'Oh, you meant THOSE Russians?' — The NRA, apparently.
The NRA has admitted in a newly released document that it accepted money from at least 23 Russian sources. That’s 22 more than it acknowledged just two weeks ago, when a lawyer for the group said it had only received contributions from one Russian individual.
In a letter addressed to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the organization now says it received a total of approximately $2500 from 23 people “associated with Russian addresses,” which may include Russian citizens or Americans living in Russia.
The letter, dated April 10, was released to the public on Wednesday.
“Given your focus on potential Russian influence between 2015 and the present, we reviewed our financial records for that period,” wrote John C. Frazer, the NRA’s Secretary and General Counsel. “During that time, the NRA received a total of approximately $2512.85 from people associated with Russian addresses (which may include U.S. citizens living in Russia), or known Russian nationals living in the United States.”
But in late March, Steven Hart, an outside counsel to the NRA, told ABC News that the group had only received a single contribution, totaling less than $1,000, from a Russian individual between 2012 and 2018. That funder was said to be Alexander Torshin — a Russian government official and top banking executive who is also a lifetime member of the NRA.
The sudden disclosure of 22 additional Russian funders appears to stem from a newly revealed court document from a Russian citizen who was arrested earlier this year when he tried to board a flight from Los Angeles to Moscow. The man, Evgeny Spiridonov, works for an arms manufacturer that is currently under U.S. sanctions. In court documents, he said he was an NRA member — and membership requires a financial contribution.
As NPR noted, a November 2016 tweet hinted at yet another source of Russian money. Torshin mentioned that his aide Maria Butina, a Russian national, was also a lifetime member of the NRA.
The organization has come under heightened scrutiny in recent months amid allegations that Russian individuals and/or entities may have funneled money through it to help the Trump campaign. In testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, one source said Russian intelligence sought to “infiltrate” the group as part of its broader influence operation.
The FBI is reportedly investigating these allegations, with a specific focus on whether Torshin, who was recently sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department, may have funneled money to the NRA. In addition, the FEC is reportedly looking at whether Russian entities gave illegal contributions to the NRA that were intended to benefit the Trump campaign.
As part of these inquiries, Wyden wrote a letter to the NRA in February asking the group to list all monetary contributions it had received from Russian nationals. Wyden said he was particularly interested in whether Russian entities aided the Trump campaign by funneling contributions to the NRA.
The organization spent at least $55 million during the 2016 election cycle, including an estimated $30 million to support Trump’s presidential bid — more than its combined spending in all races during the 2008 and 2012 presidential election cycles.
And according to McClatchy, those figures may significantly underestimate what was actually spent. Two industry insiders said the group spent upwards of $70 million, but failed to disclose some of its expenditures.
Wyden gave the NRA a February 16 deadline to answer his questions and produce documents about any dealings with Russian individuals, businesses, or their intermediaries.
In its response, the NRA failed to directly answer Wyden’s question about contributions from Russian-linked entities. “The NRA and its related entities do not accept funds from foreign persons or entities in connection with United States elections,” the group said.
The NRA later acknowledged that it does accept foreign donations for its membership organization, but Torshin was listed as the sole contributor.
Now, it’s backtracking again, admitting that it not only accepts foreign cash for membership fees — and that it received Russian money from at least 23 individuals — but that it also accepted donations outside of membership fees from at least two Russian individuals.
In the letter to Wyden, the NRA’s counsel said the group would not provide any additional responses to the senator. “Given the extraordinarily time-consuming and burdensome nature of your requests, we must respectfully decline to engage in this beyond the clear answers we have already provided.”
But Wyden isn’t about to let the NRA get off that easily.
“After three letters, the NRA continually, and specifically avoided detailing what measures it takes to vet donations, including from shell companies, a known means for Russians to funnel money into the United States,” an aide to Wyden told NPR.
“Sen. Wyden will be referring his correspondence with the NRA to the Federal Elections Commission to contribute to their inquiry … As ranking member of the Finance Committee, he is considering additional oversight actions in light of this response.”
As the FBI, the FEC, and congressional investigators scrutinize its finances, the NRA is also facing heightened scrutiny from the American public and corporate sponsors, many of whom distanced themselves from the group in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting.
The NRA has often been on the wrong side of history — but now, it may find itself on the wrong side of the law, as well.