When the Russian spy embedded in the National Rifle Association (NRA), Maria Butina, was first exposed, we learned that she gained access to the NRA by starting a sexual relationship with industry lobbyist Paul Erickson.
At the time, it wasn't entirely clear if Erickson knew exactly who and what she is or if he was completely ignorant, but we now have some indication that Erickson knew what he was doing and engaged in criminal activities of his own that we currently don't know about.
The Daily Beast reports that federal authorities addressed a letter to Erickson's lawyer to inform him that he may be charged for acting as a foreign agent under federal codes reserved for crimes that stop just short of actual espionage.
If prosecutors bring the charges named in the letter, Erickson would be the first American embroiled in the 2016 Russia investigation charged under a statute that Justice Department lawyers describe as “espionage-lite.”
“Charging an American under 951 in the context of the Russia investigation is especially serious because that statute is generally reserved for espionage-like cases, such as intelligence-gathering on behalf of a foreign government,” said Ryan Goodman, a former Defense Department attorney who now teaches at the New York University School of Law.
“Essentially what it would say is that an American was acting to advance the interests of a foreign power, contrary to the interests of the United States of America,” said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor.
We already know that Erickson is a Russian fanboy, but this suggests he's done something more serious than drink Russian vodka and cosplay as Grigori Rasputin.
Crucially, this case is not being handled by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, nor is Butina's case, so you can add this to the pile of related investigations Trump and the GOP cannot bury.
When the full details of this case and others become public, I have no doubt that it's going to expose the National Rifle Association in ways they've never been exposed before. The association is already teetering toward bankruptcy and that could accelerate when we learn just how much they've depended on Russian money to cover their expenses. At some point, creditors and banks are going to step in. Or step out.
This is another topic for another day, but I believe these cases will clearly demonstrate how the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United has become a threat to national security. It's all too easy to hide donations from foreign oligarchs and governments.