The NRA The Russia Connection

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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Thu Jan 31, 2019 11:05 am

NRA Heavyweight Wanted Access to Putin: Leaked Email

‘Impressing the NRA’s Russian hosts is the quickest way to secure a private interview with President Putin,’ an organizer of the NRA’s infamous 2015 trip to Moscow wrote.

01.30.19 8:31 PM ET
A former NRA president hoped to win access to Vladimir Putin on a trip to Moscow, according to an email from one of the trip’s organizers. That organizer, Republican operative Paul Erickson, also said the trip could have “enormous diplomatic consequences.” The email, sent in November 2015 and reviewed by The Daily Beast, came just months before the Kremlin’s election meddling went into full gear.

In the email, Erickson wrote that an official with the Russian Central Bank had made a tantalizing, though tentative, offer to former NRA president David Keene: an interview for his newspaper with Russian President Vladimir Putin. At the time, Keene was the opinion editor for The Washington Times, a conservative newspaper. He had previously helmed the NRA, and he maintained close ties with its top officials. And he was one of the small group of people on the trip.

“[I]mpressing the NRA’s Russian hosts is also the quickest way to secure a private interview with President Putin on behalf of David Keene and the Washington Times–a plum that was dangled in front of Keene by Torshin himself during a recent Torshin visit to Washington, DC,” Erickson wrote. “High stakes all around.”

The NRA’s Russian hosts were a powerful group. Alexander Torshin, who Erickson said had tentatively offered Keene a Putin interview, was a deputy governor at Russia’s powerful central bank at the time. Justice Department prosecutors later alluded to him when they charged Erickson’s girlfriend, Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina, with conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent in the U.S. Butina pleaded guilty to the charge last month. Her organization, called The Right to Bear Arms, had helped organize the trip Keene went on.

The NRA officials on the trip also met with Dmitry Rogozin, a Putin deputy and prominent figure in the Russian defense industry who is under U.S. sanctions. And they met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, according to The Washington Post.

The Erickson email, which has not been previously quoted, indicates that the NRA officials on the Moscow trip believed they were meeting with Kremlin power players who could influence the country’s president. The existence of this email was first reported by The New York Times.

Erickson’s email also said the trip could help ease relations between Russia and the U.S. by creating a way for the Kremlin to connect with a future Republican president.

“As we discussed over lunch in Iowa, Russia believes that high level contacts with the NRA might be the BEST means of neutral introduction to either the next American President OR to a meaningful re-set in relations with the Congress under a (God forbid) President Clinton,” he wrote. “This simple good will trip would have enormous diplomatic consequences for a future U.S. / Russia bilateral relationship to the world.”


The email also described tensions that emerged before the trip between two NRA power-brokers: David Keene, the NRA’s president from 2011 to 2013; and Allan Cors, its president at the time of the trip. Cors initially planned to go on the trip, which Keene and Butina helped organize. But a few weeks before departure, he abruptly bowed out. In the email, Erickson said Cors cited health problems as the reason for his cancellation. According to Erickson, that enraged Keene.

“As you know from your discussions with Maria Butina, she and Russian Central Bank Deputy Governor Alexander Torshin (but mostly Maria) have been slaving away for several months preparing a truly ‘Nixon goes to China’ itinerary for a senior NRA delegation to Moscow next month,” Erickson wrote. “This has been a dream and happy burden for David Keene for a couple of years. JUST as the agenda was being finalized this week, President Cors announces–VERY privately–to David that a chronic health issue must now force Cors to abandon the trip.”

According to Erickson, Keene felt betrayed by Cors’ claims of health problems.

“This has caught Keene totally off guard and could have disastrous consequences for the trip—and for our young Maria and the future of her ‘The Right to Bear Arms’ organization,” Erickson continued. “Keene is so angry that he is close to ending his friendship with Cors over what Keene views as Cors’ duplicity in keeping this health information from the powers that be.”

