After the National Rifle Association remained almost entirely silent during nearly two years of investigations into their ties to Russia and that country’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, a new bombshell Senate report labels the gun rights group a “foreign asset” of Russia.
On September 27, the Senate Finance Committee’s Democratic staff, led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), released a 77-page report claiming that the NRA “underwrote political access for Russian nationals Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin more than previously known,” according to NPR, and detailing that “the gun rights group was involved with organizing a 2015 visit by some of its leaders to Moscow.” NPR also said that “the report indicates that top NRA officials were aware of Butina’s and Torshin’s links with the Kremlin even as they sought to work more closely together under the banner of gun rights”:
In an email later circulated to two senior NRA staff members, Butina wrote that a purpose of the 2015 Moscow trip was that “many powerful figures in the Kremlin are counting on Torshin to prove his American connections” by showing he could bring prominent NRA officials to Russia.
At another point, Butina suggested to participants on the 2015 NRA trip to Russia that she might be able to set up a meeting between them and President Vladimir Putin, referring to him as “Russia's highest leader.”
Despite these declarations about their ties to the Russian government, NRA officials paid for and facilitated Torshin and Butina's introduction into American political organizations.
Butina and Torshin received access to Republican party officials at NRA events.
It was a explicit interest expressed by Butina: In one 2015 email to an NRA employee, Butina wrote, “is there a list of U.S. governors or members of Congress that might be present at some time during the [NRA] annual meeting?”
The employee responded with a list.
The NRA also helped them forge connections with groups such as the Council for National Policy, the National Prayer Breakfast, the National Sporting Goods Wholesalers Association and Safari Club International.
According to the committee’s report, former NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch “repeatedly denied” that the NRA had officially sanctioned or otherwise participated in the delegation’s trip” leaders 2015 trip to Moscow in 2015.
Allegations that Russia illegally funneled money through the NRA first began circulating in 2017, and on January 18, 2018, McClatchy DC reported that according to sources, “FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA.” A year later, on February 15, the Senate Finance Committee announced its investigation into Butina and the NRA.
While former NRATV host Grant Stinchfield called the allegations “blatantly false” in a July 2017 video slamming The Washington Post, the NRA remained mostly silent throughout the investigation, despite the mounting pressure. NRATV figures typically only spoke about Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections to attack the legitimacy of other investigations, calling them “a scam” and a “disgrace.”