During the 2016 election, many GOP-leaning lobbying groups were positively energized by Trump’s candidacy. The National Rifle Association was one of those groups that seemed to have a mind meld with the authoritarian candidate.
Today, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee revealed they have obtained documents that show the Kremlin used the National Rifle Association as a conduit to help Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Given the NRA's ubiquitous presence in U.S. elections, it should alarm every American that the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded that "the Kremlin used the National Rifle Association" to influence the 2016 election.https://t.co/KhV80rynat
— Tim Kaine (@timkaine) May 16, 2018
According to the Democratic memo outlining their findings, “The Committee has obtained a number of documents that suggest the Kremlin used the National Rifle Association as a means of accessing and assisting Mr. Trump and his campaign.”
The documents also suggest that the Russian government used the gun industry lobby to proffer a sort of back channel to communicate between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. This offer of collusion included a possible meeting between then-candidate Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
According to the document, two Russian intermediaires “repeatedly offered the campaign back channels to Russia and relayed requests from President Putin to meet with Mr. Trump.”
In the 2016 election, the NRA spent at least $55 million dollars (some reports say $70 million), $30 million of which went directly to supporting Trump.
This was a record amount for the gun industry lobbying group, which spent triple what it spent to help Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid.
The Democratic document focuses on two alleged intermediaries between the Kremlin and the NRA: Russian banker Alexander Torshin and his deputy, Maria Butina, who reportedly boasted of her role in the apparent collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
The FBI was already investigating whether some of the money flowing into NRA coffers came from Torshin, an alleged money launderer. (Reminder: it’s illegal to use foreign money to influence an election.)
According to a McClatchy report, “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, the sources said.”
Torshin was accused of money laundering by a Spanish court and was on the verge of being arrested in 2013 before he abruptly canceled his trip to Spain.
The NRA has copped to receiving donations from foreign sources, but insists none of those funds were used to influence the election.
As the leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies testified earlier this year, Russia views their activities to influence the 2016 election as successful, and their attempts to influence the 2018 midterm elections are “ongoing.”
Donald Trump reluctantly and weakly enforced the sanctions on Russia that Congress overwhelmingly passed last year. The Trump administration also doesn’t see the need for any further sanctions, despite the conclusions of the Senate intel committee and the intelligence community.
If the NRA’s recent work isn’t a result of Russian activities, it’s certainly in concert with them. In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Russian bots flooded the internet with pro-gun rights posts. Additionally, the NRA has morphed into a radical right-wing grievance-stoking machine, opportunistically widening the fault lines between liberals and conservatives, even where there’s no second amendment question at stake. This is the same tactic Russian propagandists used in social media posts during the 2016 election.
Additionally, the NRA just hired former convicted felon, international arms dealer, and infamous sanctions flouter Oliver North as it’s next president. North has an “interesting” take on what Russian sanctions mean to someone as lawless as he is:
Yep, nothing to see here folks!