The NRA The Russia Connection

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The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Thu May 03, 2018 10:05 am

The NRA Is Still Dodging Questions on Its Russia Connection
With Trump about to address the NRA’s convention, the group still isn’t giving straight answers.
RUSS CHOMAMAY. 3, 2018 6:00 AM

The night before President Donald Trump spoke at the 2016 National Rifle Association convention, his eldest son met with a Russian politician who had been pitched to the Trump campaign as an “emissary” of Vladimir Putin who could set up a back channel to the Kremlin. Since then, that Russian official, Alexander Torshin, a former deputy governor of the Russian central bank who is reported to be under investigation for possibly funneling money to the NRA, has bragged about his relationship with the NRA, and the gun group has reluctantly acknowledged that it has received money from Russian sources. But with Trump set to address this year’s NRA convention this weekend, there remain few clear answers about the group’s ties to Russian funders—in part because the organization has sidestepped queries from Congress about its Russian connections.

The primary question is how much money the NRA has accepted from Russians. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has posed the question to the NRA several times, and now the Federal Election Commission is asking as well—and the FBI may be, too. Politicians and political action committees can’t accept money from a foreign government, but a nonprofit like the NRA can, as long as the money is kept away from any political activity the group undertakes. The information the NRA has provided to Wyden has clarified little.

In a February letter to the NRA, Wyden asked for details on its financial connections to Russia; specifically, how much money the NRA’s political arm has accepted from Russian sources, and what internal controls the group has in place to ensure no foreign money is spent on American elections.

The group’s response did little more than restate the question. “As a longstanding policy to comply with federal election law, the NRA and its related entities do not accept funds from foreign persons or entities in connection with the United States elections,” the NRA’s general counsel, John Frazier, replied. Frazier said that most of the group’s donations come from small donors, but “significant” donations are “vetted,” though he provided no details on how.

In a follow-up letter in March, Wyden tried again, adding questions about Torshin’s relationship to the NRA and citing Torshin’s involvement with a trip made by an NRA delegation to Russia in 2015. Among the NRA officials on that trip was Joe Gregory, who chaired the group’s “Golden Ring of Freedom” program, which awards special status to donors who have given the NRA at least $1 million. Wyden asked whether any Russians were Golden Ring participants.

In a testy response, the NRA acknowledged to Wyden, “While we do receive some contributions from foreign individuals and entities, these contributions are made directly to the NRA for lawful purposes.” The group also stated, “For the relevant time period (2015-2016), we have found no significant contributions to any NRA entities sent from any foreign address or drawn on any foreign financial institution.” Wyden had not asked about that particular time period.

After yet another letter from Wyden, the NRA finally conceded in early April that it had, in fact, received $2,500 or more from at least 23 individuals who were Russian or living in Russia. The group said these donations were made for a variety of purposes.

In the same letter, the NRA made clear that it had no interest in further discussing donations from Russian sources. “We believe this and our previous letters have provided enough information to address any legitimate concerns about these issues,” wrote Frazier, the group’s lawyer. “Therefore, given the extraordinarily time-consuming and burdensome nature of your requests, we must respectfully decline to engage in this beyond the clear answer we have already provided.”

The NRA has one of the most sophisticated and successful fundraising operations of any nonprofit. In 2016, it hauled in $266 million.

The NRA has denied that the FBI is investigating its Russian connections. But on the eve of its convention, the NRA appears to be gearing up to deal with a more aggressive interrogator than Wyden. According to CNN, the group’s attorneys have begun setting aside years of documents relating to Torshin, a move that sources told CNN could be simple due diligence, but also appeared to be a sign that the gun group is “bracing” for a full-on investigation. ... onnection/

Inside the Decade-Long Russian Campaign to Infiltrate the NRA and Help Elect Trump

Femme fatales, lavish Moscow parties and dark money – how Russia worked the National Rifle Association

April 2, 2018
russia NRA
Illustration by Victor Juhasz for Rolling Stone
In November 2013, the president of the National Rifle Association, David Keene, was introduced as an honored guest at the conference of the Right to Bear Arms, a gun lobby in Moscow. "There are no peoples that are more alike than Americans and Russians," Keene said. "We're hunters. We're shooters. We value the same kinds of things." Keene underscored his friendship with Alexander Torshin, a top politician in the ruling party of Vladimir Putin; for the past three years, Keene said, "I've hosted your senator Alexander Torshin at the National Rifle Association's annual meetings." In words that now carry a darker connotation, Keene insisted, "We need to work together."

Torshin, now 64, is a roly-poly politician, perhaps five feet six, with thick glasses and a passion for borscht – "like medicine!" he once tweeted. A member of Putin's right-wing United Russia party, he served in the Russian senate for more than a decade, forging close ties to Russia's internal security service, the FSB, which awarded him a medal in 2016. His embrace of Keene, says Steven Hall, who served as chief of Russian operations for the CIA until 2015, was about more than forging "an international brotherhood of the NRA."

As part of Putin's "active measures," Hall says, Russia has attempted to influence right-wing and populist factions abroad, preaching unity around social conservatism: "'We're both religious-based countries – we have the Orthodox Church that's a big deal for us.' " The Russians, Hall believes, "made a natural transition in the United States to the NRA"; over time Putin became determined to exploit the American gun lobby "and decided Mr. Torshin is going to be the guy to do it for him."

Keene proved an easy mark. A career lobbyist who advised presidential candidates from Ronald Reagan to Mitt Romney, he was a longtime chair of the American Conservative Union, which organizes the annual CPAC convention. NRA board member Grover Norquist has praised Keene as "a conservative Forrest Gump" who's been at "the center of all things conservative for decades." Keene, with a sweep of white hair, owlish glasses and a patrician bearing, might move in cutthroat political circles, but friends say his personality runs against type. "He's like a teddy bear," says Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, who has known Keene for decades. "He's not hard-edged at all. He's a gentleman." (Keene did not respond to multiple interview requests.)

Torshin and Keene forged a quick friendship. "Just a brief note to let you know just how much I enjoyed meeting in Pittsburgh during the NRA annual meeting," Keene wrote in a 2011 letter later obtained by anti-corruption activists in Russia. Extending a personal invitation to the following year's event, Keene added, "If there is anything any of us can do to help you in your endeavors . . . please don't hesitate to let us know."

Torshin's "endeavors" included a plan to back a gun-rights group in Moscow. "We will start organizing our own Russian NRA," Torshin soon tweeted. The NRA president seemed flattered, seeing Torshin as a powerful Russian eager to build a gun organization that mirrored his own, and even secured a Russian translation of the NRA charter.

But Russia experts believe Torshin's interest in U.S. gun culture masked a dark, ulterior motive. "It's all a big charade, basically," Glenn Simpson, founder of the research firm behind the infamous Steele Dossier, testified to the House Intelligence Committee. Much of what passes for civil society in modern Russia is, in fact, controlled by Putin. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee published a January 2018 report on "Putin's Asymmetric Assault on Democracy," which describes how the Kremlin has "sought to co-opt civil society by 'devot[ing] massive resources to the creation and activities of state-sponsored and state-controlled NGOs."

Some of these faux grassroots groups buttress the Kremlin's domestic agenda. Others are projections of Putin's foreign policy. Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the committee, says it is common for Russian groups that "appear to be independent" but are "really Putin groups" to build relationships with civic groups in Western democracies, like the NRA – "to have tentacles," Cardin says, "to try and influence public opinion here in the United States. It is certainly part of Putin's MO."

Hall agrees. "The idea of private gun ownership is anathema to Putin," he says. "So then the question is, 'Why?' " Why was a pro-gun campaign being hatched by a leader in Putin's own party? The answer, according to Hall, is that Putin was baiting a trap. "He's reaching out to attract the NRA, specifically, over to Russia."

The FBI is now investigating whether Torshin, the current deputy governor of the Russian central bank, illegally funneled cash to the NRA to support the election of Donald Trump, according to a report by McClatchy that has sparked a probe by the Federal Elections Commission. Moscow's NRA connections have also become a focus of House and Senate Russia investigators. In his House testimony, made public in January, Simpson pointed to "Russian banker-slash-Duma-member-slash-Mafia-leader" Torshin and his "suspicious" protégé, a young gun activist named Marina Butina. "It appears the Russians," Simpson said, "infiltrated the NRA."

The NRA spent an unprecedented $30 million to install Trump in the White House. Putin has a long track record of illegally financing nationalist opposition groups in the West. If the Kremlin's NRA outreach culminated in pumping vast sums into the group's coffers, America's lax campaign-finance regulations would have posed no obstacle. "There are so many ways that a group like the NRA could be used to channel Russian money into a race, it's shocking," says Robert Maguire, who investigates "dark money" for the Center for Responsive Politics. In a letter to Congress, the NRA has denied wrongdoing; it has not denied accepting Russian money.

The notion that the flag-waving NRA of Eddie Eagle has allied itself with the Russian bear, and the government of former KGB colonel Vladimir Putin, can be hard to fathom. But an investigation by Rolling Stone establishes deeper ties between the NRA and Russia than previously reported. The record reveals this union was the product of a sophisticated Russian influence campaign nearly a decade in the making. By November 2016, Torshin greeted Trump's election victory as a foregone conclusion, specifically pointing to his and the president-elect's joint connection to the NRA. "This striking personality has fascinated me for a long time," he tweeted, in Russian. "Was sure of his victory."

By Torshin's own account, his affiliation with the American gun lobby began around 2010, when he became a member of the NRA. His passion for firearms is genuine; Torshin counted Gen. Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the AK-47, as a friend, and has tweeted, "I love guns." Nearly as soon as Torshin joined the NRA, he began targeting the gun lobby's leadership, leaning on a friend, a Nashville lawyer named G. Kline Preston IV. "I've probably known him 10 years," Preston says of Torshin. "He's one of the finest people I know. He's a very capable, intelligent, honest man, a very devout Orthodox Christian, very serious about his faith."

Preston is a jovial Russophile. He studied abroad in Soviet Leningrad in the late Eighties on his way to an undergraduate degree in Russian language and literature. He has moonlighted as a vodka importer and a trader on the post-Soviet stock exchange. In 2006, Preston opened a sister law office in St. Petersburg, where his practice areas included "lobbying members of government bodies in the United States and the Russian Federation." Torshin met Preston through mutual Russian contacts, and he invited the lawyer to speak to the Russian senate in 2009. "I'm very pro-Putin, honestly," Preston says in a rich Southern drawl. "He's been fantastic for Russia."

Toshin (center) with Putin at an awards ceremony in Moscow, 2011.
Toshin (center) with Putin at an awards ceremony in Moscow in 2011. Konstantin Zavrazhin/Getty Images
A campaign banner from Putin's 2012 election hangs in Preston's Nashville office, also decorated with Russian nesting dolls of the Trump family. Preston believes Russia shares the values of the American South, but his own views are reactionary. He calls the Civil War "the War for Southern Independence"; the Confederate Constitution "an improvement"; and has blasted Lincoln as "a terrorist and a war criminal!" In 2013, he posted a meme on Twitter of Barack Obama looking unmanly in comparison to the buff, shirtless Russian leader. Preston wrote, "As long as U.S. is electing foreign-born presidents, I propose Vladimir [Vladimirovich] Putin."

The Nashville lawyer saw nothing odd about his Russian friend's desire to meet the NRA president: "Torshin is a gun enthusiast," he says. And although Preston attends the annual NRA meetings, he didn't know Keene personally. "I just called him out of the blue," Preston says. "I told him, 'Hey, I got a friend who is interested in the NRA, gun rights, that kind of stuff. Happens to be a Russian senator.' "

The NRA welcomed the outreach. "Russia's essentially a gun-free zone since Bolsheviks took power," Preston explains. (Rifles and shotguns are commonly owned; handguns are tightly restricted.) "You have Russian politicians and other citizens working to change that. Senator Torshin is one of those people." He adds, "The obvious place to look, to see a successful gun-rights organization, is the United States and the NRA."

Speaking on the phone from Tennessee and Moscow, where he traveled in March to act as an observer of the presidential election of Putin – which independent monitors have called "a sham" – Preston flatly denies that his Russian friends were meddling in the U.S. election. "These allegations are laughable," he says. "I have no knowledge of it, never saw any indications. It's a red herring, man. Like when we were kids, they sent us on snipe hunts – a bird that doesn't exist."

But as early as 2012, when Torshin attended the NRA convention as a "VIP" guest of "the NRA President," his fascination with U.S. gun culture was twinned with an interest in presidential politics. That November, he was in Nashville as an observer of the contest between Obama and Romney. "I set that up," says Preston, but Torshin's bona fides with the rifle association smoothed his path: "My NRA card," he boasted on Twitter, "opened the doors to any polling stations for me." Torshin inspected electronic voting machines and election queues. Spotting posters of Obama hanging in one precinct – a violation of election norms – "Torshin, I think, snapped pictures and sent them to Moscow immediately," Preston recalls.

Torshin also traveled to D.C., making two intriguing stops: one at the headquarters of the NRA, the other at the residence of Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States whose frequent contacts with Trump campaign figures have raised red flags with investigators.

Over the next year, Torshin's access and influence in the NRA continued to grow. At the 2013 convention in Houston, Gottlieb recalls, Torshin was presented with the gift of a rifle. "3 thousand delegates of the NRA Congress, greeted me with an ovation!" Torshin tweeted. He also snapped photos of a ceremony for the "Golden Ring of Freedom," the NRA's high society for million-dollar lifetime donors, many of them gun executives. The group breaks bread in golden dinner jackets with elaborate crests embroidered on the breast pockets. They ring a replica of the Liberty Bell.

Outside the NRA bubble, however, senator Torshin was becoming infamous. Spanish authorities reportedly sought to arrest him at a 2013 birthday party for Alexander Romanov, a member of the Russian Taganskaya mob, now serving prison time for laundering money through real estate on the Spanish island of Mallorca. According to judicial documents reviewed by El Pais, Romanov referred to Torshin as "boss" and "godfather" on intercepted phone calls; Spain suspected Torshin had laundered 14 million euros through the purchase of a hotel on the island.

The birthday sting was foiled when Torshin didn't show up to the island. Charges were never filed. "Calling on Russia to arrest him would have been useless because Russia does not cooperate," a judicial source told El Pais. In a statement to the paper, Torshin denied any wrongdoing, insisting he'd never done business with Romanov or owned Spanish real estate. Torshin has acknowledged only social connections to the mobster; for example, he is the godfather of Romanov's teenage son. (Torshin did not respond to interview requests.)

In Moscow, Torshin had partnered with Marina Butina, who would become the face of gun rights in Russia. She gained national prominence in 2011, competing in the Youth Primaries of the Young Guard of United Russia – a political competition sponsored by the Kremlin to cultivate fresh political talent. Tall and poised, with a spiky brown haircut, Butina, then 22, had grown up with guns, learning to hunt with her father in her home region of Altai, in southern Siberia. Her platform in the contest included liberalizing Russia's gun laws. Torshin was captivated. He hired Butina as a special assistant. That same year, she became the founding chair of Russia's new gun group: the Right to Bear Arms.

In late 2013, Torshin and Butina hosted an NRA delegation, along with other American gun-rights activists, at a Right to Bear Arms convention in Moscow. A lavish affair, staged in an upscale convention center, the event doubled as a coming-out party for Torshin's young protégé. They arranged private meals for American guests, who feasted on Russian delicacies and downed flavored vodkas. Leggy models in mini-skirts put on a fashion show, flashing garter belts that doubled as conceal-carry gun holsters. "I was impressed with the grassroots movement they created," says Gottlieb, of the Second Amendment Foundation. "I wish we had as many good-looking young ladies involved in our gun-rights movement here in the United States."

For an upstart organization, the Right to Bear Arms' conference was crawling with Russian government officials. Torshin delivered the keynote address, and Butina presented him and a half-dozen other Russian politicians – including the ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky – with honorary memberships. (Butina has denied taking even "one coin" in government money.) Leading the American cohort was the NRA's president, Keene, who delivered his address promoting Russo-American unity. In pictures, Keene posed next to Butina – now sporting long red hair – grinning like a schoolboy.

