The Daily Beast reports today that federal investigators are targeting NRA-linked GOP political operative Paul Erickson and considering charging him with acting as an unregistered foreign agent, the same charge pending against Russian national Maria Butina, who is Erickson’s girlfriend. Erickson also faces a potential conspiracy charge.
As has been widely reported, Erickson allegedly assisted Butina with outreach to the NRA and to Republican political circles on behalf of the Kremlin. Together, they attended multiple NRA conventions, while Erickson traveled with senior NRA officials to Moscow in order to meet with Butina’s Russian gun rights group on at least two occasions. Together, they formed an LLC in South Dakota, the purpose of which is still unknown, which has also attracted attention from federal investigators. Notably, Erickson also attempted to broker a meeting between now-sanctioned Russian banker Alexander Torshin — who allegedly acted as Butina’s handler — and President Donald Trump or top Trump campaign officials during the 2016 election.
Erickson’s target letter from “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,” the Daily Beast reported. Erickson’s lawyers declined to comment on the Daily Beast report.
Erickson has deep ties to the NRA. He has been described as “a longtime NRA member and fundraiser” and has a decades-long relationship with former NRA President David Keene. In one email, Erickson explained that “international reach of the NRA placed me in a position a couple of years ago to slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin’s Kremlin.”
The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Donald Trump – nearly triple what the group spent during the 2012 presidential race. Most of that money was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors, and according to a McClatchy report from January, NRA spending may have actually exceeded $70 million during the 2016 election.
“Paul Erickson, a longtime Republican politico whose Russian girlfriend is in jail on charges she acted as a covert foreign agent, has been informed that he may face similar accusations. 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.
“‘At the least, it’s a preliminary determination that they’re going to proceed to indictment,’ said Sol Wisenberg, the co-chair of the white collar practice at Nelson Mullins.
“Wisenberg said that while people can generally expect to be indicted within a few months of receiving a target letter, there’s no firm rule on how quickly any indictment should follow, if at all.
“If investigators charge Erickson under Section 951, he could be the first American publicly accused of acting (or trying to act) as an agent of a foreign government in connection with Russia’s 2016 interference. Other Americans roped up in Russia investigations—including former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort and lobbyist Sam Patten—have faced charges for illegal lobbying, in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. But 951 is different. It’s a rare charge, and the Justice Department’s inspector general wrote in 2016 that prosecutors in its elite National Security Division describe it as “espionage-lite.”
“‘[A] Section 951 case generally involves espionage-like or clandestine behavior or an otherwise provable connection to an intelligence service, or information gathering or procurement-type activity on behalf of a foreign government,’ the inspector general wrote.”