Several prominent Russians, some in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle or high in the Russian Orthodox Church, now have been identified as having contact with National Rifle Association officials during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, according to photographs and an NRA source.
The contacts have emerged amid a deepening Justice Department investigation into whether Russian banker and lifetime NRA member Alexander Torshin illegally channeled money through the gun rights group to add financial firepower to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.
Other influential Russians who met with NRA representatives during the campaign include Dmitry Rogozin, who until last month served as a deputy prime minister overseeing Russia’s defense industry, and Sergei Rudov, head of one of Russia’s largest philanthropies, the St. Basil the Great Charitable Foundation. The foundation was launched by an ultra-nationalist ally of Russian President Putin.
The Russians talked and dined with NRA representatives, mainly in Moscow, as U.S. presidential candidates vied for the White House. Now U.S. investigators want to know if relationships between the Russian leaders and the nation’s largest gun rights group went beyond vodka toasts and gun factory tours, evolving into another facet of the Kremlin’s broad election-interference operation.
Even as the contacts took place, Kremlin cyber operatives were secretly hacking top Democrats’ emails and barraging Americans’ social media accounts with fake news stories aimed at damaging the image of Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton and boosting the prospects of Republican Donald Trump.
It is a crime, potentially punishable with prison time, to donate or use foreign money in U.S. election campaigns.
McClatchy in January disclosed that Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller was investigating whether Torshin or others engineered the flow of Russian monies to the NRA; the Senate Intelligence Committee is also looking into the matter, sources familiar with the probe have said. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the inquiries, which are part of sweeping, parallel investigations into Russia’s interference with the 2016 U.S. elections, have not been publicly announced.
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said, however, that the FBI has not contacted the group.
A photograph taken during a 2015 trip to Russia by leaders of the powerful group showed them meeting with Torshin, Rogozin and Rudov, and a source knowledgeable about the visit confirmed the gathering. The source spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid damaging relationships.
The NRA, Trump’s biggest financial backer, spent more than $30 million to boost his upstart candidacy; that's more than double what it laid out for 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, and the NRA money started flowing much earlier in the cycle for Trump.
Surprise, it wasn't just Alexander Torshin, who I've talked about several times before, but a whole network of Russian Putin buddies who ended up giving possibly tens of millions to Trump. Remember, Torshin approached Jared Kushner about a Trump-Putin meeting before the election and planned to meet with Trump officials at the 2016 NRA convention in Louisville.
Since then, the evidence of Russian contributions to Trump laundered through the NRA has only gotten more solid. Now we find out multiple Russian oligarchs were in on it, not just Torshin.
My question is how much Wayne LaPierre knew at the time. It's gonna be fun when the indictments start dropping on this one, folks.