Putin did not attend, but those in the audience felt his influence. "I make the assumption that they have the blessing of more than just Alexander Torshin, because he's an upper-ranking member of Putin's party," Gottlieb says. "He's not going to do things that are going to upset Putin." (Despite this cleareyed assessment, Gottlieb rejects the notion that the Russians and the NRA were in cahoots in 2016.)

Right to Bear Arms' international outreach extended to John Bolton, the former U.N. ambassador and longtime NRA activist, who now serves as President Trump's national security adviser. In late 2013, a video appeared online of Bolton delivering an address to Right to Bear Arms, as the group was pursuing a gun-rights amendment to the Russian constitution. (That campaign – like much of Right to Bear Arms' political agenda – has foundered.) Through his bushy mustache, Bolton praised Putin's autocratic country as a "force for democracy in the world," and encouraged the Russian activists. "Good luck on your journey," he said, "into a new century of freedom."

Torshin feted Butina, calling her "very young and talented. She is the youngest prominent public figure in the Russian Federation." Torshin also praised more than her political acumen, saying she had become "more beautiful" and "ideally slim." Hall, the former CIA officer, says Butina fits a mold: "The Russians are not stupid. It's a safe bet that there's more men in leadership positions on the conservative side of American politics in places like the NRA. If you are looking to attract people to your cause, guys would be more interested in talking to somebody like her. It's one of the old plays out of the KGB handbook."

Butina, he says, "reminds me of Anna Chapman – the fiery redhead who was one of the illegals who was kicked out of the United States back in 2010." Chapman had lived in New York before being unmasked as a spy by the FBI; she pleaded guilty to acting as a foreign agent and was deported in a spy exchange – for the Russian double agent recently poisoned with a nerve agent in the U.K. Chapman now has a popular Instagram account in which she poses in revealing outfits, often with weapons. Butina has flashed a similar sex appeal, stripping down for a 2014 profile in GQ Russia – wielding a pair of pistols, wearing stilettos, a black leather jacket, and lingerie from Dolce & Gabbana – and posing as the cover model for the Right to Bear Arms glossy in-house magazine.

In early 2014, U.S.-Russia relations were cratering, following the invasion of Crimea. Torshin helped steer the legislation that officially annexed the territory, appearing with Putin at a Kremlin signing ceremony. But his relationship with the NRA was sunnier than ever. "Republicans are the bones of the NRA," Torshin tweeted in February. "Great political victories are ahead of you!" At the 2014 convention in Indianapolis, Butina met with the highest-ranking officers of the NRA – including, Rolling Stone can report, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president. She presented a plaque from Right to Bear Arms to then-NRA president Jim Porter, tweeting, "Mission accomplished." Her tour through the conservative elite included snapping selfies with former GOP presidential candidates Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum.

As a guest of Keene, Butina joined the rituals of the Golden Ring of Freedom, even ringing the NRA's liberty bell. "To the right to bear arms for citizens of the whole world," she said as the bell sounded. Her first American trip, she blogged, culminated in "an experience at the Washington office of the NRA." Standing before the group's blue-glass headquarters, she posed for a photo with Keene.

Butina and Torshin soon began leveraging their NRA connections to gain personal access to GOP presidential contenders. Not yet a declared candidate, Trump addressed the NRA's 2015 convention in Nashville. "We need strength," Trump said. "We need people that are respected. Putin has no respect for our president." Torshin has claimed he met Trump in Nashville, and that Trump ribbed him: " So, you're from Russia – when are you going to invade Latvia?" The Trump White House has denied this encounter took place.

The Russians also rubbed elbows with Scott Walker, then a viable candidate, and the beneficiary of more than $3.5 million from the NRA over his career. Walker charmed Butina when they first met, she blogged, greeting her in Russian. "We talked about Russia," she wrote. "I did not hear any aggression towards our country, the president or my compatriots." Two months later, Butina traveled to Waukesha, Wisconsin, to attend Walker's official presidential launch.

Butina was not keeping a low profile. In June, she wrote an English-language op-ed about U.S-Russia relations for The National Interest, the foreign-policy magazine founded by neoconservative Irving Kristol. Butina staked out a case for regime change in America: "It may take the election of a Republican to the White House in 2016 to improve relations between the Russian Federation and the United States," she wrote. "As improbable as it may sound, the Russian bear shares more interests with the Republican elephant than the Democratic donkey." Citing the GOP's coalition of social conservatives, businessmen and anti-terrorism hawks, Butina wrote, "These are values espoused by United Russia, the current ruling political party in Moscow." The magazine identified Butina as the founder of "a Russian version of the NRA." Not included in her bio: Butina was still on the government payroll, as special assistant to Torshin, who by now was deputy governor of the Russian central bank.

Butina soon appeared in Las Vegas for Freedom Fest, a libertarian conference where Trump spoke. Barely a month into his candidacy, Trump had said little formally about Russian relations. "I am from Russia," Butina said in lilting English from a microphone in a ballroom at the Planet Hollywood casino. "If you would be elected as the president, do you want to continue the politics of sanctions?"

"I know Putin," Trump replied. "I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin. OK?" Then Trump gave an answer that was music to Kremlin ears: "I don't think you'd need the sanctions."

Butina's intelligence, drive and charisma won her powerful friends in the NRA. But she became remarkably close with one lifelong GOP activist in particular: Paul Erickson. Six-feet-four, with a bald crown ringed by graying curls, Erickson has a skier's build and greets fellow Yalies with a fight-song-inspired "Boola, Boola." A member of the same cohort of college Republicans that produced Norquist, Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed and disgraced super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Erickson has enjoyed a vivid and varied career. A rabid anti-communist, he spent the summer of 1983 sending supplies to insurgents battling the USSR in Afghanistan. He has lobbied on behalf of Zairean strongman Mobutu Sese Seko, mounted the "Love Hurts" media tour for celebrity penis amputee John Wayne Bobbitt and was credited as an executive producer on Abramoff's 1989 B-movie Red Scorpion, starring Dolph Lundgren.

Like Keene, with whom he served on the board of the American Conservative Union, Erickson is a low-profile everywhere man, described by one friend as a "secret master of the political universe." He has helped run a number of GOP presidential campaigns, serving as national political director for nativist Pat Buchanan's 1992 run. (Erickson did not respond to repeated interview requests.) In 2013, Erickson joined the NRA's first visit to the Right to Bear Arms conference in Moscow – the following September, according to Butina's blog, he returned to Russia, solo, to address her group on behalf of the NRA.

As she tracked GOP presidential candidates in 2015, Butina touched down, repeatedly, in South Dakota, where Erickson lives. In July, she lectured at a camp for young Republicans with Erickson by her side. That same month, the duo appeared on a podcast in Manhattan. Erickson regaled the audience with a creation myth about Right to Bear Arms worthy of a Silicon Valley startup. "Maria is very humble," Erickson said. "She started the Right to Bear Arms in the Russian version of McDonald's with friends, and her work became noticed by the highest levels of the Russian government." In September, the pair partied by the graveside of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Maryland. Butina wore a flapper's silver headband and a long string of pearls; Erickson carried a bottle of rum and a copy of The Great Gatsby.

At the close of 2015, Torshin and Butina invited a new delegation of NRA members to a Right to Bear Arms convention in Moscow. The crowd included faces familiar and new, including Keene; Pete Brownell, CEO of one of America's largest gun-sellers who is now the NRA's president; Joe Gregory, the chair of the NRA's Golden Ring of Freedom; as well as Trump surrogate and then-Milwaukee Sheriff David A. Clarke. Erickson reportedly also attended.

The Russians put on a wintry spectacle – replete with ornate Christmas trees and white chairs tied up like presents with red ribbons. Arnold Goldschlager, a major NRA donor who also attended, would tell McClatchy, "They were killing us with vodka and the best Russian food." In a public filing, Clarke estimated Right to Bear Arms spent $6,000 on his hotels, meals, excursions and transportation around Moscow.

Maria Butina, founder of Russia's Right to Bear Arms, at an NRA convention in Nashville in 2015.
Maria Butina, founder of Russia's Right to Bear Arms, at an NRA convention in Nashville in 2015. Maria Butina/Facebook
In these same days, Putin himself was pursuing other angles of influence with the American right. The Russian president met with right-wing pastor Franklin Graham for a 45-minute exchange. And on December 10th, Putin infamously sat next to Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump's future national security adviser, at an RT gala in Moscow.

As they lived the high life in Moscow, the NRA delegation kept crossing paths with top Putin cabinet officials. Clarke tweeted about a meeting with "the Russian Foreign Minister" – who is Sergey Lavrov. NRA members also convened with Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister of Russia who is in charge of the defense industry, and a subject of U.S. sanctions. But for the representatives of the NRA, geopolitics seemed a distant concern. This trip was all fun and guns. Sheriff Clarke tweeted photos from Russian gunmaker Orsis, delighting, "I test fired one of their sniper rifles."

The Russians, Hall believes, were seeking a "mechanism by which they can, sort of, control the NRA."
If NRA members were having a carefree good time, the Russians were almost certainly watching their every move, seeking leverage, says Hall. "The FSB is set up first and foremost to collect compromising information on people who might later be useful to the Russian government," he says. "It's not always that," he adds. "A lot of it involves establishing personal relationships that then could be leveraged into something different. That's where a lot of the dinners, and the toasting, and the private meetings start. This is something the Russians have done for decades."

The Russians, Hall believes, were seeking a "mechanism by which they can, sort of, control the NRA." They might start with the "friendly route," he says, "pulling the wool over the organization's eyes, getting them to buy into: 'Hey, we're both real conservatives at heart. Russia is actually a friend of the United States. Why can't we get past all of this ugliness?" The question is where the camaraderie ends. "Do they end up with a senior NRA guy who they formally recruited, who can now work clandestinely for them?"

Many recruits are oblivious of Russian influence – until it's too late. "They'll start it off with something seemingly innocuous," Hall says. "And then they'll move it as far as they possibly can. If they start hitting resistance, they might very well say, 'Let's not forget that trip to Moscow you took six months ago, where you had a few too many drinks and got a little too friendly with somebody.' That's there as well."

At the beginning of 2016, Butina and Erickson were taking their relationship to a new level. Back in South Dakota, they became partners in a limited-liability corporation called Bridges; in legal documents, Butina and Erickson list their address at the same suite in Sioux Falls, but the purpose and activities of Bridges remain opaque. According to a conversation between Erickson and reporters for McClatchy, the corporation, founded in February 2016, "was established in case Butina needed any monetary assistance for her graduate studies." (Months later, Butina would enroll in a master's program at American University.) McClatchy deadpanned this would be "an unusual way to use an LLC."

The timing of Bridges' founding is notable. Three days later, Torshin tweeted from Russia, sharing news of the Republican presidential race: "Maria Butina is now in the U.S. She writes to me that D. Trump (a member of the NRA) is really for the cooperation with Russia."

That spring, Erickson would attempt to broker a meeting between the GOP candidate and Torshin, with the hope that it would lead to a future sit-down between Trump and Putin. Erickson sent an e-mail to a top member of the Trump campaign in May, with the subject line "Kremlin Connection." (The message, obtained by Congress, was shared with The New York Times.) Erickson explained that "happenstance" and NRA connections had enabled him to "slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin's Kremlin." He informed the campaign that "Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump" and wished candidate Trump "to visit him in the Kremlin." Erickson implied that Moscow saw Hillary Clinton as "beyond redemption."

Referring to "President Putin's emissary on this front" – who The New York Times determined was Torshin – Erickson proposed an initial meeting would be possible between Trump and Torshin in Louisville, Kentucky. Timed with the 2016 NRA convention, Erickson wrote, the event weekend could be used by Torshin to "make 'first contact.' "

The NRA officially endorsed Trump in Louisville on May 20th, marking the gun lobby's earliest-ever presidential endorsement. Accepting the NRA's backing, Trump vowed, "I will never let you down." Torshin watched in the audience, later tweeting, "He was not simply endorsed at the NRA Congress at Louisville, it was unanimous. . . . the applause!"

Torshin, it seems, did not secure the face-to-face meeting with Trump. But the Russian banker did meet with the president's son, lifetime NRA member Donald Trump Jr., at a dinner during the convention. (Outreach from Russia was coming strong: Weeks later, in early June, Trump Jr. would sit down with another cast of Russians promising "dirt" on Clinton at Trump Tower.) In July, Torshin received his medal from the FSB.

Through Election Day, the NRA would spend more than $30 million in federally recorded funds on behalf of Trump. Citing two sources close to the gun lobby, McClatchy reporters Peter Stone and Greg Gordon suggest the true total may be far greater – $70 million or more – noting that Internet advertising, field work and get-out-the-vote campaigns are not documented in federal disclosures.

The source of the millions spent by the NRA is untraceable; the organization is a dark-money giant that can hide its benefactors. This privilege of secrecy is granted to "social welfare" organizations, whose primary purpose is not political. Despite its prodigious power in our elections, the NRA spends most of its money on other activities – from magazine publishing to gun education to NRATV.

"The NRA is routinely used as a conduit" for "sketchy" money spent on Republican politics, says Maguire, the investigator for the Center for Responsive Politics. "We've seen some of the groups in the Koch network give large, six- and seven-figure grants to the NRA – knowing that the NRA is going to spend that money on ads in an election," Maguire says. "They get away with it."

The Russians, Maguire says, could easily have funneled money into the NRA's coffers, using a similar pathway: "It is not surprising that the NRA would be used in that way." It might even have been legal, he says. The NRA is allowed to accept foreign cash; it's only forbidden from spending that money directly on U.S. elections. But in an organization as vast and varied as the NRA, cash is fungible. A legal, ostensibly apolitical donation to the NRA by Russia could have freed up other, unrestricted funds to spend on politics. It's also possible the gun lobby was duped. "The NRA may have been used without even knowing it," Maguire says. "Russians could easily set up a Delaware corporation, with a name like 'Americans for Gun Freedom LLC,' and give the NRA a $5 million check. The NRA would just say, 'Hey great, it sounds like our kind of people,' " and spend the cash.

The NRA did not respond to numerous requests to comment for this piece. In letters to Ron Wyden, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, a lawyer for the NRA wrote that the organization is committed to "raise and spend our funds within the bounds of the law" and that it works to vet "significant contributions from unknown entities." However, the lawyer admitted that the NRA accepts donations from "foreign persons" to accounts not dedicated to elections – adding that money moves between election and nonelection accounts "as permitted by law."

Wyden tells Rolling Stone that "money in these accounts could be used to pay for ad campaigns and voter mobilization efforts," insisting that "the NRA has a public responsibility to disclose where their foreign donations are coming from." Understanding how "outside actors are directly or indirectly influencing the U.S. political debate," the Oregon Democrat says, "is critical to the preservation of our Democracy."

Torshin has blasted the accusations in the McClatchy exposé as "gossip from the media," taunting critics on Twitter to "produce concrete proof of my financing of the NRA (amounts of money, account numbers, dates). . . . I'm waiting!" On social media, Butina has argued her gun advocacy should be taken at face value, and not as evidence of the "long arm of the Kremlin" in the 2016 election. "Sometimes," she wrote, in a nod to Freud, "a cigar is just a cigar."

Some members of Congress see the apparent Russian effort to turn the NRA as part of a larger, ongoing Kremlin offensive. "The tentacles of Russian enterprise in this country are deep and ubiquitous," says Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. "The Russians are as close to being warlike as you can imagine, without bullets being fired." Putin, says Sen. Cardin, "uses an asymmetric arsenal in order to undermine our democracy and our institutions of democracy" – noting that "part of his game plan is to finance entities that he believes disrupt the unity of our country." Pointing to the gun lobby's polarizing role in our political culture, Cardin adds, "The NRA would be perfect." ... mp-w518587

Was Jeff Sessions Aware of a Proposed Trump-Putin Back Channel?

New details from the House Intelligence Committee suggest the attorney general was privy to a critical episode of the NRA-Russia scandal

6 days ago

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Capitol Hill this week. Andrew Harnik/AP
Democrats have published a response to the House Intelligence Committee report on the Trump/Russia nexus, released Friday by the committee's Republican majority. The minority report offers new details – and unanswered questions – about the role of the NRA as a conduit between Russia and the Trump campaign, raising fresh questions about then-Senator Jeff Sessions' knowledge of Russian outreach.