But now, Cors contradicts the story Erickson described in that email. In a statement the NRA’s lawyer provided to The Daily Beast on his behalf, Cors said he pulled out of the trip because he was worried it would reflect poorly on the NRA. The statement, part of which was in the Times story, said nothing about any health problems.

“When we spoke, [NRA CEO] Wayne [LaPierre] expressed concerns about this trip and suggested that I not participate,” Cors said in the statement. “I was, at the time, president of the NRA and Wayne did not want any misconception that this was an official trip. Frankly, I had similar concerns. Therefore, I gracefully bowed out.”

The NRA lawyer also told The Daily Beast that the group did not formally sanction the trip and that its CEO expressed concerns about it.

“When he became aware of the details of the trip, [NRA CEO] Wayne [LaPierre] was personally opposed to it,” William A. Brewer III, an attorney for the NRA, said in a statement provided to The Daily Beast. “In order that the group was not viewed as representing the NRA, Wayne spoke with several people about the excursion. As a result, Mr. Cors agreed not to make the trip. In addition, NRA staff members who were in Israel (for a trip that preceded the visit to Russia) returned home.”

An attorney for Butina declined to comment. Keene did not respond to requests for comment. Kors did not respond to requests for comment on Erickson’s email. A lawyer for Erickson noted that he did not go on the trip and declined to comment further.


That trip ran from Dec. 8 through 13 of 2015. According to a trip itinerary reviewed by The Daily Beast, Butina and her assistant arranged for attendees to see Yuri Grigorovich’s ballet “A Legend of Love” at the Bolshoi Theatre. They also arranged for a trip to “Stalin’s Bunker,” a secret soviet facility that is now open to visitors; the Armory Chamber and Diamond Treasury of the Kremlin; and Red Square. Also on the agenda: a meeting with Evgeny Lukyanov, at the time a member of the Kremlin’s national security council. Months before the trip, he announced Russia’s sale of S-300 missile systems to Iran. It was one of the trip’s little ironies; before arriving on Moscow on the same journey, the attendees stopped in Israel—whose government was appalled by the S-300 sale to Iran.

David Clarke, the conspiratorial former Milwaukee County sheriff who once claimed Black Lives Matter would team up with ISIS, also went on the trip, along with other influential NRA donors and board members.

The trip has drawn the attention of investigators. Federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C. told Erickson’s attorney several months ago that they were considering charging him for illegally acting as a covert agent of a foreign government, under a statute Justice Department lawyers refer to as “espionage-lite.” Butina is in jail awaiting sentencing and has agreed to cooperate with federal investigators. Meanwhile, the Senate intelligence committee is scrutinizing the NRA’s Russia connections as part of a wide-ranging, bipartisan probe into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential elections in the U.S. And Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, is also scrutinizing the trip.

“I can’t discuss what I’ve learned through my investigation at this point,” he told The Daily Beast when asked about the email. “Americans would rightly be outraged if they learned that officers of a powerful, taxpayer-subsidized organization were offered personal incentives by the Kremlin in exchange for access to elite Republican circles. That question is right at the heart of my inquiry.”


Butina’s outreach to the American gun rights community began years ago. She met Erickson in Moscow in 2013, her lawyer has said. The two began a romance. Erickson, who is in his late fifties, had spent his adult life developing connections throughout the conservative movement. For a time, he was on the board of the American Conservative Union, which hosts the most prominent annual conference for conservatives. And he was particularly active in the gun rights space, developing close relationships with people at the upper echelons of the NRA. He also undertook a number of business endeavors—some ending with accusations of fraud—and even helped produce Dolph Lundgren’s anti-communist film Red Scorpion. Jack Abramoff, the disgraced ex-lobbyist who did time in prison for his illegal escapades during the Bush administration, was also involved in making the film.

Butina, meanwhile, came to the United States on a student visa in 2016 and studied at American University in Washington, D.C. Her effort to warm bilateral relations between the U.S. and Russia began with great success, as she charmed conservative power-brokers and questioned then-candidate Donald Trump about sanctions policy.

She and Erickson were open about their relationship, and wore a couple’s costume to one party: she as a Russian empress, he as Rasputin.

—with additional reporting by Spencer Ackerman
https://www.thedailybeast.com/nra-heavy ... aked-email



Reminder: As the NRA claims it had no official connection to a trip where NRA leaders met with Maria Butina in Moscow, it's awfully curious that Butina herself said she had a "signed cooperation agreement" with the NRA—two years before that trip


Maria Butina Claimed to Have a “Signed Cooperation Agreement” With the National Rifle Association

The confessed Russian agent told an Israeli audience in 2013 that she had a deal with the NRA.

Mike Spies, Uri Blau and Mark FollmanDecember 14, 2018 12:30 PM

Butina at a gun shop in Tel Aviv in October 2013Butina's VK page

Confessed Russian agent Maria Butina claimed more than five years ago that her gun rights group had entered into a “signed cooperation agreement” with the National Rifle Association, according to a contemporaneous account of a talk Butina gave to an Israeli organization.

Butina, who pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday for her role in a wide-ranging conspiracy to covertly influence American politics, founded the Right to Bear Arms in Moscow in 2010 with support from high-ranking Russian official Alexander Torshin. Prosecutors detailed how Butina used her profile as a gun rights advocate to build a relationship with NRA officials and other influential political figures in the run-up to the 2016 election.

In October 2013, Butina traveled to Israel to meet with members of a relatively obscure gun rights group called the Association for the Promotion of Weapons Culture. In a Facebook post after her presentation, the APWC wrote in Hebrew that Butina told them the Right to Bear Arms had “signed cooperation agreements with neighboring countries and with the American NRA,” adding, “We are probably next in line :)

Butina “was in a much better connection with NRA,” said a member of the Israeli gun group, “as they are a much stronger and richer organization than ours.”
The NRA would not confirm whether or not it had entered into a cooperation agreement with Butina’s group. “The NRA says it is not aware of any such agreement,” a spokesperson for the gun lobbying group said in an emailed statement.

Mother Jones and the Trace obtained the PowerPoint slides Butina used for the presentation, one of which explicitly cites cooperation agreements with similar groups in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Estonia—though it doesn’t mention the NRA or describe the agreements in any detail. “The organization places great emphasis on the exchange of experiences with organizations defending the rights of citizens to arms in other countries,” it states.


A slide from Butina’s October 2013 talk
Another slide touts “cooperation” with the Texas-based International Defensive Pistol Association, which organizes shooting competitions with simulated self-defense scenarios. Joyce Wilson, executive director of the group, says Butina is not a current member and that IDPA has no affiliation with the Right to Bear Arms.

Individuals who attended Butina’s lecture in Israel confirm she discussed her cooperation with the NRA and other gun rights groups, but none could specifically recall whether she cited a formal agreement with the NRA.

“She had a slide about cooperation with other groups,” said then-APWC committee member Yigal Yaroslavski. “But what is cooperation? We were also in cooperation with them, but for us it only meant we took a poster from them and changed the text so it’ll fit us. I think she was in a much better connection with NRA, as they are a much stronger and richer organization than ours.”

Lior Nadivi, another APWC official, hosted Butina for dinner during her visit. “I have no clue which agreement they signed with the NRA,” he said. “I just know that when she was here she said she is invited to their annual conference…But what was the content of their relationship? That I don’t know.”

An attorney for Butina, Robert Driscoll, declined to comment.


Butina giving a talk to a gun group in Israel in October 2013
Butina’s VK page
Butina was previously known to have mingled with NRA leadership both in the United States and in Moscow. She attended the NRA annual conference at least as far back as 2014, when she traveled to Indianapolis that April along with Torshin, who himself attended every NRA annual conference from 2011 to 2016. But a formal agreement with the NRA itself would represent a stronger link than previously known between the Russian operatives and the American gun lobbying group.

It would also be the earliest known link between the two. Butina’s first previously known contact with NRA officials occurred in Moscow in November 2013, roughly two weeks after the Israel speech, when NRA board member and past president David Keene attended the second annual meeting of the Right to Bear Arms. Longtime Keene associate Paul Erickson also attended that meeting, and became romantically involved with Butina. Prosecutors say Butina enlisted Erickson in her conspiracy, and he has reportedly been notified that he is the target of a federal investigation into foreign influence.
https://www.motherjones.com/politics/20 ... 13-israel/
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Thu Jan 31, 2019 10:48 pm


ABC: Emails and photos appear to contradict NRA claims distancing group from 2015 Russia trip



Washington (CNN) — Emails and photos showing that members of the National Rifle Association organized a trip to Moscow in 2015 appear to contradict claims made by the group to distance itself from the trip, ABC reported Wednesday.

The New York Times reported earlier this week that members of the organization -- including "high-profile donors, boosters and board members" -- visited the country on a trip that was arranged by Maria Butina, an alleged Russian spy who pleaded guilty last month to attempting to infiltrate GOP political circles and influence US relations with Russia before and after the 2016 presidential election.
The paper said that in addition to Butina, the trip was organized with the help of David Keene, a former NRA president with ties to the alleged spy. According to the Times, the NRA is attempting to distance itself from the trip after it became clear that Butina was involved with it. A person who answered the phone when CNN attempted to contact Keene directed questions to the NRA.

In a statement to CNN, a lawyer for the NRA said CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre encouraged people not to go on the trip when he became aware of its details. LaPierre prohibited staff members from attending the trip at the time and then-NRA President Allan Cors agreed not to go on the trip.

"When he became aware of the details of the trip, Wayne was personally opposed to it," said William A. Brewer III, partner at Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors and counsel for the NRA. "In order that the group was not viewed as representing the NRA, Wayne spoke with several people about the excursion. As a result, Mr. Cors agreed not to make the trip. In addition, NRA staff members who were in Israel (for a trip that preceded the visit to Russia) returned home."

However, ABC reported on Wednesday that emails sent by NRA officials and photos taken during the trip and reviewed by the outlet "appear to show the organization was significantly involved in planning it."

According to ABC, one email, shared with the outlet by an unnamed source, shows an NRA employee appearing "to help Butina make travel arrangements for a delegation" that included a litany of NRA officials, including Keene and future NRA president Pete Brownell.

Other emails suggest that the organization would cover trip expenses for two members of the trip and would provide official NRA "gifts" for the visitors to give to their hosts, according to the outlet.

A photo ABC said was posted to Facebook by "one of Butina's fellow gun-rights enthusiasts" reportedly shows the alleged Russian spy standing alongside members of the group and a red sign emblazoned with the NRA's logo and the words "Welcome to Russia comrads (sic)."

ABC also said that another Butina associate characterized the trip as "official" in a Facebook post about it.

"The delegation of the world's largest social organization for supporters of weapons, the National Rifle Association USA (The NRA) made an official visit to Moscow and met with supporters of the movement, Right to Arms," the post, translated from Russian, read, according to ABC.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz, Veronica Stracqualursi and Marshall Cohen contributed to this report.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/31/politics ... index.html
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Thu Feb 07, 2019 7:00 pm

NRA Chief Wayne LaPierre Targeted in Congressional Inquiry

Lawmakers demand documents after The Trace’s reporting shows NRA’s use of shell companies to support Trump, Senate campaigns.


NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre. [Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/Sipa/AP Images]

A joint congressional inquiry is demanding that National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre hand over internal documents showing whether the NRA made “illegal, excessive, and unreported in-kind donations” to the campaigns of Donald Trump and several GOP Senate candidates.

