The National Rifle Association’s media arm, NRATV, spent an entire day defending President Donald Trump’s press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin that was otherwise widely characterized as disgraceful and un-American.
While NRATV was running defense for Trump, another significant Russia news story broke: Maria Butina, a Russian pro-gun activist with close ties to the NRA, is being charged with conspiracy against the United States over attempts to establish “back channels” that the FBI says “could be used by the Russian Federation to penetrate the US national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation.” According to the charging documents, Butina attempted to use the NRA and other politically minded groups as conduits for her efforts.
Putin and Trump met for a July 16 summit in Helsinki, Finland, for “nearly two hours behind closed doors and another hour” in a press conference. During the press conference, Trump doubled down on his earlier tweet that both countries share blame for the current tense state of relations. He also said Putin’s denial of any election meddling was “extremely strong and powerful,” effectively throwing the U.S. intelligence community -- which has unanimously concluded Russia interfered in U.S. elections -- under the bus.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper called the press conference “perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president” during a meeting with Russian leadership, and media figures and both Republicans and Democrats in Congress lambased it as un-American and shameful. Even Fox News’ reliably pro-Trump program Fox & Friends said that the president “fell short” while Fox Business host and Trump booster Maria Bartiromo called the press conference “probably the low point of the presidency so far.”
Despite the near-universal criticism, NRATV host Grant Stinchfield defended Trump’s appearance on his July 16 broadcast as “quite an amazing thing to witness,” and exclaimed that Putin and Trump “may even be fond of each other":
GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): President Trump and Vladimir Putin wrapped up their summit, meeting, whatever you want to call it. It doesn’t matter -- it’s all semantics. Two leaders of two very powerful countries met to talk, to try to iron issues out. It appeared to me that President Trump and Vladimir Putin actually like each other. If I ever knew that I had something in common with Vladimir Putin, I didn’t until today. Vladimir Putin admitted that he wanted President Trump to win the election because President Trump talked about normalizing relations with Russia. That is a valid reason why a leader of a giant country like Russia would want President Trump to win. So did I, for that reason and so many others. Listening to these two leaders talk about all the issues at hand, and hearing, right off the bat, Vladimir Putin say the Cold War is a thing of the past and confrontations are a thing of the past is really quite an amazing thing to witness. Now, we know the confrontations will continue. We know Vladimir Putin will still be working against us and, I do believe, still hacking into American computers. I also believe that the United States has put Vladimir Putin on notice, saying, we are on to you. But this meeting showed that these two leaders can get along.
STINCHFIELD: So I do believe this will go down as a historic meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin. It reminds me of when Ronald Reagan met with [Mikhail] Gorbachev, and I see those pictures even now of the two meeting. It was an amazing sight and I do believe the two of them get along well. They may even be fond of each other. That is actually helpful when you talk about adversaries trying to work through serious, serious issues.
Just before the press conference, Stinchfield had also argued that the indictments of 12 Russians over hacking allegations by the Department of Justice were released last week specifically to “undermine President Trump” going into the meeting with Putin. (During the press conference announcing the indictments, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said that he had briefed Trump in advance on the indictments and that the timing was “a function of the collection of the facts, the evidence, and the law and a determination that it was sufficient to present the indictment at this time.”)
NRATV host Dan Bongino also went to bat for Trump. During the July 16 edition of his evening show We Stand, he praised Trump’s performance at the press conference (albeit noting that “he could have worded some things differently”) and slammed a journalist who dared ask whether Russia has any compromising information on Trump.
These defenses of Trump come while the National Rifle Association is knee-deep in questions about whether Russian money was funneled through the organization to help Trump during the 2016 presidential election. While NRATV has been happy to absolve Trump of Russia-related wrongdoing, the outlet has been reluctant to address reports of Kremlin involvement in the NRA.