The Democratic report affirms and amplifies the findings of Rolling Stone's investigation into the NRA's Russia connections. In particular, the Democrats strongly suggest that Putin ally Alexander Torshin was running an op through the NRA: "The Kremlin-linked individual" – Torshin – "appears to have used the group" – the NRA – "to befriend and establish a backchannel to senior Trump campaign associates through their mutual affinity for firearms," the Democrats write, "a strategy consistent with Russian tradecraft." (Torshin, a lifetime NRA member, was recently sanctioned by the Treasury Department and can no longer travel to the United States.)

The Democratic report also publishes a full excerpt of an infamous May 2016 email from Paul Erickson to the Trump campaign. (Previously, this email had only been reported in snippets by the New York Times.) Erickson is an NRA- and GOP operative who repeatedly visited a Torshin-backed gun-rights group in Moscow. He later started a mysterious business with Torshin's protege, Maria Butina, in South Dakota.

The excerpt is illuminating: Erickson addressed the email – which included a proposed meeting between candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin – to Rick Dearborn, then a top Trump campaign staffer. But the full text suggests Sen. Jeff Sessions was directly in the loop. Erickson wrote:

"I'm now writing to you and Sen. Sessions in your roles as Trump foreign policy experts/advisors. […] Happenstance and the (sometimes) international reach of the NRA placed me in a position a couple of years ago to slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin's Kremlin. Russia is quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S. that isn't forthcoming under the current administration. And for reasons that we can discuss in person or on the phone, the Kremlin believes that the only possibility of a true re-set in this relationship would be with a new Republican White House."

Did Sessions, now the attorney general, receive a copy of this email directly? The report's footnote, sourcing the email, reveals the document came from "Attorney General Jeff Session [sic] Document Production." Rolling Stone asked for clarification from a spokesperson for Ranking Member Adam Schiff; he replied: "We cannot comment."

That this email was found in Sessions' files is a startling revelation. Sessions previously told House investigators that he did not recall the outreach by Erickson, according to the New York Times. And it may provide new context for why Sessions recused himself from the Justice Department's Russia investigation.

The Democratic report also reveals that Dearborn moved Erickson's message up the chain of command – and amplified when and where Putin hoped to meet with candidate Trump. "Dearborn communicated this request on May 17, 2016 to the highest levels of the Trump campaign, including Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and Jared Kushner," the Democrats write.

Torshin hoped to use the 2016 NRA convention to break the ice, and open a personal line of communication to "someone of high rank in the Trump Campaign," the report continues. "As explained in Dearborn's email, such a meeting would provide Torshin an opportunity “to discuss an offer he claims to be carrying from President Putin to meet with DJT." ("DJT" is a reference to Donald J. Trump.) "They would also like DJT to visit Russia for a world summit on the persecution of Christians at which Putin and Trump would meet.'"

Ultimately, Torshin met the future-President's son, Donald Jr., at the NRA convention. The Democrats upbraid the majority for "conveniently" concluding there was "no evidence that the two discussed the presidential election." The Democrats expand: "this relies solely on the voluntary and self-interested testimony of the individual in question... Trump Jr." The report adds: "The Majority refused multiple requests by the Minority to interview witnesses central to this line of inquiry, including Torshin, Butina, Erickson, and others."

The Democrats conclude the NRA section of their report with a litany of questions the GOP majority refused to examine, writing that the GOP majority report "ignores significant outstanding questions about individuals who sought to set up this backchannel, including why Torshin and Butina were interested in connecting the Trump campaign to Putin, what they sought to get out of that connection, why they enlisted the support of NRA colleagues, and whether others in the campaign were communicating with Russia through the NRA."

The Democrats also underscore that Republicans took no interest in getting to the bottom of allegations that Russian money illegally boosted Trump's candidacy. "The Majority refused to investigate," Democrats write, "whether Russian-linked intermediaries used the NRA to illegally funnel money to the Trump Campaign, to open lines of communication with or approaches to Trump or his associates, and how those approaches may have informed Russia's active measures campaign as it unfolded throughout 2016." ... in-w519652

The NRA May Have More Russian Contributors Than It First Said

Tim MakApril 9, 201810:44 AM ET

A sign touts the 144th National Rifle Association annual meetings and exhibits. The NRA may have more Russian or foreign members than it first acknowledged.

Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
The National Rifle Association may have accepted more contributions from Russian donors than it first acknowledged, new documents show.

A Russian citizen who works for a U.S.-sanctioned arms manufacturer was arrested earlier this year when he tried to board a flight from Los Angeles to Moscow carrying a rifle scope — one authorities say requires an export license.

The man, Evgeny Spiridonov, said in court documents filed as part of his case that he was an NRA member. Spiridonov, who has ties to weapons-maker Kalashnikov Concern, said in the documents he has been an NRA member since 2015. Membership requires a monetary contribution.

That's at least one more Russian member than a lawyer for the NRA acknowledged in an interview with ABC News: Outside counsel Steven Hart told the network that the NRA had received just one contribution from a Russian individual between 2012 and 2018, for less than $1,000.

That was the life membership payment made by a Russian government official, Alexander Torshin, and was not used for any of the NRA's election-related political activities, Hart said.

On Friday, Torshin was among a number of powerful Russians punished with new economic sanctions by the Treasury Department.

Neither Torshin nor an attorney for Spiridonov nor the NRA responded to NPR's request for comment.

"It is membership organization, and unless you're paying the membership dues, you're not a member of the organization," Richard Feldman, a former NRA lobbyist, told NPR. "You can't be a member without having given money."

That may be the case for at least one more Russian. In a Tweet from November 2016, Torshin notes that his aide Maria Butina, a Russian national who claimed she had been part of the Trump campaign's communications with Russia, was, like himself, also a life member of the NRA.

Investigators want to know whether Russia may have tried to use the NRA or other political organizations to influence the information environment inside the United States as part of the attack on the 2016 election.

One key player in the Russia imbroglio told House members he believed Russia's intelligence apparatus sought to "infiltrate" the NRA or other groups. McClatchy reported that the FBI is investigating whether Torshin may have funneled money to the NRA.

As part of these inquiries, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked the NRA in February to list the contributions it had received from Russian nationals. The group declined to directly address the question, saying: "the NRA and its related entities do not accept funds from foreign persons or entities in connection with United States elections."

Since then, the NRA sought to clarify that it does accept foreign donations for its membership organization.

"Nobody is running background checks when they're sending in your check," Feldman said. "There's no way that NRA would even know if someone is a Russian citizen or a Russian national." ... st-it-said

NRA discloses two dozen additional contributions from Russian donors

PHOTO: The National Rifle Association headquarters in Fairfax, Va., is pictured in this undated file photo.Mark Peterson/Corbis via Getty Images, FILE
WATCH Matthew Dowd: NRA 'successful' at forcing 'mythic binary choice' on gun control

The National Rifle Association has acknowledged two dozen additional contributions from Russian donors since 2015 in a significant departure from their previous claim that only one Russian had donated to the controversial gun-rights group.

After telling ABC News the organization had received a single contribution of less than $1,000 from one Russian individual, the NRA revised that total in an April 10 letter to Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, who has been pushing to learn more about the NRA’s election spending.

“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.”

“Of this total, about $525 was from two individuals who made contributions to the NRA,” Frazer continued. “The rest consisted of routine payments from about 23 individuals for membership dues and additional magazine subscriptions.”

Steven Hart, outside counsel to the NRA, told ABC News a different story in March.

“We have one contribution from a Russian,” Hart said, adding that “the donation was the person’s membership dues” and was not used for election-related activities” and “was not a major donor program.”

PHOTO: Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, questions witnesses during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on election security in Washington, D.C., March 21, 2018.Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, questions witnesses during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on election security in Washington, D.C., March 21, 2018.more +
An aide to Sen. Wyden told ABC News the senator is considering making a push for “additional oversight actions” in light of what the aide characterized as an inadequate response to recent inquiries.

“Sen. Wyden will be referring his correspondence with the NRA to the Federal Elections Commission to contribute to their inquiry,” the aide said. “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. As ranking member of the Finance Committee, he is considering additional oversight actions in light of this response.”

The individual Hart was referring to was Alexander Torshin, a Russian politician who sat at a dinner table with Donald Trump Jr. at the 2016 National Rifle Association convention but has recently has been the subject of scrutiny as lawmakers and Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigate possible attempts by Russia to influence the 2016 presidential campaign.

The NRA has denied receiving money “from foreign persons or entities in connection with United States elections,” but questions have continued to swirl around the organization’s seemingly close relationship to Torshin.

PHOTO: Russian Council of the Federation Deputy Chief Alexander Torshin is seen during a meeting, April, 3, 2012 in Maloyaroslavets, Russia.Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images, FILE
Russian Council of the Federation Deputy Chief Alexander Torshin is seen during a meeting, April, 3, 2012 in Maloyaroslavets, Russia.more +
Last week, Torshin was added to the list of Russian nationals sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department, raising questions about his long-standing relationship to the NRA, especially in light of revelations that Torshin met with several NRA board members during a December 2015 visit to Moscow.

“There were already red flags regarding Kremlin links to NRA,” Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, told ABC News following Torshin’s designation. “This just supercharges it.”

Sen. Wyden wrote to the U.S. Treasury Department in February seeking financial records concerning alleged links between Torshin and the NRA, citing published reports suggesting possible ties between Torshin’s interest in the NRA and the organization’s hefty campaign spending in support of then-candidate Donald Trump. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NRA reported spending nearly $55 million on the 2016 elections, including more than $30 million in support of Trump.

In his letter published Wednesday, Frazer states that the organization is “reviewing [its] responsibilities” with respect to Torshin. The NRA did not immediately respond to questions about what that review might entail or what actions might be taken. ... d=54395292

Alexander Torshin, Russian who courted NRA leaders, sanctioned by US Treasury

PHOTO: Russian Council of the Federation Deputy Chief Alexander Torshin is seen during a meeting, April, 3, 2012 in Maloyaroslavets, Russia.Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images, FILE
WATCH Treasury secretary: 'There is the potential of a trade war'

Alexander Torshin, the Russian politician who sat at a dinner table with Donald Trump Jr. at the 2016 National Rifle Association convention, has been added to the list of Russian nationals sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department.

The deputy governor of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation was for years a paying member of the NRA and repeat guest at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, but more recently has been the subject of scrutiny as lawmakers and Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigate possible attempts by Russia to influence the 2016 presidential campaign.

“There were already red flags regarding Kremlin links to NRA,” Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat who has been pushing to learn more about Torshin’s activities during the 2016 campaign, told ABC News. “This just supercharges it.”

Lieu, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre in March, expressing his concern with the NRA’s relationship to Torshin and noting that Torshin “acted as a liaison” during a December 2015 visit to Moscow by several NRA attended by board members.

“Torshin’s influence in Russia and his relationship with the NRA suggest this allegation [that Torshin secretly funneled money to the NRA during the 2016 campaign season] may have merit,” Lieu wrote. “It is deeply disturbing that an organization like the NRA, whose stated purposes and objective is to ‘protect and defend the Constitution,’ would meet with sanctioned individuals connected to a foreign adversary that seems determined to undermine elections.”

Lieu told ABC News that he is still awaiting the NRA’s response.

PHOTO: Rep. Ted Lieu at the Mr. Trump, Tear Down This Wall panel during Politicon at Pasadena Convention Center, July 30, 2017 in Pasadena, Calif., July 30, 2017.Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images
Rep. Ted Lieu at the "Mr. Trump, Tear Down This Wall" panel during Politicon at Pasadena Convention Center, July 30, 2017 in Pasadena, Calif., July 30, 2017.more +
Lieu’s letter followed letters from Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, who wrote to the Treasury Department in February seeking records related to Torshin’s involvement in the NRA. On Friday, Wyden seized the opportunity to renew his call for the release of those records.

"Today's sanctioning of Mr. Torshin is hard evidence of his deep involvement in Vladimir Putin's regime, which actively attacked our democracy in 2016," Wyden said in a statement. "Today's news increases the urgency for the Treasury Department to provide the Finance Committee with relevant documents on Mr. Torshin that I requested months ago."

During testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of the investigative firm Fusion GPS, named Torshin in describing what he said were efforts by Russians to “infiltrate” the NRA.

“I would say broadly speaking, it appears that the Russian operation was designed to infiltrate conservative organizations,” Simpson told investigators. “And they targeted various conservative organizations, religious and otherwise, and they seem to have made a very concerted effort to get in with the NRA.”

Last month, a lawyer for the NRA told ABC News that Torshin had, indeed, donated membership dues of between $600 and $1,000 to the organization. But the lawyer, J. Steven Hart, said that was the extent of money coming from Russians.

“We have one contribution from a Russian,” Steven Hart, outside counsel to the NRA, said in an interview with ABC News before Friday’s sanctions announcement.

Hart said it was the “life membership payment” made by Torshin, which went to the NRA's non-profit parent organization, which is not required by law to disclose the donation. Hart added, “The donation was the person’s membership dues” and was not used for election-related activities. “That was not a major donor program,” he said.

NRA General Counsel John C. Frazer, in an earlier letter to Wyden said the gun-rights group accepted an undisclosed amount of foreign donations, though not for electioneering purposes.

A spokesperson for the NRA did not respond to ABC News' request for comment on Torshin’s designation.

PHOTO: The National Rifle Association headquarters in Fairfax, Va., is pictured in this undated file photo.Mark Peterson/Corbis via Getty Images, FILE
The National Rifle Association headquarters in Fairfax, Va., is pictured in this undated file photo.more +
None of that is mentioned in the Treasury statement announcing the latest list of sanctions. The list is intended to single out “those who benefit from the Putin regime and play a key role in advancing Russia’s malign activities,” the announcement says. In all, 24 individuals and 14 companies were sanctioned, meaning their U.S. assets were frozen and their ability to interact in the international finance system will be severely hampered.

“The Russian government operates for the disproportionate benefit of oligarchs and government elites,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “The Russian government engages in a range of malign activity around the globe, including continuing to occupy Crimea and instigate violence in eastern Ukraine, supplying the Assad regime with material and weaponry as they bomb their own civilians, attempting to subvert Western democracies, and malicious cyber activities. Russian oligarchs and elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities.”

In addition to Torshin, the list includes oligarchs Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg.

Deripaska, a prominent metals magnate who founded En+ Group, reportedly employed Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort at one point, though they are said to have fallen out. Vekselberg heads the Moscow-based company, Renova. The head of the firm’s U.S. subsidiary (an American citizen) contributed $35,000 to the Trump Victory committee and $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration fund, according to campaign records. The Renova Group also donated between $50,000 and $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation, records show.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and one of Vekselberg’s companies held large stakes in the Bank of Cyprus. During Ross’s confirmation hearings, a group of six Democratic senators raised questions about the nominee’s ties to Vekselberg. Vekselberg also helped fundraise for the Moscow Jewish Museum, including hosting a 2014 gala in Russia attended by Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner.

Ilya Zaslavskiy, an Oxford-trained scholar and frequent critic of the oligarchs, told ABC News he hailed the decision to sanction the Russia oligarchs.

“Sanctioning of Vekselberg and his company Renova shows that US authorities finally - after long bipartisan pressure from Congress and anti-corruption activists - are targeting real oligarchs with actual exposure in the US,” he said.

ABC News attempted to contact Vekselberg through his company, Renova Group, but received no reply.

Whether Torshin factors into any further federal probe of Russian interference is unknown. NRA officials have said they believe time will show conclusively that the organization played no part in any foreign influence effort.

“This is imaginary but details do matter eventually,” Hart told ABC News. “There is no Russian influence [on the NRA]. This all comes off one report. We’ve been trying to be polite. How do you prove a negative?”

For Lieu, Torshin’s activities provides more evidence of Russia’s broad campaign to meddle in the 2016 elections.

“The Russians are very sophisticated,” Lieu told ABC News. “They didn’t just hack us.” ... d=54295231

The Very Strange Case of Two Russian Gun Lovers, the NRA, and Donald Trump

Here’s what we uncovered about an odd pair from Moscow who cultivated the Trump campaign.

