At this point, there’s been a lot of talk about President Donald Trump’s team’s ties to Russia — and yet the reports just keep piling up. Russian spy Maria Butina’s American boyfriend Paul Erickson reportedly actively participated in efforts to establish private communication between the Kremlin and American political figures — and he’s now a target of the same criminal investigation that’s roped in Butina. She agreed to plead guilty this week to conspiracy against the United States and to cooperate with prosecutors.
Her work in the U.S. involved coordination with Russian official Alexander Torshin, who back in his home country has recently faded from public life, abruptly resigning his executive position at Russia’s central bank. The two of them groomed the National Rifle Association into being an ally of the Kremlin, utilizing their connections at the organization to reach out to interests including the Trump campaign. Torshin personally sought to set up a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin — using Erickson for help.
As it turns out, Erickson was deeply involved in all of this. In an October 2016 email to an unnamed acquaintance that Salon reports the FBI has a copy of, he wrote:
‘Unrelated to specific presidential campaigns, 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].’
Although that quote offered by Salon removes the identities at hand, it’s clear who’s being targeted here. The NRA was being used as a “conduit” for the Kremlin to stay in touch with Republican political leaders.
The efforts began long before Donald Trump clenched the Republican Party’s presidential nomination — let alone won the general election — but they sit in a broad context of disturbing Russian electoral interference in the United States. Developments in the effort to understand that interference continue to roll out under the guidance of Special Counsel for the Russia investigation Robert Mueller, who Trump relentlessly seeks to undercut.
The scandal includes the revelation that in early 2017 — after Trump took office — Erickson and Butina continued their work. They arranged for a group of prominent Russians to attend that year’s National Prayer Breakfast, and Butina made clear to the American operative that they would be there to cultivate their secret communications with key interests in the U.S.
Erickson concurrently told another person that “reaction to the delegation’s presence in America will be conveyed DIRECTLY” to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Throughout most of this, the NRA carried on with record breaking spending on behalf of the Trump campaign, pouring nearly TRIPLE the amount into support for the insurgent businessman’s efforts that they used to back Mitt Romney in 2012. It’s been well documented at this point how that fits into Russia’s own pro-Trump aims for the 2016 elections.
In the time since, the NRA has carried on with its public infamy, somehow imagining that being on the opposite side of mass shooting victims makes them in the right.
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