stated she had “laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration.”
Part of Erickson’s assistance involved connecting Butina with Americans wielding political influence, according to prosecutors, which included individuals involved with the NRA and National Prayer Breakfast.
“Unrelated to specific presidential campaigns,” Erickson wrote in October 2016, in an email to an acquaintance now in possession of the FBI, “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].”
Butina’s cooperation will also likely lead to charges against Erickson, whose relationship with Butina is not entirely clear.
Prosecutors claimed that Butina “appear[ed] to treat [her relationship with Erickson] as simply a necessary aspect of her activities” and privately expressed “disdain” for having to live with him.