Denise Clifton and Mark FollmanMay/June 2018 Issue

For more than a year, reports have trickled out about deepening ties among prominent members of the National Rifle Association, conservative Republicans, a budding gun-rights movement in Russia—and their convergence in the Trump campaign.

Now attention is focused around a middle-aged Russian central bank official and a photogenic young gun activist from Siberia who share several passions: posing with assault rifles, making connections with Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates, and publicizing their travels between Moscow and America on social media. Alexander Torshin and his protégé Maria Butina also share an extraordinary status with America’s largest gun lobbying group, according to Torshin: “Today in NRA (USA) I know only 2 people from the Russian Federation with the status of ‘Life Member’: Maria Butina and I,” he tweeted the day after Donald Trump was elected president.

Of particular interest are their overtures to Trump. Butina asked him directly at a campaign event about the future of “damaging” sanctions against Russia. Torshin twice tried to meet with Trump, according to the New York Times, and did meet with Donald Trump Jr. at an NRA event. Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee has heard sworn testimony about possible Kremlin “infiltration” of the NRA and other conservative groups. And the FBI reportedly is investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the Trump campaign through the NRA—which backed Trump with a record $30 million.

Torshin, a former Russian senator and longtime ally of Vladimir Putin, has been accused of having ties to the Russian mob (an allegation he has denied). Butina, a graduate student since fall 2016 at American University in Washington, DC—who founded a Russian gun rights group and worked as Torshin’s assistant—has reportedly bragged about her connections to the Trump campaign.

Does this odd pair indicate anything more than a far-flung association of international gun rights advocates? Neither Torshin nor Butina responded to our requests for comment, but we built a timeline from hundreds of their photos and social-media posts going back seven years—including previously unreported material—that stirs further questions about their roles.

Introductions and a new gun group

2011: Torshin, then a Russian senator, is introduced to NRA President David Keene through G. Kline Preston IV, a lawyer from Nashville, Tennessee, who had been doing business in Russia for years. Preston later tells the Washington Post, “The value system of Southern Christians and the value system of Russians are very much in line.”

Butina at the 2014 NRA convention in Indianapolis
VK page
2011: Maria Butina, in her early 20s, creates Right to Bear Arms, aiming to seed a gun rights movement in Russia.

2011: US gun manufacturer Arsenal Inc. sells 100 limited-edition AK-74s signed by Mikhail Kalashnikov—a personal friend of Torshin’s—with the anticipated $100,000 or more in proceeds to go to the NRA-ILA, the organization’s political lobbying arm.

NRA magazine America’s First Freedom
December 2011: Preston serves as an international observer of Russia’s legislative elections, calling them free and fair, despite mass street protests and European observers reporting fraudulent activity.

Targeted by the Kremlin

2012: The FBI warns Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher—a cold warrior turned Russia apologist who claimed to have once lost a drunken arm-wrestling match to Putin in a Washington dive bar—that the Kremlin aims to recruit him as a source.

April 15, 2012: Torshin tweets about returning from the NRA annual convention to a rally in Moscow for the Right to Bear Arms, where he notes how “similar,” “good-looking,” and “confident” the supporters of both gun groups are.

July 24, 2012: Torshin and Butina lobby the Russian senate to expand gun rights.

November 2012: Torshin and Preston observe the US presidential elections in Nashville and allege improprieties took place on behalf of President Barack Obama.

From Houston to Moscow

May 2013: After attending the NRA annual convention in Houston, Torshin writes, “Kalashnikov couldn’t join me, though we have both been ‘life members’ of the NRA for years,” adding that “dozens of AK-47 clones” on display at the event represented one of “our country’s greatest accomplishments.”

Keene and Butina in a photo posted on Butina’s Facebook page in November 2013
November 2013: Torshin and Butina invite Keene to Moscow for a Right to Bear Arms meeting that draws 200 people and features a fashion show, including attire designed for carrying concealed weapons.

Concealed-carry fashion
Right to Bear Arms Facebook page
November 2013: Former UN ambassador and future Trump national security adviser John Bolton appears in a video in which he talks up gun rights in Russia. Bolton is a member of the NRA’s “international affairs subcommittee” at the time. NPR later reports that Bolton recorded the address at Keene’s request for the Russian legislature, and that Right to Bear Arms used the video in its lobbying.

“We would like to be friends with NRA”

January 2014: Following the death of Kalashnikov at age 94, the Washington Times publishes an appreciation written by Torshin. Former NRA President Keene is the op-ed editor at the time.

April 2014: Torshin and Butina attend the NRA convention in Indianapolis, where Butina joins Keene for meetings. Butina later explains the purpose: “We protect gun rights in Russia, and people who are gun owners and in a situation of self-defense.” She adds, “We would like to be friends with NRA.”

September 2014: Paul Erickson—an NRA member and longtime conservative Republican operative from South Dakota—attends a Right to Bear Arms meeting in Moscow with Butina. Erickson has known Butina at least since 2013.

Butina and Erickson in Russia, in a photo posted in November 2013
November 18, 2014: Russia changes its laws to allow citizens to carry guns in public for self-defense.

Trump to Butina: “I don’t think you’d need the sanctions”

January 2015: Torshin is appointed deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia.

March 2015: Butina announces on Facebook that she will attend the NRA’s upcoming convention in Nashville. She notes the importance of “paying attention to the politicians that we have more similarities than differences.”

April 2015: Butina posts about 200 pictures from Nashville, including one with Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who she says greeted her in Russian. She notes he’s “one of the possible future nominees for the post of US President,” and ponders the “beginning of a new dialogue between Russia and the US.” Donald Trump also attends, telling the crowd, “I promise you one thing, if I run for president and if I win, the Second Amendment will be totally protected, that I can tell you.” Torshin, also present, later tells Bloomberg that he had a “jovial exchange” with the future president.

Butina at the NRA convention in Nashville
April 16, 2015: Butina gives a talk at the University of South Dakota; she says Right to Bear Arms now has 10,000 members and 76 offices “all over Russia.”

June 2015: Four days before Trump announces his campaign, Butina writes in the conservative National Interest urging friendship between “the bear and the elephant”: “It may take the election of a Republican to the White House in 2016 to improve relations between the Russian Federation and the United States.”

July 11, 2015: At FreedomFest in Las Vegas, Butina asks Trump, “What will be your foreign politics…and do you want to continue the politics of sanctions that are damaging on both economy?” Trump responds, “I know Putin and I’ll tell you what, we get along with Putin…I don’t think you’d need the sanctions. I think that we would get along very, very well.”

Q&A with Trump at FreedomFest
July 13, 2015: Butina posts photos from the Wisconsin event where Gov. Scott Walker announces his presidential candidacy.

Butina attends Gov. Walker’s campaign launch
August 29, 2015: Preston tweets a picture of Trump speaking to the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, posting in Russian, “Donald Trump today in Nashville. He is a friend of Russia.”

September 25, 2015: A Right to Bear Arms post on Facebook features a Trump meme, attributing to him in Russian, “Nobody can encroach on the citizenry’s right to store and carry firearms. Period.”

Right to Bear Arms post
December 8-13, 2015: Erickson, Keene, future NRA President Pete Brownell, and Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke meet with Kremlin officials in Moscow, where they have lavish meals and visit a gun manufacturer. Clarke, an outspoken Trump supporter, later files an ethics report showing that Right to Bear Arms paid $6,000 for his expenses.

December 10, 2015: Future Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn is also in Moscow, attending a gala for the Kremlin-controlled RT media network. Flynn, who sits next to Putin and across from future Green Party candidate Jill Stein, gives a speech for which he is paid $45,000—a sum he fails to report on his financial disclosure forms.

Campaign ammo

January 21, 2016: Trump speaks at the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s annual “SHOT Show” in Las Vegas; Don Jr. and Eric Trump also attend, posing with representatives from Sig Sauer, whose “Black Mamba” MCX assault rifle would soon be used in the Orlando nightclub massacre. Ten days later, at an event at an Iowa gun shop, Don Jr. and Eric Trump shoot assault rifles and brag about their concealed-carry permits. “I shoot all the time,” Don Jr. tells the Telegraph. “Every weekend.”

February 13, 2016: Torshin writes on Twitter, “Maria Butina is currently in the USA. She writes to me that D. Trump (an NRA member) really is for cooperation with Russia.”

February 2016: Butina and Erickson form Bridges LLC. Erickson later tells McClatchy that they created the South Dakota-based company for Butina to get financial assistance for her graduate studies—“an unusual way to use a LLC,” as McClatchy dryly notes.

February 23, 2016: After winning the Nevada primary, Trump gives a victory speech hailing his sons’ gun bona fides: “[Don Jr.] loves the rifle stuff. This is serious rifle. This is serious NRA, both of them, both of them. We love the Second Amendment folks. Nobody loves it more than us, so just remember that.”

March 3, 2016: In a primary debate, Trump is reminded that in his 2000 book, The America We Deserve, he supported a ban on assault weapons. His response: “I don’t support it anymore.”

May 2016: In an email to Trump campaign aide Rick Dearborn, with the subject line “Kremlin Connection,” Erickson says Russia is “quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S.” and proposes using the NRA convention to set up “first contact” with the Trump team. According to a New York Times report, Erickson writes that he’s in a position to “slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin’s Kremlin.” The email doesn’t name Torshin but appears to reference him as “President Putin’s emissary” who planned to attend a dinner hosted by conservative Christian activist Rick Clay. Meanwhile, Clay sends an email to Dearborn with the subject line “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” seeking a meeting between Trump and Torshin. Dearborn forwards Clay’s email to Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who reportedly nixes the proposal.

May 19-20, 2016: Torshin meets Don Jr. at a private dinner the night before his father speaks at the NRA convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Don Jr.’s lawyer later says the exchange “was all gun-related small talk.”

The NRA endorses Trump for president. Trump tells the crowd, “The only way to save our Second Amendment is to vote for a person that you all know named Donald Trump.”

Torshin poses for photos wearing an NRA “Ring of Freedom” donor ID badge.

June 2016: Butina is part of a group that requests a meeting with the Trump campaign to discuss the persecution of Christians worldwide, according to Clay, who later tells the Washington Post that Dearborn turned down the request.

June 15, 2016: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy tells fellow GOP leaders in a private conversation, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump. Swear to God.” House Speaker Paul Ryan immediately shuts down the conversation and swears those present to secrecy. When a recording of the conversation later becomes public, McCarthy says he was just joking.

August 2016: Hours after Trump appears to threaten Hillary Clinton during a campaign rally by invoking “Second Amendment people” who might “do something” to stop her, Politico reports that the NRA has bought its most expensive pro-Trump campaign ad yet: a $3 million spot attacking Clinton.

September 2016: Don Jr. appears in a promotional video for gun silencer manufacturer SilencerCo, whose CEO subsequently donates $50,000 to the Trump Victory fund. “That thing’s awesome,” Don Jr. says, firing guns in the opening segment. The 38-minute video closes with the CEO saying, “Your father is someone that we believe in very strongly.”

October 2016: A wave of NRA-sponsored TV political ads targets voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina. Since the end of June, the NRA has aired more than 10,000 ads criticizing Clinton or extolling Trump—about 16 percent of all TV ads produced by Trump and his allies. Trump goes on to win all three states.

Early November 2016: Pro-gun messages feature prominently in “junk news” spread by Russian trolls and others on Twitter, particularly in key battleground states, according to a later analysis by Oxford University researchers.

November 8, 2016: Donald Trump is elected the 45th president of the United States.

November 12, 2016: Butina hosts a costume party in DC for her 28th birthday, attended by Erickson and Trump campaign aides. Erickson dresses as Russian mystic Rasputin, and Butina dresses as the Russian empress Alexandra. Two unnamed guests tell the Daily Beast that Butina bragged about being part of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia.

“You came through for me”

Jan. 20, 2017: Butina and Erickson attend the Freedom Ball, one of the three official inaugural balls Trump attends.

From right: Kolyadin and Torshin, with others including Rohrabacher, second from left
Kolyadin’s Facebook
January 31, 2017: Torshin, Erickson, Rohrabacher (who has received at least $18,000 from the NRA over the past 20 years), and former Kremlin staffer Andrey Kolyadin attend a private event on Capitol Hill hosted by George O’Neill Jr., a longtime conservative activist.

February 2, 2017: Torshin and Butina accompany a delegation of more than a dozen Russian officials and academics to the National Prayer Breakfast, where Trump is the main attraction. Kolyadin posts a photo with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, commenting that he “treats Russia pretty well, by the way.” Kolyadin later brags about his “direct access to leadership,” noting, “we sat very close to each other and just smiled.”

Torshin was scheduled to meet with President Trump, but the meeting is canceled when a national security aide points out that Torshin reportedly is under investigation by Spanish authorities for an alleged “godfather” role in organized crime and money laundering. For his part, Rohrabacher tells Yahoo News that Torshin is “sort of the conservatives’ favorite Russian.”

“Direct access to leadership”
Kolyadin’s Facebook
February 24, 2017: “For years, the media couldn’t have cared less about Vladimir Putin or Russia,” NRA leader Wayne LaPierre says in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, giving early voice to a “deep state” conspiracy theory on Trump’s behalf: “But now, barely a month into Trump’s presidency, they’re ‘horrified’ and all a-fret over the ‘Russian-American equation.’ Even more alarming is that they’ve apparently found willing co-conspirators among some in the US intelligence community.”

April 28, 2017: Having recently reversed an Obama-era law making it more difficult for mentally ill people to buy guns, Trump addresses the NRA annual convention: “You came through for me,” he says, “and I am going to come through for you.”

August 15, 2017: After Rohrabacher meets with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, he claims he has evidence to share with the White House that the Russians did not hack the Democratic National Committee. But White House chief of staff John Kelly rebuffs him. Rohrabacher later tells the Intercept, “What is preventing me from talking to Trump about this is the existence of a special prosecutor. Not only Kelly, but others are worried if I say one word to Trump about Russia, that it would appear to out-of-control prosecutors that that is where the collusion is.”

October to November 2017: Russian-linked trolls spread conspiracy theories following mass shootings on the Las Vegas Strip and at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

November 14, 2017: “It appears the Russians…infiltrated the NRA,” Glenn Simpson, founder of the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, testifies to the House Intelligence Committee. “They targeted various conservative organizations, religious and otherwise, and they seem to have made a very concerted effort to get in with the NRA.” Referencing Torshin and Butina, he adds, “The most absurd [thing] about this is that, you know, Vladimir Putin is not in favor of universal gun ownership for Russians. And so it’s all a big charade, basically.”

Investigations and a politicized school massacre

January 18, 2018: McClatchy reports the FBI is investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the Trump campaign through the NRA. (The FBI would “neither confirm nor deny” the investigation to Mother Jones.)

January 29, 2018: Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, tells NPR that the committee’s probe of the NRA-Russia angle has been stymied by the Republican majority.

“I am specifically troubled by the possibility that Russian-backed shell companies or intermediaries may have circumvented laws designed to prohibit foreign meddling in our elections.”
February 2, 2018: Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden sends separate letters to the NRA and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin demanding they provide any documents showing financial ties between the NRA and Russia. “I am specifically troubled by the possibility that Russian-backed shell companies or intermediaries may have circumvented laws designed to prohibit foreign meddling in our elections,” Wyden writes. NRA General Counsel John Frazer responds, “The NRA and its related entities do not accept funds from foreign persons or entities in connection with United States.”

February 14, 2018: Following the school massacre in Parkland, Florida, Kremlin-linked trolls and Russian state media jump into action on Twitter, stirring both sides of the gun debate.

February 21, 2018: During a live-televised “listening session” with Parkland survivors at the White House, Trump endorses NRA talking points to end “gun-free zones” and arm teachers to “harden” America’s schools.

February 22, 2018: Trump hails the leaders of the NRA: “Great People and Great American Patriots. They love our Country and will do the right thing. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch echoes Trump’s blame on the FBI’s Russia investigation for the failure to prevent the Parkland massacre: “Maybe if you politicized your agency less and did your job more, we wouldn’t have these problems.”

March 2018: In an NRA magazine, LaPierre blasts media bias against Trump, specifically calling out coverage of “the bogus Russia investigation.”

