Maria Butina’s boyfriend was responsible for setting up the Trump-Russia backchannel, using the NRA as a “conduit.”
Paul Erickson, a longtime Republican operative, made the claim during a private communication released in Butina’s plea deal. In the email, Erickson wrote in December 2016 that he helped to set up a “very private line of communication” between Russia and the Trump campaign. And he used the NRA to do it.
Butina, a Russian gun rights activist, was charged with working as a foreign agent earlier this year. She agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with investigators this week. During her plea deal, she admitted to investigators that she and “US Person 1” “agreed and conspired, with a Russian government official to act in the United States under the direction of [a] Russian Official without prior notification to the Attorney General.”
ABC News reports that Erickson is “US Person 1” and the Russian official matches the description of Russian banker and Putin ally Alexander Torshin.
Federal prosecutors notified Erickson that he is now a target in the ongoing Russia investigation. In her plea agreement, Butina also admitted she helped Erickson draft a proposal they called “Description of the Diplomacy Project.” Together, they “laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration.”
Prosecutors have said that Erickson “worked with Butina to arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics.” Those people included the NRA and the organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast.