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On the one hand, who really cares if Maria Butina's grifting boyfriend gets indicted for NOT RUSSIA stuff. Clearly the US District Court for South Dakota's Southern Division is only charging Paul Erickson with eleven counts of fraud and money laundering to get him to flip on the literal actual Russian spy he's been sleeping with for five years. Can we just skip to the part where he gives up the goods to Robert Mueller already? Because everything is crazy all the time, and no one has the bandwidth to get invested in another minor character in this insane soap opera right now.

On the other hand, WHO THE HELL IS THIS GUY? He worked for Pat Buchanan in the 1990s, and produced a terrible Rambo knock off movie with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He represented John Wayne Bobbit, and also Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. He spent 20 years running various healthcare and land scams, including bilking conservative nutcracker Brent Bozell out of $190,000, for which he was unceremoniously booted out of CPAC. He claims to have helped supply Afghan insurgents (i.e. the Taliban) in their fight against the Soviets in 1983. And now he's smack in the middle of a Russian influence operation to change American foreign policy by cozying up to the gunhumpers and godbotherers who have a stranglehold on the Republican party.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but WTF?!?!?


And lest we get carried away thinking he's some kind of 007 mastermind, remember, this is the guy who left himself a note saying, "How to respond to FSB [the successor to the KGB] offer of employment?" He actually emailed an associate confirming that, yes, indeed his girlfriend was a Russian agent being directed by her Kremlin handler to set up a field trip for the NRA. The Daily Beast got his emails, because they have great sources. And because this idiot suuuuuuuuucks at Op-Sec!

As you know from your discussions with Maria Butina, she and Russian Central Bank Deputy Governor Alexander Torshin (but mostly Maria) have been slaving away for several months preparing a truly 'Nixon goes to China' itinerary for a senior NRA delegation to Moscow next month.

As we may have mentioned once or twice, this guy is really, really not smart enough for a longterm career in SPY SHIT.

Small-time grift is more his speed. Like, say getting people to invest in a non-existent chain of nursing homes. Or claiming to have land in the Bakken oil fields. Or the patent on a new line of wheelchairs that helps people get onto the toilet without assistance. (What is it with these Republican grifters and their toilet scams?)

Here's a partial tally of the cash Erickson grifted over the past twenty years. ALLEGEDLY. It appears not to include judgments already entered against him Bozell's Virginia lawsuit and in California for defrauding attorney Michael Barnes. Erickson's lawyer Clint Sargent offered a rousing defense to The Daily Beast yesterday, saying his client, "is anxious to let the criminal justice process play out and believes a story different from the Government's will emerge." Maybe the real story is he laundered ten million dollars, who knows!

The South Dakota indictment charges Erickson with money laundering in two transactions totaling $9,000 to M.B., presumably Maria Butina. But if there is a Russian nexus with the South Dakota charges, it's probably in money laundering Counts 9-11.

Back in July, BuzzFeed reported that these transactions had been flagged by Wells Fargo as "suspicious." Counts 10 and 11 appear to be Butina's tuition payment and money paid to her lawyers -- BuzzFeed's ridiculously good sources at Treasury (which no doubt endeared them to the special counsel) tipped them off to $45,000 Erickson apparently wired to a law firm on Butina's behalf in June and July of 2017. And note that "W.R." is in quotes, unlike the initials in Counts 1-8. Butina wasn't arrested until April 2018, but she had $45,000 in legal fees when she was ostensibly a grad student at AU? And the $14,000 cash withdrawal in December 2015 is right around the time of Butina and Erickson's Funtimes Guntimes NRA Friendship Tour of Russia with all the ammo nuts. So ... HUH.

And while we're all down this rabbithole together, let's spend a minute asking what the hell a 26-year-old from Siberia was doing in Sioux Falls with a Republican grifter twice her age. BuzzFeed has the details of her morning runs and yoga sessions on bucolic trails populated by spotted deer and other charming fauna. But seriously, what was this woman doing out in the woods with Bambi? Was she just getting her backstory in place before she headed to DC to take the wingnut world by storm? And why was she planning to move back there in 2018, as her lawyer reported after she was arrested in April? Was the South Dakota LLC in her name just one of Erickson's scams, or is it part of the neverending Russia fuckery?

South Dakota blogger Dakota Free Press did a deep dive into Butina's activities in the Mount Rushmore State. Here she is with Erickson giving a talk to the baby gun loons at a Republican summer camp in 2015. Which is very good prep when you're working your way up to the full-size ones!

Here she is giving a lecture on gun rights at Erickson's alma mater (before he switched to Yale and started hanging out with Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, and Jack Abramoff).

Yes, Maria, we are also making the thinking face. Because what the hell does that even mean? And, oh by the way, WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU DOING IN SOUTH DAKOTA? Guess we'll find out soon, since that boyfriend of yours is looking at a 1,000 year stint in the pokey (yeah, yeah, we know the sentence would be concurrent, not consecutive). Anyway, warm up those pipes, Paul ... it's time to siiiiiiiing.

[Erickson Indictment / Rapid City Journal / Daily Beast / Daily Beast, again / WSJ / BuzzFeed / BuzzFeed, again / Dakota Free Press]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.

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