March 1, 2018: Trump and Vice President Mike Pence meet privately in the Oval Office with NRA Executive Director Chris Cox. Trump calls the meeting “great.” Cox announces: “POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control. #NRA #MAGA.”

The NRA, Trump administration, and Paul Erickson did not respond to requests for comment.

Additional reporting and translations from Russian by Hannah Levintova. The above timeline has been updated since initial publication.

Top image credit: Shalgin Alexander/TASS/ZUMA; Anton Novoderezhkin/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA; Jonathan Alcorn/ZUMA; FerhatMatt/Getty ... shin-guns/

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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri May 04, 2018 10:28 am

NRA to host company with ties to sanctioned Russians at annual convention

An ammunition distributor with ties to a recently sanctioned Russian oligarch is listed among the expected exhibitors at the National Rifle Association’s Annual Meetings opening in Dallas, Texas on Friday.

Add Gun Control as an interest to stay up to date on the latest Gun Control news, video, and analysis from ABC News.
TulAmmo USA is a private company headquartered in Round Rock, Texas, but sells small-arms ammunition manufactured by the Tula Cartridge Works in Tula, Russia, about 120 miles outside of Moscow. The factory, one of Russia’s oldest and largest arms plants, is tied to a number of entities and individuals who have been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department, including Rostec, Russia’s state-owned defense conglomerate, and Igor Rotenberg, an oligarch who was recently targeted alongside several other allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

This year’s convention, always a political spectacle, comes as the NRA’s connections to Russia have become the focus of media attention amid a Senate inquiry into allegations that Russian agents may have tried to use the gun-rights group to gain access and influence in U.S. political circles, but TulAmmo USA’s presence raises a somewhat different set of concerns.

“I suspect TulAmmo USA has stayed on the right side of U.S. sanctions laws,” said Peter Harrell, a former senior State Department sanctions official who is now an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “But there is something deeply troubling about a Russian arms maker -- one that makes Russian military assault rifles and anti-tank missiles -- profiting by selling ammunition in the U.S. The fact that a portion of those profits flow to some of Putin's closest cronies makes the situation even more problematic.”

PHOTO: A TULAMMO product photo. Amazon
A TULAMMO product photo.
In an interview with ABC News, TulAmmo USA CEO Ed Grasso confirmed that the company is a distributor for the Tula Cartridge Works but described it as a “completely separate entity” with a legal business arrangement to buy ammunition exported by the Russian factory for sale to consumers.

“Tula Cartridge Works has been paid for the product they ship to the U.S. under licenses approved by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the State Department,” Grasso said.

There are no Russian citizens or people from Russia serving as company board members or officers, Grasso said.

The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.

Harrell told ABC News that just because TulAmmo USA has managed to remain “just outside the penalty box” doesn’t mean their presence shouldn’t cause concern.

“I also bet that the American sportsmen buying TulAmmo cartridges would be surprised to learn that they are supporting the same Russian military complex that supports Russian aggression in Syria, Ukraine, and around the world,” Harrell said.

According to its website, TulAmmo USA “represents the Tula Cartridge Works here in the US,” which unlike Russia, has a thriving consumer market for guns and ammunition.

“The Tula Cartridge Works, founded in 1880 by Emporer [sic] Alexander II, is one of the most significant producers of small-arms ammunition in the world today,” the website reads. “Leveraging the production experience of nearly 140 years, and applying ever-evolving technologies and research knowledge, we continue to push the envelope on behalf of the American shooter.”

Selling steel-cased ammunition from Russia is the majority of the company’s business and according to its CEO Grasso, that business has grown rapidly over the last decade thanks in large part to a symbiotic relationship with the American gun industry.

“American shooters have become accustomed to the Russian ammunition,” Grasso said in an interview with SHOT Show TV in January 2017. “They find it working in their guns. We’ve had good cooperation from the U.S. gun companies. They’ve realized that having inexpensive ammunition that works across their product line allows people to shoot more ammunition, and when they have an option to shoot more ammunition, they might buy more guns, so it’s a partnership that’s worked so far.”

PHOTO: The National Rifle Association headquarters in Fairfax, Va., is pictured in this undated file photo.Mark Peterson/Corbis via Getty Images, FILE
The National Rifle Association headquarters in Fairfax, Va., is pictured in this undated file photo.
The extent of TulAmmo USA’s relationship with the Tula Cartridge Works appears to be closer than the typical buyer-supplier relationship. TulAmmo USA and TulAmmo, its Russian counterpart, which lists the same address the Tula Cartridge Works, share a name, a logo and at least one former officer.

Alexey Solovov, the factory’s onetime chairman who was convicted two years ago on fraud charges and given a three-year suspended prison sentence, appears to have also registered five patents for ammunition boxes, packages and clips on TulAmmo USA’s behalf between 2014 and 2016. Grasso told ABC News Solovov is no longer involved with the company.

Tula Cartridge Works is partially owned by a holding company called High Precision Systems that was established by the state military technology firm Rostec, which was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2014 and cut off from U.S. debt financing amid “continued Russian efforts to destabilize eastern Ukraine.”

Igor Rotenberg purchased 46.176 percent of the Tula Cartridge Works in February 2017. He refused to comment on the deal at the time, but Vedomosti, one of Russia’s leading business newspapers, suggested that he may have been buying in ahead of an expected rearmament by Russia’s military, which was known to be preparing to replenish its ammunition stocks.

The Rotenberg’s family’s ties to Putin stretch back decades. Igor’s father Arkady has been Putin’s close friend since childhood, when they were judo sparring partners, and Arkady has since amassed a multi-billion-dollar fortune largely through state contracts, including the controversial effort to build a bridge between Russia and the recently annexed Ukrainian peninsula Crimea.

Rotenberg acquired significant assets from his father, Arkady, and his uncle, Boris, after they were sanctioned themselves in 2014 for supporting “Putin’s pet projects by receiving and executing high price contracts for the Sochi Olympic Games and state-controlled Gazprom.”

This week, after being hit with sanctions by the U.S. himself, Rotenberg reduced his share in the factory to 20.23 percent, a move a manager from the factory told Vedomosti was intended to allow the company to keep exporting ammunition.

PHOTO: TULAMMO CEO Ed Grasso during a studio interview on the SHOT Show. Tulammo USA/YOUTUBE
TULAMMO CEO Ed Grasso during a studio interview on the "SHOT Show."
Grasso told ABC News that he was aware of the sanctions against Rostec and Rotenberg but insisted the company has done its due diligence.

“I’ve never delved into it, but Rostsec owns a lot of companies in Russia,” Grasso said. “[And] I have been assured that [Rotenberg’s] ownership shares are no longer anything that we have to be concerned with.”

TulAmmo USA, meanwhile, is poised to occupy a booth in Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center this weekend alongside hundreds of other approved exhibitors even as questions have swirled about whether Russians have attempted to use the NRA as a vehicle to influence the 2016 election.

Grasso said TulAmmo USA has not made any contributions of any kind – political or otherwise -- to the NRA beyond paying for a booth at the annual convention since 2011. It appears to have shared the group’s opposition to Hillary Clinton though. One of two “News” items listed on TulAmmo USA’s website is a sharp criticism of Hillary Clinton’s position on gun control and the “proudly anti-gun tenor” of the Democratic National Convention that nominated her.

In January 2017, Grasso noted some relationship between business and politics in his industry.

“I think there was [an increase in prices] at the retail level. I think you saw some buildup in pricing in anticipation of the election,” Grasso told SHOT Show TV. “I think they’ll stabilize over the next six months and get back to normal. It looks like we’re going to have a fairly normal year.” ... d=54932526
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Mon May 07, 2018 2:37 pm

NRA just announced: Lt. Colonel Oliver North, USMC (Ret.) will become President of the National Rifle Association of America within a few weeks, a process the NRA Board of Directors initiated this morning.

From Russia with Love for the NRA
A (constantly updated) timeline of the NRA’s ties to the Putin government and efforts to abet collusion between the Trump campaign/administration and Russia. ... c69088fe41
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Mon May 07, 2018 8:10 pm

The Pentagon Considers This Russian Sniper Rifle a Big Threat to US Soldiers. The NRA Helped Promote It.

So much for patriotism.

David Corn
May. 7, 2018 6:00 AM

In late 2016, the US Army released a report noting that the Russian military, through experience gained during fighting in Ukraine, was undergoing a transformation and becoming a more potent battlefield threat to American forces. One troublesome development identified by the report’s authors was the increased proficiency of Russian snipers. “The capabilities of a sniper in a Russian contingent is far more advanced than the precision shooters U.S. formations have encountered over the last 15 years,” the study noted. One reason for this was the Russian military’s recent adoption of the ORSIS T-5000, a relatively new Russian-made firearm that the report called “one of the most capable bolt action sniper rifles in the world.” As one military technology expert noted, after reviewing this report, the US Army faced “being outgunned” by foes armed with the T-5000—which can be accurate at a distance of 2,000 yards—and these Russian rifles were showing up in Iraq and Ukraine. That is, this weapon posed a threat to US troops and those of its allies. Yet the National Rifle Association—which boasts it is identified with American patriotism—has helped promote Moscow-based ORSIS and its sniper rifle.

In December 2015, as has been previously reported, the NRA sent a high-level delegation to Russia. The group included Peter Brownell, then the first vice president of the NRA; David Keene, a past president; Joe Gregory, a top NRA donor; and David Clarke, then the sheriff of Milwaukee County, who would become a top surrogate for Donald Trump. (Brownell became president of the NRA last year.) The trip was at least partially subsidized by a curious Russian gun rights organization called the Right to Bear Arms that has been associated with two Russians, Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin, who for years had been forging connections with conservative organizations and gun aficionados in the United States. (Torshin—a director of the Russian central bank, a former senator, and a close ally of Putin—has been accused of having ties to Russian organized crime, an allegation he has denied. During the 2016 campaign, Torshin and Butina tried to connect with Trump campaign officials.) The Right to Bear Arms paid $6,000 toward the cost of Clarke’s trip.

While in Russia, members of the NRA delegation met with Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister, who was sanctioned by the Obama administration the previous year in retaliation for Putin’s invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Rogozin was a hardliner who led the ultra-right party Rodina, and part of his government portfolio was of particular interest to the NRA representatives: the arms industry. When Rogozin became deputy prime minister in 2011, he was given the task of overseeing Russia’s military-industrial complex and reviving the nation’s weapons-making business through private-public partnerships. One early endeavor in this regard, according to a Russian publication called Defense and Security, involved ORSIS, a small, private company, which about this time began receiving government contracts. (For a spell, Rogozin’s son was a deputy director of the firm.)

In 2014, Pravda reported Russia, now facing sanctions blocking the sale of made-in-Russia guns to the United States and Europe, was looking to export ORSIS sniper rifles as part of its development of new markets for Russian weapons, and the Russian newspaper referred to the T-5000 as the “Rogozin rifle.” The paper noted, “Defense officials from the Philippines and Pakistan evinced interest in the so-called Rogozin rifle, advertised by Putin and [American actor] Steven Seagal. The countries offered to test sniper rifle ORSIS T-5000 on their territory. Similar proposals came from Malaysia and Indonesia.” (In 2013, ORSIS announced it would be making a sporting version of its rifle endorsed by Seagal.)

While the NRA delegation was in Moscow, it visited the ORSIS offices and facilities. The group, accompanied by Butina, watched a video extolling the T-5000, toured the company’s manufacturing plant, and observed rifles being made. Then members of the delegation test-fired ORSIS rifles at an on-site shooting range. The company presented the NRAers with swanky watches bearing the company’s logo.

The day of the ORSIS visit, Clarke posted on Twitter a photograph of himself holding an ORSIS rifle.*

The NRA trip to ORSIS was of use to the Russian gunmaker. The company produced a video showing the NRA delegates oohing and aahing over the T-5000. The video was one in a series of short films promoting ORSIS and its weapons. The video was posted on YouTube four weeks after the visit.

For the US military, a concern regarding the proliferation of the T-5000 rifle is that it is one of the few Russian rifles that can pierce body armor used by American troops. As the National Interest reported in December, “The Russian involvement in Syria and Ukraine has provided a wealth of experience to the Russian military. One of the hallmarks of these engagements is the continued use of sniper tactics. As a result, the modern Russian sniper has evolved far beyond the relatively primitive technology used during the Cold War. Most notably, significant attention has been given to sniper systems that have the ability to penetrate body armor.” With the ORSIS T-5000, this article noted, the Russian military has “a formidable ability to defeat body armor at long ranges.”
“The concern of the US military,” says Olga Oliker, director of Russia and Eurasia programs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “is that this rifle has more range. The idea is a sniper at a tremendous distance can take out a few soldiers, cause great confusion, and a unit can then be hit with rocket strikes.” She notes that it is unlikely that American troops will have firefights with Russian forces anytime soon. “But will small, non-governmental forces, which won’t have rocket strikes, get these rifles, and can they do other things at a distance?” Oliker comments. “Possibly.”

And the ORSIS T-5000 has been spreading across the globe. During the February 2014 protests in Ukraine against then-President Viktor Yanukovych, dozens of protesters were killed by pro-government snipers, according to NBC News, and sniper teams supporting Yanukovych were armed with “Russian-made ORSIS rifles.” A 2017 post on noted the rifle had been “spotted” being used by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. In 2016, a pro-Kremlin Romanian military expert pointed out that Russia was supplying the Syrian army of Bashar al-Assad with T-5000 rifles. And last September, Sputnik, the Russian English-language propaganda outlet, reported that the T-5000 “has gained popularity among special forces in Russia, Iraq, Syria, China and Vietnam.”
The NRA has been under fire for its Russian links. The outfit has refused to provide Congress with complete information about funding it receives from overseas, including Russia. McClatchy has reported the FBI is investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the NRA to help Trump win the presidency. (The NRA was among the biggest pro-Trump spenders in the 2016 election.) And the ORSIS trip is another link between the NRA and Russia. The NRA did not respond to a request to explain whether the organization had any qualms about plugging a Russian weapon of concern to the US military.
This Russian rifle could be dangerous for American soldiers—and Russia has been arming its own military and security services with the weapon and distributing it around the world. In a recent article in Popular Mechanics, David Hambling, a military technology expert, notes that the T-5000 is changing “the shape of future battlefields” to the disadvantage of the United States. (“For now,” he notes, “the solution [for US forces] is simple—run.”) Still, the NRA—whom Trump has called “great American patriots” and whose convention he addressed on Friday—allowed itself to be used by ORSIS to promote the weapon. For the group, guns do seem to transcend all, including national security. ... romote-it/
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Wed May 16, 2018 4:13 pm

Kremlin Used NRA to Help Trump in 2016, Senate Report Says
Documents suggest Moscow funneled money to Trump through the gun group, according to the judiciary committee.

Justin Miller

05.16.18 12:41 PM ET
The Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday that the Russian government apparently used the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.

Documents suggest the Kremlin used the NRA to offer the campaign a back channel to Moscow—including a potential meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin—and might have secretly funded Trump’s campaign, the committee said. One of the Russians named in the report even bragged she was part of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia, The Daily Beast reported last year.

The NRA spent a record $30 million on Trump and the FBI is reportedly investigating whether any of the money came from Russia. U.S. law prohibits foreign money to be spent on elections.

Two Russian nationals figure prominently in the alleged scheme: Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Kremlin’s central bank, and his then-deputy Maria Butina.

Torshin met Donald Trump Jr. at the NRA’s 2016 convention in Kentucky and hosted an NRA delegation in Moscow in 2015. Torshin was previously accused by Spanish investigators of laundering money for Russian mobsters, an allegation he denied. (Last month he was sanctioned by the U.S.)

Butina founded a pro-gun group in Russia before coming to the United States in 2015 when she immediately began ingratiating herself in conservative circles. Butina started a business with NRA member and GOP activist Paul Erickson.

In May 2016, the same month Torshin met Trump Jr. at the NRA convention, Erickson emailed a Trump advisor about setting up a meeting between the candidate and Putin.

“Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump,” he wrote, according to the New York Times. “He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election.”

The judiciary committee’s report was released on the same day the Senate intelligence committee broke with Republicans on the House intelligence committee and said Russia clearly favored Trump in the 2016 election. ... -committee
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Tue May 29, 2018 10:35 am


On May 24 I delivered a letter to AG @jeffsessions demanding DOJ investigate the murky relationship b/t @NRA & sanctioned Russian officials regarding the $30 million in dark money NRA spent to elect @realDonaldTrump. This illicit relationship raises many unanswered questions.


