(KUTV) -- The U.S. Justice Department suggests that Paul Erickson - a former, informal advisor to Mitt Romney - was having a romantic relationship with a woman who is now in jail, accused of being a spy for Russia.
Federal investigators say Marina Butina developed relationships with politicians, and political candidates, inside the Republican party, in an effort to advance the interests of Russia.
Butina, a guns right advocate in Russia, was in the United States on an education visa and was working on her graduate studies at American University, but officials say that was just a cover so that she could influence American politics.
Butina allegedly targeted the National Rifle Association in part because of the power the organization has within the Republican party.
During that time it is alleged she had several romantic relationships with different Republican men. Among them, Paul Erickson of South Dakota. Erickson is a power player in Republican politics.
Sources say Butina manipulated Erickson, and may have been behind an email he wrote to officials with Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016 trying to set-up a back channel meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In the email, Erickson allegedly wrote, “Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump. Putin wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit the Kremlin before the election.” The visit however never happened.
Erickson was an adviser to Romney during both of the failed runs for president. Romney is now running for the Senate in Utah.
Romney’s campaign team told 2News in a statement:
Erickson did not have a formal paid position in any of Mitt Romey's campaigns. As was the case with many other volunteers, he (Erickson) did interact from time to time with members of his (Romney's) campaign teams.” The statement goes on to say, “Unfortunately, it is clear Russia continues to work to disrupted our democratic institutions. American must be clear-eyed about Russia’s dubious intentions and objectives.