The State Department official in charge of U.S. arms control negotiations with Moscow and her husband had a years-long friendship with GOP operative Paul Erickson, the former boyfriend of convicted unregistered Russian agent Maria Butina — ties this official did not disclose to her superiors or to Congress during her confirmation process in the spring of 2018.
Erickson officiated the June 2017 wedding of Andrea Thompson, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs, and David Gillian, a former senior Australian army officer, three administration officials and Erickson’s lawyer have confirmed. At the time, Thompson was serving as national security adviser to Vice President Pence. Four months before the wedding, Gillian had transferred Erickson $100,000, which federal officials allege Erickson stole from Gillian, FBI and court documents show. Thompson never disclosed these ties to her superiors until approached this week by this columnist, the three administration officials said.
The wedding took place about six months before Erickson and Butina were publicly identified as being connected to Russian influence operations inside the United States. But by the time of Thompson’s confirmation, allegations of the couple’s influence activities had been widely reported.
Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told me that his panel will investigate Thompson’s lack of disclosure to both Congress and the FBI.
“These reports about Under Secretary Thompson raise questions about how forthcoming she was with all relevant information during her confirmation process,” Menendez said. “I hope that any relevant connections implicating financial interests, or to someone who our government has charged with being an agent of a foreign power, would have been fully reviewed and vetted by the FBI during the security clearance process, and disclosed to the Foreign Relations Committee. It is not clear that happened.”
Thompson’s failure to disclose her contacts and her husband’s business dealings with Erickson is viewed inside the administration as a serious lack of judgment — considering that her former boss, then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, was fired for lying about his contacts with Russian officials.
Several administration officials told me Thompson should have disclosed these connections voluntarily, since she holds top security clearances and has worked for decades as a U.S. intelligence officer. Her failure to report this information, these officials suggested, represented an intelligence vulnerability that could have been used against her.
“When the person who marries you gets into trouble with the Russians and your job is to negotiate with the Russians, you have to disclose that,” a senior administration official told me. “Everybody with an intelligence clearance knows that.”
Butina attended the Thompson-Gillian wedding in South Dakota as Erickson’s guest, according to Erickson’s lawyer, William Hurd. Butina did not have significant interactions with either Thompson or Gillian at the wedding, beyond greetings and congratulations, Hurd told me.
“Paul Erickson had known Andrea Thompson and David Gillian for years. He considered them both friends and agreed to officiate at their wedding in 2017,” Hurd told me. “Maria Butina came to the wedding because Paul Erickson was dating her. If Paul had been dating a different woman, then that woman would have come to the wedding.”
The State Department declined to comment on the record. Thompson, through a State Department spokesperson, also declined to comment. Butina’s lawyer declined to comment. Gillian and the McChrystal Group, the consulting firm where he now works, did not respond to requests for comment.
As a career intelligence officer, Thompson would have been required under updated executive branch regulations to self-report any significant unofficial contacts with a foreign national or any attempt by a foreign national to gain influence.
There is no evidence to suggest Thompson or Gillian had significant interactions with Butina outside the wedding, either. Sources close to Thompson told me that Erickson had known the Thompson family for many years in South Dakota.
Thompson is not alleged to have been involved in her husband’s business dealings with Erickson. Additionally, there is no evidence Thompson was deliberately untruthful to her bosses, federal investigators or congressional officials during her vetting or confirmation process, which took place from late 2017 until her confirmation on April 26, 2018.
In December 2017, after Thompson had left the vice president’s office and was working at the State Department before being nominated for her current role, the New York Times revealed that Erickson had emailed top Trump campaign officials in May 2016 offering to set up a high-level back channel with the Russian government led by President Vladimir Putin.
Under the subject line “Kremlin Connection,” Erickson proposed that Trump could “make first contact” with “President Putin’s emissary” at an upcoming event hosted by the National Rifle Association, of which Erickson was a long-time member. The planned meeting did not take place, according to the Times.
But according to federal prosecutors, this was just one of a series of actions Erickson took in cooperation with Butina to make connections in Republican political circles and set up meetings for Alexander Torshin, who was then a deputy governor of the Russian central bank.
In July 2018, the Justice Department unveiled a criminal complaint against Butina, charging her with “conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior notification to the Attorney General.” In an accompanying affidavit, the FBI claimed that "U.S. Person 1," whom several reports have identified as Erickson, worked closely with Butina to build her influence inside the United States and “advance the interests of the Russian Federation.”
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has opened an investigation into Butina, Torshin and their activities inside the United States. The FBI is also reportedly investigating whether Torshin helped funnel Russian money through the NRA to help the Trump campaign.
Erickson has never been charged with any crime related to Butina, Torshin or the NRA. In February, he was indicted in a seemingly unrelated matter, accused by federal prosecutors of defrauding dozens of investors related to a plan to build retirement facilities and housing for oil workers in North Dakota. According to an April 2018 FBI affidavit in that case, one of Erickson’s last investors was Gillian.
“Erickson told David Gillian he would receive a return of between 25 percent and 75 percent within approximately one year,” the affidavit alleges.
“In reality, the bank records indicated that Gillian’s $100,000 was not invested in real estate or anything else,” the affidavit continues. “In fact, that money was used to pay routine expenses and to pay off a previous investor, Congressman Marshall Sanford. Some of Gillian’s money went to Erickson’s girlfriend, Maria Butina.”
The criminal complaint against Erickson alleges he wired more than $20,000 to American University, where Butina was studying, three months after taking Gillian’s money. Gillian is now suing Erickson in civil court in South Dakota regarding the investment. Hurd, Erickson’s lawyer, has previously called the fraud charges against Erickson “unfounded.”
To be clear, Thompson’s connections with Erickson are not a crime and Erickson is innocent until proven guilty. Gillian is not accused of wrongdoing and is allegedly a victim of Erickson.
Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Thompson’s situation was symptomatic of larger staffing issues plaguing the Trump administration.
“From clumsy vetting to chronic failure to fill vacant positions, it’s no wonder there’s such dysfunction in the executive branch,” Engel said. “The White House needs to get its act together to make sure the officials in charge of protecting our national security meet the highest standards and comply fully with all laws and regulations on disclosure.”