5:29 AM - 29 May 2018

Four years prior to the election of Donald Trump, known Russian spy, criminal and mobster, Alexander Torshin, arranged high-level meetings with senior NRA officials both in the US and Moscow.


In late 2015 NRA sent a high-level delegation including the Chair of its exclusive $1 million donor club to meet with Torshin and US-sanctioned Defense Minister Rogozin & other Russian officials. Why would these senior NRA officials meet with sanctioned Russians in Moscow?

In early 2016, on behalf of Torshin, NRA insider Paul Erickson contacted the Trump campaign to attempt establish a “back channel” between Trump and Putin, using an NRA event to set up.

On May 19, 2016, Torshin attended the annual NRA convention as a VIP guest and dined at a private dinner with Donald Trump Jr. The next day the NRA endorsed Trump before he became his Party’s nominee. First time NRA did this in presidential race.

Upon his return to Russia in the summer of 2016 Torshin received a commendation medal from the Russian spy service, FSB. This raises questions about the private dinner with Trump, Jr.

The NRA spent an unprecedented $30 million to elect Donald Trump. Where did the source of this $$ come from? The meetings. The trips to Moscow. The cozy relationship btwn NRA leaders and Russian officials. Many questions need to be answered.


After U.S. gov't officials questioned the source of the NRA’s funding of Trump's election, NRA president Brownell refuses to run for second term. Why did Brownell, who had travelled to Moscow to meet sanctioned officials, refuse to serve a customary second term?

As a federal prosecutor for 27 years, I know when something smells rotten. This stinks. The source of the NRA’s $30 million funding to elect DJT must be investigated. ... 3551603713
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Sat Jun 09, 2018 2:57 pm

Lawyer linking NRA and Russia helped lead Marsha Blackburn campaigns, documents show

Kline Preston said he helped head Blackburn's re-election efforts—while bringing NRA and Russian officials together.

JUN 8, 2018, 4:02 PM

Kline Preston introduced the NRA to Russian officials—and also helped lead re-election campaigns for Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R.-TN). CREDIT: YOUTUBE / DIANA OFOSU
When G. Kline Preston IV first introduced National Rifle Association (NRA) leadership to Russian officials in 2011, he’d been close to Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) for years.

Both Preston and Blackburn have a long history in and around Brentwood, the tony Nashville suburb. And as Preston — the lawyer whose relationship with both NRA leadership and sanctioned Russian officials facilitated the unexpected cooperation between the two — recently told the Tennessean, he and Blackburn have been “family friends” for a “long time.”

But as documents obtained by ThinkProgress reveal, Blackburn was far closer to Preston than has previously been reported. Preston not only listed himself as the “Campaign Finance Chairman” for Blackburn, but additionally worked for years as the president of Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc.

According to information now removed from his website, Preston says he served as president for Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc. through at least 2014, with official documents showing the work beginning in 2003. During the same time period, he also introduced Alexander Torshin, a now-sanctioned Russian official accused of mafia ties and massive money laundering in Europe, to then-NRA President David Keene. For good measure, documents filed show that Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc., also listed Blackburn’s husband as the registered agent, and listed Blackburn’s address as its own.

The fact that a key member of Blackburn’s campaign was also working closely with Russian officials raises new questions about designs Russian operatives may have had on recruiting allies among Republicans and social conservatives in the U.S. — as well as just how extensive this effort might have been.

Kline Preston introduced Alexander Torshin to the NRA—and praised Putin's recent reelection. CREDIT: YOUTUBE / TG33
Here’s what we know about the American lawyer tying Russia to the NRA
Friends in low places
The relationship between Preston and Blackburn, whose campaign and congressional office did not respond to ThinkProgress’ repeated requests for comment, is well-known in certain Nashville circles.

The two “are from the same town — they’re thick as thieves,” one Nashville-based lawyer, who asked not to be named, told ThinkProgress.

Despite Preston listing his primary focus on his LinkedIn profile as “experience in business in the Russian Federation,” his professional relationship with Blackburn dates to at least 2002. That is when Preston says he began working as Blackburn’s campaign finance chairman, shortly before Blackburn was elected to Congress.

A year later, according to documents filed with the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office, Preston also picked up another gig: serving as president of Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc., a position the documents show he retained until 2009. The organization was founded in 2002, and is listed as a nonprofit. The registered agent for the group was listed as Charles Blackburn — Marsha’s husband. The organization also shares the same Brentwood address as Blackburn.

View this document on Scribd
Preston’s website, however, said his work with Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc. extended even further.

An Internet Archive search shows Preston listed himself on his website as “Current President, Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc.” as recently as June 2014 — three years after he began acting as liaison between the NRA and Russian officials, a relationship now reportedly under investigation by the FBI.

Kline Preston wrote on his old website that he helped lead Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc. as recently as 2014.
Per the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the group was recently renamed “Marsha for Senate,” in light of Blackburn’s ongoing campaign for Senate. According to documents obtained by ThinkProgress, Preston is not involved in “Marsha for Senate,” a separate company registered in Tennessee.

Meanwhile, where Preston’s website says he ended his tenure as Blackburn’s campaign finance chair in 2004, a series of reports a few years later showed that Preston continued to work with Blackburn’s campaign committee.

As The Commercial Appeal wrote in 2006, the campaign committee for Blackburn was forced to pay a $1,500 fine to the FEC after the campaign failed to report over $60,000 in contributions and over $50,000 in disbursements. Preston, identified as the campaign committee’s lawyer, signed an agreement with the FEC describing the failed reportage as an “inadvertent violation.”

According to The Tennessean, Preston — who describes himself on his Twitter account, @gittinpaid, as both a “prophet” and an “amateur phrenologist” — further “provided legal services to [Blackburn’s] campaign in 2007,” around the same time that Preston’s wife, Tiffany, also picked up administrative work supporting Blackburn.

Maria Butina, head of the Russian group Right to Bear Arms
Senate Democrats’ Russia report suggests the Kremlin used the NRA to aid Trump
Elsewhere on his website, Preston listed another achievement: “Organized visit, participation and conference for Russian Government Officials to attend the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and meeting with the president of the NRA as part of a legislative project to grant Russian citizens the right to bear arms.”

Meetings and hosts
Preston doesn’t hide his affections for Russian President Vladimir Putin. His Twitter and Facebook feeds are drenched in material from Russian propaganda outlets, and he helped the Kremlin whitewash its recent presidential election, claiming both that he “didn’t see any complaints” and that “Crimea was, is, and will be Russian.” He’s even written a book entitled The December 4, 2011 Parliamentary Elections of the Russian Federation — The Case Against Western Media Bias and Prejudice.

Indeed, as Preston recently told ThinkProgress, he believes Putin was appointed by God.

I’m telling you right now. This is my personal opinion, but I think there are certain people throughout history, excluding Christ for obvious reasons — humans, not God — there are people who have been placed on this planet, once about every 500 years, who are difference-makers. Without whom things would be much different and worse. In the history of our nation I believe firmly that George Washington was one of those people. Had he not lived, this would be a totally different scenario. There are two people in Russian history in the last days that I believe were God-sent. One was Boris Yeltsin, and one was Vladimir Putin. And the reason I say Yeltsin… he was the guy that anointed Putin, and, man, that was a world-changer right there. Him. Yeltsin did it. And from whence it came, I can only think, you know, that it was divine

Preston hasn’t limited his attempts at building bridges with Russia to trips to Moscow. Recent documents discovered by NPR show how Preston acted as host for Torshin, a lifetime NRA member, and Russian diplomat Igor Matveev during the 2012 U.S. presidential election.

Torshin, of course, was recently sanctioned by the U.S. government. Preston told ThinkProgress that the sanctions haven’t affected his friend. “He doesn’t get as emotional as I do,” Preston said. “When we’re having lunch or dinner or whatever, I don’t pound my fist, but I’ll be very emotional about [how] this is stupid. He’s very level-headed, and his opinion about the sanctions are, ‘Eh, it’s just politics.’ It rolls off, man.”

Matveev, as it is, has also met spent time with Blackburn. According to local paper The Daily Herald, Matveev, then the First Secretary of the Russian Embassy, trekked to Nashville in 2008. While there, he dropped by Blackburn’s office, meeting with the congresswoman.

“It was very nice to have the chance to visit with Congressman Blackburn as well and discuss U.S.-Russia relations. It was a very enjoyable trip and I received a good reception,” Matveev said of the meeting.

This was around the same time that Russia began strengthening its efforts to reach out to social conservatives across the West. Likewise, it came shortly before Torshin requested a meeting with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), a woman whose politics closely align with Blackburn’s.

As it is, there’s no indication anything came from Blackburn’s meeting with Matveev — although it’s worth noting that a Russian Twitter account posing as the Tennessee GOP Party was the seventh-most mentioned account on the day of the 2016 election. And while Blackburn has carried water for President Donald Trump during the ongoing investigations into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, she has never been the most outspoken pro-Kremlin figure in Congress.

“I’ve never asked [Blackburn] for anything with respect to Russia or policy or anything, but she has always voted opposite of what I thought she should,” Preston told ThinkProgress.

However, the fact that Matveev took the time to drop by her office — and that Torshin spent over a decade building ties with Preston, a relatively small-time lawyer with numerous links to Blackburn — tosses fresh questions on how certain Russian officials view Blackburn, as well as how they might woo and lobby the Senate hopeful.

“[Preston] is this random guy in Brentwood, and he’s got all of these Russian connections,” the Nashville-based lawyer said. “It’s bizarre, and [the relationship between Preston and Blackburn] can’t be discounted, knowing what we know now. Especially as tight as he is with Marsha, it can’t be discounted.” ... 8e923eb7e/
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Tue Jun 12, 2018 3:53 pm

Web of elite Russians met with NRA execs during 2016 campaign

By Peter Stone and Greg Gordon

President Donald Trump speaks at the National Rifle Association annual convention in Dallas, Friday, May 4, 2018. Susan Walsh AP Photo

Several prominent Russians, some in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle or high in the Russian Orthodox Church, now have been identified as having contact with National Rifle Association officials during the 2016 U.S. election campaign.

The contacts have emerged amid a deepening Justice Department investigation into whether Russian banker and lifetime NRA member Alexander Torshin illegally channeled money through the gun rights group to add financial firepower to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.

Other influential Russians who met with NRA representatives during the campaign include Dmitry Rogozin, who until last month served as a deputy prime minister overseeing Russia’s defense industry, and Sergei Rudov, head of one of Russia’s largest philanthropies, the St. Basil the Great Charitable Foundation. The foundation was launched by an ultra-nationalist ally of Russian President Putin.

The Russians talked and dined with NRA representatives, mainly in Moscow, as U.S. presidential candidates vied for the White House. Now U.S. investigators want to know if relationships between the Russian leaders and the nation’s largest gun rights group went beyond vodka toasts and gun factory tours, evolving into another facet of the Kremlin’s broad election-interference operation.

Even as the contacts took place, Kremlin cyber operatives were secretly hacking top Democrats’ emails and barraging Americans’ social media accounts with fake news stories aimed at damaging the image of Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton and boosting the prospects of Republican Donald Trump.

It is a crime, potentially punishable with prison time, to donate or use foreign money in U.S. election campaigns.

McClatchy in January disclosed that Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller was investigating whether Torshin or others engineered the flow of Russian monies to the NRA; the Senate Intelligence Committee is also looking into the matter, sources familiar with the probe have said. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the inquiries, which are part of sweeping, parallel investigations into Russia’s interference with the 2016 U.S. elections, have not been publicly announced.

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said, however, that the FBI has not contacted the group.

The NRA, Trump’s biggest financial backer, spent more than $30 million to boost his upstart candidacy; that's more than double what it laid out for 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, and the NRA money started flowing much earlier in the cycle for Trump.

Trump to NRA: ‘I will never ever let you down’
President Trump addressed the National Rifle Association (NRA) convention on April 28, 2017. He’s the first president to do so in more than 30 years. “The eight-year assault on your second amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end,” Trump said McClatchyThe White House

Torshin has drawn focus in part because he was implicated in a years-long investigation by Spanish authorities into money-laundering by the Russian mob. Spanish prosecutor Jose Grinda, who has led that investigation, was in Washington late last month and met with FBI officials for several hours, a well-placed source said.

During his visit, Grinda also acknowledged in an appearance at the Hudson Institute that a few months ago his office provided the FBI with transcripts of wiretaps in which a since-convicted Russian money-launderer spoke with Torshin and called him “El Padrino” — Spanish for godfather, Yahoo News reported.

Spanish authorities have alleged that Torshin helped launder money years ago into Spanish hotels and banks for Russian mobsters, a development first reported in 2016 by Bloomberg News.

Torshin was among 38 Russian government officials, oligarchs and companies sanctioned by the United States in April in retaliation for the Kremlin’s U.S. election meddling and other aggressions around the world, including in Ukraine and Syria. It’s unclear whether Torshin’s NRA activities or his alleged money-laundering in Spain influenced the decision to bar Americans from doing business with him.

Now deputy governor of Russia's central bank, Torshin has denied mob ties, as well as any role in money-laundering in Spain or in secretly routing money to the NRA.

Last month on Capitol Hill, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee who examined Russian interactions with the NRA reached a preliminary conclusion that “the Kremlin may also have used the NRA to secretly fund Mr. Trump’s campaign.”

Citing that finding, Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu of California and Kathleen Rice of New York asked FBI Director Christopher Wray in a May 24 letter to expand the inquiry to also explore whether Kremlin money flowed illegally to the NRA for use in influencing House and Senate races.

“Illegal campaign contributions by a foreign nation, especially one whose interests stand in stark contrast to those of the United States, threaten the very underpinnings of our democracy and cannot remain unchallenged,” Lieu and Rice wrote.

The NRA reported spending $24.4 million to back Republican candidates for Congress in 2016.

Spokespeople for the FBI and Mueller’s office declined to comment on the letter.

The senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee echoed concerns about whether Russian money might have found its way through the NRA to congressional races. California Rep. Adam Schiff said it's also important to trace whether the Russians used the prominent gun rights group to conceal financial backing for Trump to determine "whether that would constitute leverage against our now-president" — a favor that could leave him beholden to the Kremlin.

In a weeks-long exchange of letters with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, NRA General Counsel John Frazer disclosed that the group accepts foreign donations, but that none has been used in elections and that Russian contributions and member dues totaled $2,500 in 2016.

In April, Frazer cut off the exchange without divulging any of the group’s so-called “dark money” donors, who are allowed to contribute anonymously and can further shield their identities behind shell companies. It is unclear whether the group has traced the sources of all of those funds.

Of the $30 million the NRA reported spending to support Trump, more than $21 million was spent by its lobbying arm, whose donors are not publicly reported.

Two NRA insiders say that overall, the group spent at least $70 million, including resources devoted to field operations and online advertising, which are not required to be publicly reported.

NRA officials first forged a relationship with Torshin, a close Putin ally, and his protégé, Maria Butina, in 2011. Soon, Torshin helped Butina start a Russian gun rights group called Right to Bear Arms. In 2016, upon Trump's election as president, Torshin tweeted that he and Butina were the only Russian lifetime members of the NRA.

For five years, Torshin flew to the United States to attend the group’s annual conventions, culminating in the 2016 affair in Louisville. Torshin briefly met Donald Trump Jr. at a dinner during the event, but failed in efforts to arrange a private meeting with Trump.

Months earlier, in December 2015, Torshin and Butina’s gun rights group hosted an NRA delegation led by NRA board member and former President David Keene for a week of lavish wining and dining in Moscow.

During their visit, the NRA group met with Rogozin, who served as the deputy prime minister overseeing Russia’s military industrial complex for seven years and previously was Russia’s ambassador to NATO. Late last month, Putin put him in charge of the Russian space program.

Rogozin is a far-right nationalist who has “extensive ties to the Russian arms industry” that he managed and “is deeply hostile to the West,” said Mike Carpenter, who was a Russia specialist while a senior Pentagon official in the Obama administration.