The probe, led by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, and Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, is based on a series of investigative reports published by The Trace laying out evidence that the NRA and its vendors used apparent shell companies to evade rules prohibiting coordination between outside groups and the campaigns they support.


Since 2014, the gun rights group has paid more than $60 million to a little known contractor for ads in must-win political races. Did it break campaign finance laws in the process?
by Mike Spies
“The evidence shows the NRA is moving money through a complex web of shell organizations to avoid campaign finance rules and boost candidates willing to carry their water,” Whitehouse told The Trace. “And if the NRA can weave such a web, so can Vladimir Putin and others trying to undermine our democracy. We need the truth about this scheme or else special interests like the gun lobby or foreign interests like Russia can flaunt the law and erode the integrity of our elections.”

Whitehouse and Raskin are demanding documents from LaPierre and five related vendors that have either worked for the NRA or for candidates it supported: OnMessage; Red Eagle Media; Starboard Strategic Inc.; American Media & Advocacy Group; and National Media Research, Planning, and Placement.

During the 2014 election cycle, the NRA began steering tens of million of campaign ad dollars through Starboard Strategic, a media strategy firm that appears to exist in name only and works exclusively for the gun group. Since then, the NRA has used Starboard to provide supposedly independent support for a half-dozen Republican senatorial campaigns that were using OnMessage as an ad vendor. The Trace’s reporting, co-published with Politico, demonstrated that Starboard and OnMessage seem to be functionally indistinguishable — they share the same officers and address, and there is no evidence that Starboard has any of its own employees.

Outside groups and campaigns can use common vendors, but the law prohibits their employees from sharing election-related information, like plans for television advertisements or messaging strategy. When that line is crossed, the outside group’s expenditures are no longer independent, and are instead considered direct contributions subject to limits of $5,000 per candidate. Typically, common vendors prevent illegal coordination by making employees sign a “firewall” policy agreeing to follow the law. Despite repeated requests, the NRA and the vendors named in this article have not provided any details about firewall agreements and how they were enforced.


The Trace also reported that the NRA’s ad blitz on behalf of Donald Trump in 2016 was orchestrated by employees of the same firm that the Trump campaign used, resulting in the same pool of strategists buying ads for both Trump and the NRA in the same markets at the same time — seemingly an obvious violation of coordination rules. Federal Communication Commission records show that the NRA spent millions of dollars placing ads through Red Eagle Media, which, according to corporate paperwork, is actually a fictitious business name for National Media Research, Planning and Placement. At the same time, Trump was placing ads through American Media & Advocacy Group (AMAG), a National Media affiliate. The records show that, on numerous occasions, National Media’s chief financial officer, Jon Ferrell, was signing off on placements for Trump as an AMAG employee and for the NRA as a Red Eagle employee.

Among other things, Whitehouse and Raskin are asking the firms and the NRA for details of their firewall policies, documents concerning contracts, and communications between the various named entities. The letters conclude by asking the recipients to retain any information “relevant to this inquiry.”

“When outside spenders coordinate their campaign buys, strategies and messages with political candidates, their expenditures become illegal campaign contributions,” Raskin told The Trace. “Senator Whitehouse and I are trying to determine whether there was a deliberate effort by the NRA and its agents to coordinate with the Trump campaign and other candidates. This matter goes to the integrity of the 2016 election and Congress deserves answers.”

The NRA, OnMessage, and National Media have until March 6 to respond and did not immediately respond to our requests for comment. The letters are below.
https://www.thetrace.org/2019/02/nra-co ... rdination/
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Mon Feb 18, 2019 4:49 pm

Lawmakers launch new probe into 'complex web' of alleged ties between NRA, Russians
https://abcnews.go.com/amp/Politics/law ... ssion=true
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Aug 02, 2019 6:57 am

Trio Of NRA Board Members Resign Amid ‘Shattered’ Confidence In Leadership
Josh Kovensky
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA, UNITED STATES - 2019/04/27: A photo of Chief Executive and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, chief lobbyist and principal political strategist for the Institute for Legislative Action Chris Cox and former NRA president Oliver North, is displayed on the Indiana Convention Center during the third day of the National Rifle Association convention. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
LightRocket via Getty Images
Three dissident board members of the National Rifle Association resigned on Thursday, saying that their confidence in the group’s leadership is “shattered.”

