The Russia Investigation: Paul Erickson and Maria Butina

Russia Investigation image by Lenny Ghoul.

Paul Erickson is a political operative from Sioux Falls, South Dakota who is “a sort of ‘secret master of the political universe’ known almost exclusively to the cognoscenti,” in the words of conservative commentator Ralph Benko.  Erickson’s spent much of his life rubbing elbows with the famous, as well as the infamous.

On the other hand, Lee Schoenbeck, a Republican former legislator from Watertown, describes Erickson as, “the single biggest phony I’ve ever met in South Dakota politics.”

Erickson attended Yale University and was also treasurer for the College Republican National Committee (CRNC), where he met Grover Norquist , Ralph Reed, and Jack Abramoff.  “To every college Republican who contacted the national office,” Abramoff wrote, “Paul Erickson was by far the most impressive person they had ever encountered in politics.”

After graduating in 1984 with a bachelor’s in economics and political science, he earned a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1988.

Erickson said of his time with the CRNC: “College Republicans meant that we knew everybody,” he said. “We were the foot soldiers for every conservative politician, movement and campaign in the country.”

In 1992 Erickson worked for the Pat Buchanan campaign, who was challenging incumbent George H.W. Bush for the Republican nomination.  Buchanan had Erickson’s enthusiastic support due to Bush’s tax hikes, in spite of his “Read my lips: no new taxes” pledge.

“I was looking for the largest, bluntest object I could find to beat Bush around the head with,” Erickson told Timothy Stanley, author of “The Crusader,” a Buchanan biography. “And that was Pat Buchanan.”

After Buchanan’s disappointing loss, Erickson took his career in a new direction in 1993, representing John Wayne Bobbitt as a media adviser.   The following year, he lobbied for Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko to be allowed entry into the United States.

He also went into private business ventures, mainly real estate investment.  “I’ve enjoyed 33 years of wildly diverse business ventures all around the world in industries ranging from hotels to housing to entertainment to energy,” he said.  At least some of these projects ended up in lawsuits, due to Erickson’s penchant for promising high yields that never materialized for investors and writing bad checks.  In more than one case, when he was ordered to make restitution to investors who sued him, Erickson wrote yet more bad checks.

In November of 2013, Erickson traveled to Moscow with David Keene and other NRA members, to attend an event for Maria Butina’s organization, Right to Bear Arms.  Soon thereafter, the two began working together to expand Torshin and Butina‘s contacts with political movers and shakers on the conservative side of the aisle.

From the HPSCI report, on May 10, 2016 Erickson spoke of cultivating a back-channel to President Putin’s Kremlin in an email to Rick Dearborn, a longtime senior adviser to Jeff Sessions and a senior [Trump] campaign official.

“Happenstance and the (sometimes) 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. Russia is quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S. that isn’t forthcoming under the current administration. And for reasons that we can discuss in person or on the phone, the Kremlin believes that the only possibility of a true re-set in this relationship would be with a new Republican White House.”

On Sunday, July 15th 2018, Maria Butina was arrested for violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and 951(a), for her role in a covert Russian influence operation in the United States.  Although Erickson isn’t named in the court documents made public this week after the arrest of Maria Butina, it’s strongly suspected that he’s referred to therein as “U.S. Person 1.”

The affidavit describes U.S. Person 1 as “a United States citizen and an American political operative” who met Butina “in Moscow in or around 2013.”  It alleges that the two worked jointly to “arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics, including an organization promoting gun rights.”  According to the Motion for Pretrial Detention, Butina and U.S. Person 1 were living together; he’s also described as being fifty-six years old.

All this fits with what is publicly known about Paul Erickson.

Since the release of these court documents, we have a better idea of the extent of both Butina’s and Erickson’s activities over the past few years.  If Erickson is, in fact, U.S. Person 1, he has much to answer for.


Connected To

Alexander Torshin

Maria Butina

David Keene

US Person 2


Vladimir Putin


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