A new report by the Senate Judiciary Committee concludes that the Kremlin used the NRA 'as a means of accessing and assisting' the Trump campaign.
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee issued a damning new report Wednesday outlining preliminary findings from their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
According to documents obtained by the committee, the Kremlin used the NRA "as a means of accessing and assisting Mr. Trump and his campaign."
Through the NRA, Russia extended to the Trump campaign an offer of a back channel to Moscow, including a potential meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. But that's not all it offered, according to the committee.
"The Kremlin may also have used the NRA to secretly fund Mr. Trump’s campaign," the minority report concluded.
The investigation identified two key figures involved in the effort to use the NRA to aid Trump's campaign: Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia, and his special assistant Maria Butina, a Russian national living in the U.S.
According to the report, Torshin and Butina forged ties with the NRA over the course of several years before using the group as a middleman in their effort to help the Trump campaign.
Mr. Torshin is a Putin ally and the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia, and Ms. Butina served as his assistant. She also founded Right to Bear Arms, the Russian equivalent of the NRA, and started a business with former Trump supporter and adviser Paul Erickson. Both Mr. Torshin and Ms. Butina have longstanding ties to ex-NRA president, David Keene, and in 2013, hosted him in Russia for a pro-gun conference.
During the campaign, Mr. Torshin, Ms. Butina, and their intermediaries repeatedly offered the campaign back channels to Russia and relayed requests from President Putin to meet with Mr. Trump. The Kremlin may also have used the NRA to secretly fund Mr. Trump’s campaign. The extent of Russia’s use of the NRA as an avenue for connecting with and potentially supporting the Trump campaign needs examination.
Democratic committee members said they have contacted Butina, Erickson, and Keene to request documents and interviews related to Torshin's efforts to arrange a meeting between Putin and Trump, but all three have refused to cooperate.
The preliminary findings from the Senate committee line up with the evidence released last month by House intel Democrats. However, the new report suggests that the documents obtained by Senate Democrats may provide more definitive proof that Russia used the NRA to funnel money to the Trump campaign, not just to cultivate relationships and influence.
If that turns out to be the case, the NRA could find itself in serious legal jeopardy for accepting illegal foreign contributions.
While the NRA can legally accept foreign donations if the money is kept separate from political activity, it would be a violation of federal law if any Russia money ended up flowing through the NRA to the Trump campaign. And although we don't know where the funds ended up going, we do know that the NRA has accepted Russian money — and then lied about it until they were forced to fess up.
After months of denials, the NRA finally admitted in April that it had accepted donations from 23 Russian-linked sources. Before that, it only acknowledged receiving money from one Russian source.
However, the NRA is still refusing to disclose the sources of "dark" contributions — meaning that it's entirely possible that those sources are connected to Russia.
The NRA poured an unprecedented amount of cash into the 2016 campaign, spending at least $55 million during the 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.
The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) is reportedly looking at whether Russian entities gave illegal contributions to the NRA that were intended to benefit the Trump campaign. The FBI is also reportedly investigating the NRA as a potential vehicle for Russian money laundering.
Even though Republicans are refusing to investigate the matter, congressional Democrats clearly aren't done looking at the role of the NRA as a conduit for Russian money and influence — though Judiciary Democrats said GOP obstruction is preventing them from getting the full story about the NRA's ties to Russia and the Trump campaign.
"Without the cooperation of Republicans and the ability to subpoena witnesses, much of the truth remains hidden," the Democratic committee members said in a statement Wednesday.
Perhaps that's the goal. And that raises the question: What are Republicans so afraid of finding if they look hard enough?