In a letter to NRA president Carolyn Meadows and secretary John Frazier, the three resigning members accused the nonprofit’s leadership of acting “counter to its mission, governing principles, policies, or the law.”

“Over the past several months, there have been numerous, highly-publicized allegations of impropriety leveled against the Association and certain members of its executive leadership team,” the resignation letter reads. “In exercising our oversight responsibilities as Board Members, we have sought information and requested certain actions be taken with respect to these allegations, only to be rebuffed at every turn.”

The letter goes on to say that after attempting to investigate allegations of wrongdoing, the resigning members were “stonewalled, accused of disloyalty, stripped of committee assignments and denied effective counsel necessary to properly discharge our responsibilities as Board members.”

An NRA spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.

The NRA has 76 members on its board, including Oliver North, the group’s former president who remains locked in a very public battle with executive vice president Wayne LaPierre.

The three departing board members are gun activist Timothy Knight, motivational speaker Sean Maloney, and NRA fundraiser Esther Schneider.

Last week, the three called for an independent investigation into scam allegations at the multi-million dollar nonprofit gun group. Soldier of Fortune magazine publisher Lt. Col. Robert K. Brown had also demanded an independent probe, but does not appear to have resigned.

The members who resigned had associated themselves with various groups that have been created over the past several months as the NRA appears to have shot itself in the foot through a coup attempt, top-level grifting allegations, and its acrimonious breakup with its longtime ad firm. The new groups aim to withhold funds from the NRA until it cleans itself up.

Read the letter here:
https://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker ... ers-resign
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Fri Sep 27, 2019 11:41 am

NRA Was 'Foreign Asset' To Russia Ahead of 2016, New Senate Report Reveals
Tim Mak
September 27, 201910:01 AM ET

National Rifle Association Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre speaks at the NRA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis in April.
Michael Conroy/AP
Updated at 11:06 a.m. ET

The National Rifle Association acted as a "foreign asset" for Russia in the period leading up to the 2016 election, according to a new investigation unveiled Friday by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Drawing on contemporaneous emails and private interviews, an 18-month probe by the Senate Finance Committee's Democratic staff found that the NRA underwrote political access for Russian nationals Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin more than previously known — even though the two had declared their ties to the Kremlin.

The report, available here, also describes how closely the gun rights group was involved with organizing a 2015 visit by some of its leaders to Moscow.

Then-NRA vice president Pete Brownell, who would later become NRA president, was enticed to visit Russia with the promise of personal business opportunities — and the NRA covered a portion of the trip's costs.

The conclusions of the Senate investigation could have legal implications for the NRA, Wyden says.

Tax-exempt organizations are barred from using funds for the personal benefit of its officials or for actions significantly outside their stated missions. The revelations in the Senate report raise questions about whether the NRA could face civil penalties or lose its tax-exempt status.

Attorneys general in the state of New York and the District of Columbia are also conducting separate probes into alleged wrongdoing at the gun rights organization. These probes have a broader scope than the Senate report, which focuses on Russia.

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Majority response: This is overblown

The Republican majority on the Senate Finance Committee, which was consulted periodically throughout the Democrats' investigation, said on Friday the report was overblown.

In the Republicans' analysis of Wyden's report, the majority argued that it does not account for U.S.-Russia relations at the time and contains "much conclusory innuendo... and repeatedly attempts to paint a picture that does not exist."

The Republicans also argued that if the NRA committed any infractions they would be small and do not put the NRA's tax-exempt status at risk.