Another Russia expert, Atlantic Council fellow Anders Aslund, was flabbergasted that the NRA delegation met with Rogozin.

"I can't understand the NRA meeting with Rogozin since he was sanctioned in 2014,” he said. “ It's so embarrassing.”

Rogozin, Torshin and ultra-nationalist foundation chieftain Rudov joined the NRA entourage during the visit and were photographed together at a meeting.

Rudov's career has kept him on a lower-profile trajectory running a conservative religious charity, the St. Basil’s the Great Charitable Foundation. St. Basil's chairman and founder is Putin ally and Orthodox Church figure Konstantin Malofeev, a Russian billionaire sanctioned in 2014 by the U.S. Treasury Department because of his support for Russian-backed separatists who invaded Crimea early that year. Carpenter said Malofeev's foundation is used to support his various causes, which have included financing mercenaries who forcibly wrested control of eastern Ukraine from the Kiev government.

Lieu, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview that he finds it "very odd for Putin's allies to meet with the NRA, because they don't actually have a similar interest in making sure that people bear arms."

The Russian government has generally restricted citizens to owning a shotgun and, after five years of licensed use, a hunting rifle.

Given the web of contacts between top Russians and the NRA during the presidential race, Lieu said, it appears that “something very bad happened in 2016.” ... 56749.html
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Thu Jun 21, 2018 2:42 pm

The N.R.A. Spent $30 Million to Elect Trump. Was It Russian Money?

Congressional Democrats, the F.B.I. and Robert Mueller want to know why Putin-tied oligarchs took such an interest in American gun ownership.

Chris SmithJune 21, 2018 10:30 am

An attendee wears an an American flag shirt depicting President Donald Trump as the Terminator during the National Rifle Association annual convention in Dallas, May 5, 2018.
By Ashley Gilbertson/The New York Times/Redux.
Saint Basil the Great clearly earned his nickname. The Turkish holy man was a scholar who aided victims of drought and who fought prostitution. Sadly, Basil’s views on gun ownership are unknown—he died in 379. Yet a charity named after the saint may turn out to be one key connection between the National Rifle Association and Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The F.B.I. and special counsel Robert Mueller are investigating meetings between N.R.A. officials and powerful Russian operatives, trying to determine if those contacts had anything to do with the gun group spending $30 million to help elect Donald Trump—triple what it invested on behalf of Mitt Romney in 2012. The use of foreign money in American political campaigns is illegal. One encounter of particular interest to investigators is between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian banker at an N.R.A. dinner.

The Russian wooing of N.R.A. executives goes back to at least 2011, when that same banker and politician, Alexander Torshin, befriended David Keene, who was then president of the gun-rights organization. Torshin soon became a “life member,” attending the N.R.A.’s annual conventions and introducing comrades to other gun-group officials. In 2015, Torshin welcomed an N.R.A. delegation to Moscow that included Keene and Joe Gregory, then head of the “Ring of Freedom” program, which is reserved for top donors to the N.R.A. Among the other hosts were Dmitry Rogozin, who until last month was the deputy prime minister overseeing Russia’s defense industry, and Sergei Rudov, head of the Saint Basil the Great Charitable Foundation, one of Russia’s wealthiest philanthropies.

It’s possible that the men were merely bonding over a shared love of firearms. Mike Carpenter, a Russian specialist who worked in the Pentagon during the Obama administration, laughs at the notion. “The Russian state is run by a K.G.B. elite that wants nothing less than to have an armed citizenry,” Carpenter says. “Rogozin is a heavyweight in Russian politics. . . . Torshin has a direct line to Putin . . . and also has possible ties to organized crime. Rudov is the right-hand man of Konstantin Malofeev, who is sort of a paleo-conservative, ultra-nationalist figure who bankrolls a lot of projects involving mercenaries in Ukraine.” Carpenter sees how a dark money trail could connect the Kremlin to the gun lobby. “Those three would only meet with N.R.A. officials if there were some concerted effort by senior members of the Russian government to try and co-opt the N.R.A. politically,” he continues. “And they are all money men. They can throw tens of millions around.” (Efforts to reach Torshin, Rogozin, Rudov, and Malofeev were unsuccessful. Malofeev has denied aiding the invasion of Ukraine.)

Torshin—who Spanish authorities wanted to arrest in 2013 on money-laundering allegations—made energetic efforts to ingratiate himself with the Trump campaign. (Torshin was never charged and has denied any wrongdoing in the money-laundering case.) He met Donald Trump Jr. at a private dinner during the N.R.A.’s convention in Louisville, Kentucky, in May 2016. Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for Trump Jr., has dismissed the conversation between his client and Torshin as “all gun-related small talk.”

Putin attends the Russian Day Awards with Alexander Torshin in Moscow on June 12, 2011.

By Konstantin Zavrazhin/Getty Images.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” Senator Ron Wyden says. The Oregon Democrat has spent months pushing the N.R.A. to explain the sources of its foreign contributions. The gun group’s responses shifted from saying it had received only one contribution from a Russian person in six years; to acknowledging 23 Russian-related contributions since 2015 totaling a little more than $2,500; to shutting down communications with Wyden. “’Shifting’ is a diplomatic way to put it,” the senator says. “They have flipped more times than a kid on a summer diving board. . . . The notion that all of these important oligarchs who had involvement with the N.R.A. and were close to Putin were spending money on a few magazine subscriptions doesn’t strike me as very plausible.” (The N.R.A. did not return a call for comment, but a spokesman has said previously that the group’s contacts with Russian figures had nothing to do with its spending in American political campaigns.) Wyden has also been requesting financial information about Torshin’s dealings from the Treasury Department, headed by Steve Mnuchin, with even less success. “Mr. Mnuchin has been stonewalling for more than a year in handing over documents relating to Russia,” Wyden says. “All I can tell you is my guess is that he and the president are afraid of what’s in them.”

Ted Lieu wants to summon N.R.A. officials to testify before him and the rest of the House Judiciary Committee—but that depends on the Democrats regaining a congressional majority this fall. For now, the California Democrat and one of his New York colleagues, Kathleen Rice, have written to F.B.I. director Chris Wray calling for the bureau to probe whether Russian money was channeled through the N.R.A. and spent on 2016 House and Senate campaigns. “These meetings with Russians and the N.R.A.’s increased spending could be coincidence number 395,” Lieu says. “Or something extremely bad happened.” ... sian-money
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Wed Aug 22, 2018 11:12 am

where to post this many options so little time


Maria Butina's gun rights group deleted the video it had posted of John Bolton praising "a new era of freedom" in Russia. But don't worry, we've reposted it to preserve the record.
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Nov 02, 2018 10:37 pm

Senate Intelligence Wants Documents on NRA’s Russia Trip
Betsy Woodruff,
Spencer Ackerman
11.02.18 7:03 PM ET
The Senate intelligence committee has asked the National Rifle Association to provide documents on its connections to Russia—including documents related to a 2015 trip some of its top leaders made to Moscow. That’s according to two sources briefed on the committee’s activities.

The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Spokespersons for Sen. Richard Burr, the intelligence committee chair, and Sen. Mark Warner, the panel’s ranking member, declined to comment on the record.

The NRA’s Russia connections have drawn growing public scrutiny after a key figure in Russian outreach to the powerful gun lobby, Maria Butina, was indicted in July on charges of being an undeclared Russian operative connected to the country’s intelligence apparatus. Butina sought to use guns as a lever to tilt the Republican Party in a pro-Kremlin direction, creating a political firestorm for the NRA in the wake of her arrest. The intelligence committee’s document request is just one part of the aftermath.

Butina, whose Russian political patron Alexander Torshin is a senior figure in the country’s powerful central bank, ran a Russian gun-rights organization called the Right to Bear Arms. In December 2015, the group sponsored an NRA delegation to come to Moscow for a week. NRA dignitaries also met with another influential Russian, the former deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin. Torshin subsequently came under U.S. sanctions; Rogozin had been under sanctions since 2014.

Kremlin & GOP Bigwigs Have a New Friend

Tim Mak

Former NRA President David Keene and soon-to-be president Peter Brownell were both on the trip. Accompanying them were Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke; NRA donors Jim Gregory and Arnold and Hilary Goldschlager; and Jim Liberatore, the president and CEO of the Outdoor Channel.

The intelligence committee isn’t the only Senate panel interested in the trip. The Senate Finance Committee has for months sought NRA documents about the controversial excursion.

Earlier this year, the NRA faced persistent questioning from the Finance Committee over the trip and whether it received money from Russia. The NRA, in a series of letters to the committee, initially denied receiving money from Russia. But in an April 10 letter to Sen. Ron Wyden, its general counsel John Frazer acknowledged receiving “a total of approximately $2512.85 from people associated Russian addresses” and “about $525” from two Russian nationals living in the United States. It also acknowledged “membership dues” from Torshin, a non-voting life member of the NRA since 2012.

“[G]iven 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,” Frazer wrote in April, three months before Butina’s arrest.

The heightened Congressional scrutiny of the NRA comes as one of its former top attorneys, William Brewer III, has faced legal challenges of his own.

In September, federal Judge Liam O’Grady chastised the Texas attorney for failing to disclose that a judge in Texas had sanctioned him for more than $133,000 for using an unethical polling practice to influence a jury pool. Brewer challenged that judge’s move, and an appellate court upheld the penalty. The appellate court’s ruling noted that the judge who first sanctioned Brewer found his attitude in that process to be “dismissive and uncaring.”

When Brewer appeared before a Virginia federal court to represent the NRA—in litigation over its “Carry Guard” insurance program for gun owners who shoot people—he asserted that he had not “been reprimanded in any court.” When the judge learned about his prior sanction, he yanked him off the case, as Texas Lawyer detailed.

Brewer has said he didn’t commission the poll, according to the Texas Lawyer, and that he neglected to reveal the sanction to O’Grady because he was appealing it to Texas’s highest state court. His firm still represents the NRA. ... ia=desktop
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Thu Dec 06, 2018 5:14 pm

Documents Point to Illegal Campaign Coordination Between Trump and NRA

Trump and the gun group used the same consultants to spearhead their TV ad blitzes at the height of the 2016 election, likely in violation of federal law.

Placeholder Image
[Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

The Trace and Mother Jones have teamed up to further investigate the NRA’s finances and political activity.
The National Rifle Association spent $30 million to help elect Donald Trump — more than any other independent conservative group. Most of that sum went toward television advertising, but a political message loses its power if it fails to reach the right audience at the right time. For the complex and consequential task of placing ads in key markets across the nation in 2016, the NRA turned to a media-strategy firm called Red Eagle Media.

One element of Red Eagle’s work for the NRA involved purchasing a slate of 52 ad slots on WVEC, the ABC affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia, in late October 2016. The ads targeted adults aged 35 to 64, and aired on local news programs and syndicated shows like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. In paperwork filed with the Federal Communications Commission, Red Eagle described them as “anti-Hillary” and “pro-Trump.”

The Trump campaign pursued a strikingly similar advertising strategy. Shortly after the Red Eagle purchase, as Election Day loomed, it bought 33 ads on the same station, set to air during the same week. The ads, which the campaign purchased through a firm called American Media & Advocacy Group (AMAG), were aimed at precisely the same demographic as the NRA spots, and often ran during the same shows, bombarding Norfolk viewers with complementary messages.

The two purchases may have looked coincidental; Red Eagle and AMAG appear at first glance to be separate firms. But each is closely connected to a major conservative media-consulting firm called National Media Research, Planning and Placement. In fact, the three outfits are so intertwined that both the NRA’s and the Trump campaign’s ad buys were authorized by the same person: National Media’s chief financial officer, Jon Ferrell.

“This is very strong evidence, if not proof, of illegal coordination,” said Larry Noble, a former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission. “This is the heat of the general election, and the same person is acting as an agent for the NRA and the Trump campaign.”

Reporting by The Trace shows that the NRA and the Trump campaign employed the same operation — at times, the exact same people — to craft and execute their advertising strategies for the 2016 presidential election. The investigation, which involved a review of more than 1,000 pages of Federal Communications Commission and Federal Election Commission documents, found multiple instances in which National Media, through its affiliates Red Eagle and AMAG, executed ad buys for Trump and the NRA that seemed coordinated to enhance each other.

Individuals working for National Media or its affiliated companies either signed or were named in FCC documents, demonstrating that they had knowledge of both the NRA and the Trump campaign’s advertising plans.

Experts say the arrangement appears to violate campaign finance laws.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a situation where illegal coordination seems more obvious,” said Ann Ravel, a former chair of the FEC who reviewed the records. “It is so blatant that it doesn’t even seem sloppy. Everyone involved probably just thinks there aren’t going to be any consequences.”

National Media, the NRA, the Trump campaign, and the White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment. AMAG does not appear to have any employees or contacts independent of National Media; a lawyer who has been identified in news accounts as representing AMAG did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

National Media is based in Alexandria, Virginia. Its web site describes it as “a nationally recognized leader in media research, planning, and placement for issue advocacy, corporate, and political campaigns,” and says that its “goal is to maximize every dollar that our clients spend on their media.” Those clients have included the Republican National Committee as well as the GOP’s congressional and senatorial campaign committees.

Publicly available corporate documents don’t indicate who owns or runs AMAG, but a lawyer representing the company acknowledged to the Daily Beast in 2016 that it was affiliated with National Media. PBS has described AMAG as an “offshoot” of National Media. The Trump campaign paid AMAG more than $74 million for “placed media” in September and October of 2016.

Red Eagle Media, the firm that the NRA used to place its pro-Trump ads, is merely an “assumed or fictitious name” used by National Media, according to corporate records. Corporate, FEC, and FCC records for all three entities list the addresses of 815 Slaters Lane or 817 Slaters Lane, a pair of adjacent brick buildings that share a parking lot in the historic Old Town section of Alexandria.

The NRA was free to spend as much money as it wanted on behalf of Trump in 2016. But under federal election law, if an independent group and a campaign share election-related information, then the group’s expenditures no longer qualify as independent and are instead treated as in-kind donations, subject to a $5,000 cap.

When an outside group and a candidate use the same vendor, staffers working for either client are prevented by law from sharing information with each other. Typically, such vendors make staffers sign a company “firewall” policy, which functions as a pledge not to coordinate and an acknowledgment that there are civil and criminal penalties for doing so. Under the law, National Media staffers working for Trump should have been separated from those working for the NRA. Documents suggest, instead, a synchronized effort.

Records in the FCC “public inspection files” — files that television stations maintain in order to comply with transparency regulations around political advertising — show that Red Eagle and AMAG often bought ads around the same time, on the same stations, for the NRA and the Trump campaign, respectively. During the last week of October, for instance, Red Eagle bought $36,250 worth of ads on the ABC affiliate in Cleveland on behalf of the NRA. A form the NRA filed with the station described spots mentioning the Second Amendment, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and the 2016 presidential election.

At the same time, AMAG spent almost the exact same amount — $36,150 — on a series of Trump campaign ads on the same Cleveland station during the same week. Both the NRA ads and the Trump ads aired during many of the same programs, including local newscasts, Good Morning America, and NCAA football.

The Trace identified at least four current or former National Media employees, including CFO Jon Ferrell, who are named in FCC filings as representatives of both the Trump campaign and the NRA during the final stretch of the 2016 presidential election.

The form filed with the Cleveland station on behalf of the NRA by Red Eagle in September 2016 lists a person named Kristy Kovatch as a point of contact. (An identical form that Red Eagle filed for the NRA with WCPO in Cincinnati also lists Kovatch.) Kovatch is a senior buyer for National Media, specializing in “television media buying for political candidates, issue/advocacy groups and public affairs clients.” According to her bio on the company’s web site, she’s been with the firm for 20 years.

Throughout the fall of 2016, Kovatch was also involved in ad purchases for Trump. Just three days before she was named in records as the contact for Red Eagle in Cleveland and Cincinnati, she appeared in the same role on an AMAG advertising request sheet filed for the Trump campaign with an NBC Telemundo station in Miami. FCC documents also list her as the AMAG buyer or contact for various other Florida stations.

