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December 20, 2017 10:00 PM

The KELOLAND Kremlin Connection

From South Dakota congressional races to presidential campaigns, Vermillion native Paul Erickson is well-known Republican conservative operative.

But now Erickson is in the middle of a congressional investigation into collusion between Trump's political campaign and the Russians. 

The Vermillion native who owns businesses in Sioux Falls may soon find himself in the hot seat in front of senators investigating Trump's campaign collusion with Russia during the 2016 election.  

NRA member Paul Erickson has been in the spotlight nationally over his relationships with high-level Russians and Donald Trump since last spring, when I first reached him by phone.  He told me at the time he was unavailable to talk with me. 

But just recently the New York Times described an email written by Erickson after it was handed over to Congressional investigators, in which Erickson tries to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin. 

The New York Times reports the subject of the May 2016 email sent by Erickson to a Trump campaign advisor was "Kremlin Connection."

According to the New York Times Erickson wrote:

 "Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump. He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election. Let's talk through what has transpired and Senator Sessions’ advice on how to proceed."

It's unclear if a meeting transpired from that email, but Sessions told the House Intelligence Committee he didn't remember the request. 

Now Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who's on the Senate Judiciary Committee ,is asking for all documents related to the NRA, Paul Erickson and others.

Our KELOLAND News Investigation began digging into the background of Paul Erickson and that led us to his long-time political foe, Steve Hildebrand. 

"Paul Erickson has been heavily involved in Republican politics for decades in South Dakota as well as nationally," Hildebrand said.

Hildebrand worked on Democratic Senators Tim Johnson's and Tom Daschle's campaigns nearly two decades ago. 

"There were a lot of these sort of background operations happening to try to affect the vote that's weren't directly on John Thune's senate campaign, but they were kind of in the shadow background and Paul Erickson was part of that--helping stir up stuff against Senator Daschle, against Tim Johnson and that had Paul Erickson's finger prints all over it," Hildebrand said.

John Thune's office says Erickson did not work on the senator's political campaigns.

But he was behind the Rushmore Policy Council, a group whose sole purpose was to launch a media campaign to defeat Daschle.

Back in 1994 Erickson was an entertainment lawyer who booked John Wayne Bobbitt on a “Love Hurts," worldwide media tour. 

Erickson also has a southern Sioux Falls office for a company he formed in 1996 called Compass Care.

According to an annual report on file, Compass Care is a senior living housing development and operation.

People working in neighboring offices here say they only see him about once a month.

KELOLAND Investigates did find several judgments against Compass Care from 2003 and 2004 adding up to more than $150,000. 

Later Erickson worked on several Republican Presidential campaigns and there are reports from 2016 that Erickson claimed he was on the Trump presidential transition team. 

We do know that Erickson is connected to this Russian gun rights advocate Maria Butina. Butina has worked for the deputy governor of Russia's central bank, Alexander Torshin. 

Erickson and Butina's alliance includes a South Dakota business.  According to the South Dakota Secretary of State's office Erickson and Butina formed a limited liability company in 2016 in South Dakota called Bridges. It's unclear what that company does.

"Now he has this close friend and business associate who's part of the gun lobby in Russia and somebody close to Putin and working with her to try to bridge some international alignment with one of our enemies. It doesn't look good for Paul Erickson," Hildebrand said.

The address for both Butina and Erickson in the Bridges business filling is this apartment building on West 57th Street. 

Kennecke: Hi is this Paul?
Erickson: This is Paul.
Kennecke: This is Angela Kennecke from KELO-TV.
Erickson:  Hi Angela how can I help?
Kennecke: I was wondering if you'd be able to talk to us about what the New York Times is reporting--about you trying to set up a meeting between President Trump and Putin. 

Erickson: Ha-ha, it didn't exactly happen that way.

Erickson told us he as currently on the East Coast and was answering the call at his apartment door remotely.
 
Kennecke: Congress is asking for all correspondence with your name on it. Are you aware of that?
Erickson:  No, but I know they cast the net wide for all Republicans for the last two years, that was it, but the New York Times isn't always the best source on these kinds of things.
Kennecke: Did you write an email? Was that your email?
Erickson: I can't even confirm that. I never even saw it.  But I'll know more after the first of the year like everybody else. 

Erickson told us he'd be back in Sioux Falls next month and then the line disconnected and we weren't able to reach him again. 



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
A misspelling was corrected.


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