Another National Media employee, Ben Angle, was identified in the 2018 book Inside Campaigns: Elections Through the Eyes of Political Professionals as an architect of Trump’s airwave strategy. “In mid-September,” the book says, “Angle and his boss were summoned to Trump Tower and told their firm would be placing all of the Trump campaign’s television advertising during the last seven weeks of the campaign.” Angle is listed on National Media’s website as a “senior media buyer.” In October, his name appeared in FCC paperwork as the contact for an NRA ad buy, placed through Red Eagle, at an ABC station in Denver.

A fourth staffer whose name appears on both NRA and Trump campaign documents, Caroline Kowalski, left National Media in 2017. Her title was “media specialist,” according to her LinkedIn page. Within the span of one week in late October and early November 2016, she was listed as the Red Eagle contact for an NRA ad purchase in Cape Coral, Florida, and as the AMAG contact for a Trump campaign placement at a CBS station in Philadelphia.

Ferrell’s signature appeared on forms authorizing ads on stations across the country. For the Trump campaign, that included battleground markets like Youngstown, Ohio; Cape Coral, Florida; and Reno, Nevada. For the NRA, it included Cincinnati and Wilmington, North Carolina. Ferrell also signed off on placements with national syndicators and distributors covering most of the country for both Trump and the NRA.

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Ferrell, Kovatch, Angle, and Kowalski did not respond to requests for comment. According to their National Media bios or LinkedIn pages, all are specialists in the art of strategic media placement. Ferrell’s “efforts help [National Media] provide optimal financial stewardship of campaign media budgets.” Kovatch “has consistently bought the largest media markets around the country, building an extensive knowledge of ratings, costs and seasonal trends across all time periods and dayparts.” Angle uses his “extensive experience” to “strategically place efficient and effective media buys for our clients.” And Kowalski “acted as a liaison between media buyers and TV, radio, and cable networks,” and “researched voter demographic data to help create” advertising campaigns for, among others, “presidential” candidates and “issue-advocacy groups.”

Prior reporting has identified consulting firms as conduits for potentially illegal coordination between campaigns and outside groups. In 2013, a Center for Public Integrity and NBC News investigation turned up evidence that an AMAG media buyer purchased airtime both for a Texas congressional candidate and for an outside group that was supporting him. In July, The Trace found that the NRA had been using an apparent shell firm called Starboard Strategic Inc. to produce ads for Senate candidates who employed a GOP consulting outfit called OnMessage Inc. The two entities, according to subsequent complaints filed to the FEC, are “functionally indistinguishable.” Starboard and OnMessage are located in the same Alexandria buildings as National Media, according to public records.

The FEC has the authority to launch investigations and seek civil penalties, but it’s unlikely that the NRA or the Trump campaign will face any official action. The FEC’s four commissioners — it is supposed to have six — have been deadlocked for years in an ideological split, making the unanimous vote required for significant investigations almost impossible to achieve. The Department of Justice is also authorized to launch investigations, but prosecutions under the Federal Election Campaign Act are uncommon. If convicted, violators can be subject to criminal fines and up to five years in prison.

Experts consulted by The Trace say the apparent coordination is the most glaring they’ve ever seen.

“It is impossible for these consultants to have established firewalls in their brains,” said Brendan Fischer, the Director of the Federal Reform Program at the Campaign Legal Center. “We have not previously seen this level of evidence undermining any claim of a firewall.”

Daniel Nass / Shutterstock
Effectively placing ads is among the most important tasks in getting a candidate elected to office. “The creative content is only part of the equation,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican media strategist. “Political advertising relies on smart media placement at every stage. Anything else and you might as well just throw your money in a bonfire.”

Campaign coordination, Wilson added, allows candidates and outside groups to “maximize their resources,” making spending far more efficient. “Modern campaigns are driven by data,” he said. “Pollsters and analytics people will give you a set of targets, and you want to address those targets as best you can, in as many markets as you can.”

Concurrent purchases by Red Eagle and AMAG appear designed to provide such a higher return on spending. On September 15, for instance, Red Eagle executed an $86,000 deal for the NRA with Raycom Sports Network, a syndicator of sports programs, for slots during seven ACC college football games airing in the final weeks of the presidential race. Documents authorizing the purchase were signed by Ferrell, whose colleague Ben Angle, the senior buyer at National Media, has been a proponent of sports as a way to reach conservative audiences. “Every time we assist a Republican candidate, we advise him to advertise at sports events,” he told one journalist. “In sports, the audience is engaged, they like to see it live so they do not skip the commercials by using a recording device.”

Less than a week later, another National Media staffer authorized virtually the same purchase for Trump. Because stations are required to charge candidates the “lowest unit price” for airtime (while charging independent groups the higher market rate), the deal only cost $30,000.

The purchases were mirror images of each other. In five of the games, both the NRA and Trump bought ads. When the NRA ran two spots either attacking Clinton or promoting Trump, the Trump campaign ran just one. And when the Trump campaign ran two spots, the NRA ran one. The pattern even persisted when there was no direct overlap: In the two games the Trump campaign sat out, the NRA ran two ads. And in the one game during which the NRA didn’t buy time, Trump bought two slots. Side by side, the spots aired across the country, on as many as 120 stations, according to data provided by Raycom.

Angle’s name appears on Trump campaign paperwork documenting the Raycom purchase, directly above “AMAG.”

After reviewing the Raycom records, Wilson said the pattern suggests that the purchases were part of a unified strategy by the NRA and the Trump campaign. “Sometimes you want to maximize the lowest unit rate on the campaign side,” he said. “But you still need more fire on the target. This is why the FEC says coordination is illegal.” ... rdination/
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Jan 11, 2019 4:04 pm

Documents Show NRA and Republican Candidates Coordinated Ads in Key Senate Races

“You do this if you think no one is going to investigate,” says a former federal regulator.

Christopher Hooks and Mike SpiesJanuary 11, 2019 6:00 AM

NRA president Oliver North campaigning with GOP Senate candidate Josh Hawley in Missouri in November 2018Scott Olson/Getty

The National Rifle Association appears to have illegally coordinated its political advertising with Republican candidates in at least three recent high-profile US Senate races, according to Federal Communications Commission records. In Senate races in Missouri and Montana in 2018 and North Carolina in 2016, the gun group’s advertising blitzes on behalf of GOP candidates Josh Hawley, Matt Rosendale, and Richard Burr were authorized by the very same media consultant that the candidates themselves used—an apparent violation of laws designed to prevent independent groups from synchronizing their efforts with political campaigns.

In December, the Trace and Mother Jones reported on a similar pattern of coordination between the NRA and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. In that case, Trump and the NRA hired affiliates of the same company—National Media Research, Planning and Placement—to direct their ad spending. Employees of that firm, operating under different corporate identities, placed ads for both Trump and the NRA on television stations across the country, with the apparent goal of reinforcing each other’s message.

Representatives of National Media, operating under the name Red Eagle Media, also bought ads on behalf of the NRA in support of some of the group’s preferred Senate candidates, and simultaneously bought ads for those Senate candidates while acting as a supposedly separate entity called American Media & Advocacy Group (AMAG). In at least 10 instances across the Missouri, Montana, and North Carolina races, FCC records show that ad purchases for both the NRA and the Senate campaigns were authorized by National Media chief financial officer Jon Ferrell.

Campaign finance laws bar outside groups from sharing any election-related information—including advertising strategy—with the candidates they support. While it is not illegal for independent groups and campaigns to use the same vendors, the Federal Election Commission requires consultants to prevent staffers from sharing information, usually through the creation of internal “firewalls.”

“All evidence points to coordination,” said Larry Noble, the general counsel of the FEC from 1987 to 2000, in response to a detailed description of the documents. “It’s hard to understand how you’d have the same person authorizing placements for the NRA and the candidate and it not be coordination.”

The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.

In the Missouri race, where state Attorney General Josh Hawley unseated Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill, the NRA flooded local TV stations with ads supportive of Hawley in the month before the election. On the CBS affiliate KOAM, which serves the southwest part of the state, the NRA paid for almost 70 ads that aired during the first half of October.

Graphic: Daniel Nass. Sources: Hawley campaign contract; NRA contract
FCC records show that those ads were purchased on the NRA’s behalf by Red Eagle Media—which, according to corporate records, is just an “assumed or fictitious name” used by National Media. The order was signed on September 7, 2018, by National Media’s Jon Ferrell. His bio on the firm’s website touts his skill at ensuring “optimal financial stewardship of campaign media budgets,” as well as making sure “every penny allocated for media is spent according to election laws.”

Just the day before, KOAM had received an order for ads from the Hawley campaign. The paperwork accompanying that order shows that the spots were purchased on Hawley’s behalf by AMAG, which has been described by its lawyer as a National Media affiliate. The paperwork is signed by Ferrell, with a handwritten addendum: “agent for Josh Hawley for Senate.”

The ads that Ferrell placed for the NRA closely align with the list of ads he authorized for the campaign. On October 5, for example, on KOAM’s morning show, an NRA ad about the Senate race ran at 6:39 a.m. and a Hawley campaign ad ran five minutes later. During Wheel of Fortune, a Hawley ad ran at 6:42 p.m. and an NRA ad supporting Hawley followed at 6:59.

A similar pattern played out in Montana, where Democratic Sen. Jon Tester beat back a challenge from state auditor Matt Rosendale despite more than $500,000 in NRA spending on Rosendale’s behalf. Records show that Ferrell signed off on a Red Eagle order for NRA ads backing Rosendale on KULR, an NBC affiliate in Billings, on September 4. One week later, on September 11, AMAG purchased a slate of ads on the same station on behalf of the Rosendale campaign. The paperwork is signed by Ferrell. As in the Missouri race, he added a handwritten addendum making clear that he was acting on the campaign’s behalf: “Jon Ferrell, agent for Matt Rosendale for Montana.” Those ads ran on many of the same shows that the NRA ads did, including airings of The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Graphic: Daniel Nass. Sources: Rosendale campaign contract; NRA contract
Back in 2016, when North Carolina Republican Richard Burr prevailed against Democratic challenger Deborah Ross, Burr employed National Media outright, while the NRA used Red Eagle. As in the other races, Ferrell signed off on purchases for both sides. FCC paperwork filed by WECT, the NBC affiliate in Wilmington, shows Ferrell signing off on purchases for the Burr campaign on October 12, 24, and 27 and November 2 as an “agent for Richard Burr Committee.” At the same time, he authorized Red Eagle purchases on behalf of the NRA on September 19 and October 21.

Graphic: Daniel Nass. Sources: Burr campaign contract; NRA contract
National Media and Ferrell did not respond to requests for comment; neither did representatives for Hawley, Rosendale, and Burr. AMAG does not appear to have any employees or contacts independent of National Media.

The NRA’s use of National Media and its affiliates to coordinate with the Trump and Hawley campaigns is currently the focus of two complaints before the FEC by the Campaign Legal Center and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Although federal law prohibits such coordination, it’s rarely enforced as a practical matter. The FEC, which oversees elections, has been deadlocked along partisan lines for a decade. (FEC enforcement matters are confidential until resolved; it’s unclear if the NRA has formally responded to the complaints.)

Ann Ravel, who served on the commission from 2013 to 2017, says the straightforward manner in which the NRA and Senate campaigns aligned ads in these cases “goes to show how weak the campaign finance system is.”

“There is so much documentary evidence that it wouldn’t even require a lengthy investigation,” Ravel said. “Some cases are hard to prove, but this, on its face, is so obvious. I would not think that there is any basis for not at least investigating the matter.”

Noble agreed: “What this reflects is the FEC’s lack of enforcement and the lack of respect that the NRA and the vendor are showing toward the FEC and the law. You do this if you think no one is going to investigate.”

(Mother Jones and the Trace have teamed up to investigate the NRA’s finances and political activity. See more of our reporting here.) ... sh-hawley/
Mazars and Deutsche Bank could have ended this nightmare before it started.
They could still get him out of office.
But instead, they want mass death.
Don’t forget that.
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Wed Jan 23, 2019 7:33 pm

As part of House Oversight's investigation into security clearances, the committee is demanding docs from the NRA relating to John Bolton's foreign contacts.

NPR has the letter Cummings sent to the NRA president:

Mazars and Deutsche Bank could have ended this nightmare before it started.
They could still get him out of office.
But instead, they want mass death.
Don’t forget that.
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Tue Jan 29, 2019 9:52 pm

NRA attempts to create distance between CEO LaPierre and NRA officers who traveled to Moscow in 2015

NRA ignored requests for comment, but NOW has an attorney make a statement?

What’s going to break soon that they’re trying to get in front of?

NRA Distances Itself From Curious Russia Trip

Wayne LaPierre is trying to control the narrative about an infamous jaunt to Moscow in 2015
Tim Dickinson January 29, 2019 3:24PM ET
NRA CEO Wayne La Pierre and Maria Butina at the 2014 NRA Convention in Indianapolis

Maria Butina/

As the scandal surrounding the Russian infiltration of the NRA has grown, the gun group has maintained a steely silence. The NRA has not responded to perhaps a dozen inquiries about its Russian ties from Rolling Stone alone. But an outside lawyer for the gun group and a past president of the NRA have now spoken to the New York Times for the paper’s new dispatch on the scandal.

The NRA is attempting to create distance between CEO Wayne LaPierre and the NRA officers who traveled to Moscow in 2015, at the invitation of criminal Russian influence agent Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin — the sanctioned now-former Russian central banker described in court documents as her handler — where the NRA members met with top members of Vladimir Putin’s government.

William A. Brewer III, a lawyer who represents the NRA, tells the Times: “Wayne was opposed to the trip.” Allan Cors, who was president of the gun group at the time of the 2015 meeting in Moscow, underscores this same talking point: “Wayne expressed concerns about this trip and suggested that I not participate. Wayne did not want any misconception that this was an official trip,” Cors added. “Frankly, I had similar concerns.”

Such concerns, oddly, did not prevent the trip from taking place. And the Times reports the NRA paid for at least some travel expenses. The NRA delegation included first vice president Pete Brownell (whose allegedly unsanctioned participation didn’t prevent his rise to become NRA president in 2017); Joe Gregory, who chairs the Golden Ring of Freedom, the NRA’s elite club for million-dollar lifetime donors; and past president David Keene, who had forged the NRA’s close ties to Moscow, visiting in 2013 to declare: “There are no peoples that are more alike than Americans and Russians.”

LaPierre’s new campaign to distance himself from the Russian affair must be considered in context: As Rolling Stone first reported last spring, LaPierre was happy to pose for a photograph with Maria Butina in 2014 at the NRA’s convention in Indianapolis. Butina and Torshin had each been VIPs at NRA conventions, meeting with top brass and participating in elite ceremonies. Butina tweeted about ringing the NRA’s replica Liberty Bell in 2014.

After the 2015 Moscow exchange, Butina and Torshin continued as lifetime NRA members and used the NRA convention in 2016 to meet with Donald Trump, Jr. For his part, Torshin remained friendly with Cors, buying him a thoughtful gift in 2017.

The Times report emphasizes that the NRA officials who traveled to Russia had business interests there: “Mr. Brownell had expanded his family-owned gun accessory retailer, Brownells, into Russia in 2015, before the trip, licensing its name to a local company and collecting a percentage of sales.” Outdoor Channel CEO Jim Liberatore, who joined the NRA junket, reportedly pursued, with Butina, the idea of signing Vladimir Putin to a reality show on his network.

While the NRA-Russia connection has reportedly reemerged as a focus Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, the Times indicates congressional interest also remains high. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) tells the paper that the GOP majority in the last congress stymied attempts to probe the issue: “We were really not able to determine how the Russians used the N.R.A. as a back channel or look into allegations that the Russians may have funneled money through the N.R.A. to influence the election,” he says. “Those issues remain of deep interest to us.” Ron Wyden (D-OR), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, tells the paper: “The prospect of N.R.A. or N.R.A. officials abusing nonprofit status to work with a hostile regime and undermine our democracy is central to my investigation.”

Brewer, the NRA outside counsel, inisted to the the Times that the NRA “believes that no foreign money made its way into the organization for use in the 2016 presidential election.” ... re-786193/
Mazars and Deutsche Bank could have ended this nightmare before it started.
They could still get him out of office.
But instead, they want mass death.
Don’t forget that.
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Posts: 32090
Joined: Wed Apr 27, 2005 11:28 pm
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