"To the extent NRA funds were used improperly in any facts discussed in the [Democratic report led by Wyden], it appears to have been minor, hardly a rounding error for an organization with hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year and nothing that cannot be corrected with minor intermediate sanctions," the Republican analysis states.

Kremlin links were clear

Wyden's 77-page report centers on Butina — a convicted Russian agent now in federal prison — and Torshin, a former Russian government official who has been sanctioned by the United States.

The report indicates that top NRA officials were aware of Butina's and Torshin's links with the Kremlin even as they sought to work more closely together under the banner of gun rights.

In an email later circulated to two senior NRA staff members, Butina wrote that a purpose of the 2015 Moscow trip was that "many powerful figures in the Kremlin are counting on Torshin to prove his American connections" by showing he could bring prominent NRA officials to Russia.

At another point, Butina suggested to participants on the 2015 NRA trip to Russia that she might be able to set up a meeting between them and President Vladimir Putin, referring to him as "Russia's highest leader."

NRA facilitated political access

Despite these declarations about their ties to the Russian government, NRA officials paid for and facilitated Torshin and Butina's introduction into American political organizations.

Butina and Torshin received access to Republican Party officials at NRA events.

It was a explicit interest expressed by Butina: In one 2015 email to an NRA employee, Butina wrote, "is there a list of U.S. governors or members of Congress that might be present at some time during the [NRA] annual meeting?"

The employee responded with a list.

The NRA also helped them forge connections with other groups such as the Council for National Policy, the National Prayer Breakfast, the National Sporting Goods Wholesalers Association and Safari Club International.

"NRA resources appear to have been used to pay for membership and registration fees to third party events for [Torshin and Butina] as well as to arrange for transit to and lodging for many of those events throughout 2015 and 2016," the report states.

Report contradicts NRA denials

The Senate report notes that in 2018, then-NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch repeatedly denied that the group leaders' 2015 trip to Moscow was sanctioned by the gun rights group.

But in a letter obtained by the committee, then-NRA President Alan Cors wrote to Torshin on NRA letterhead after consulting with NRA staff and former NRA President David Keene.

Cors designated two NRA figures to lead the trip: "Dave Keene and [top NRA donor] Joe Gregory will represent the NRA and our five million members better than anyone else," he wrote.

During the course of the investigation, Brownell's lawyer also told the committee that Brownell believed the trip to be an official NRA event.

This view is further strengthened by the committee's evidence that NRA staff prepared itineraries, gathered briefing materials, applied for tourist visas, paid for some of the travel expenses, and provided the delegation with NRA gifts to give to Russian officials.

The Senate investigation also found evidence that the NRA tried to hide various payments related to the trip.

Brownell covered approximately $21,000 in expenses related to the trip; in June 2016, the NRA reimbursed Brownell just over $21,000.

After questions were raised about the trip in 2018, Brownell paid the NRA $17,000 — a transaction that Brownell's lawyer told the committee was requested by the NRA as a way of "getting the trip off the NRA's books."

NRA leaders sought business opportunities

The Senate investigation concludes that a number of NRA figures on the 2015 trip traveled to Russia "primarily or solely for the purpose of advancing personal business interests, rather than advancing the NRA's tax-exempt purpose."

Brownell, then a vice president of the NRA, is the CEO of a major firearms supplier bearing his last name.

In an email to a staffer at his business, Brownell described his trip as "an opportunity to be hosted in Russia to broaden our business opportunities ... to introduce our company to the governing individuals throughout Russia."

"The NRA directly facilitated Brownell's effort to travel to Moscow early to explore business opportunities with Russian weapons manufacturers," the report concludes.

Another member of the trip, NRA donor and then-Outdoor Channel CEO Jim Liberatore, told the Senate committee through his lawyer that his participation in the 2015 Moscow trip was "purely commercial."

Wyden seeks IRS probe

Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said at the conclusion of his investigation that his staff had revealed information that shows that the National Rifle Association may have abused its tax-exempt status.

The next step, he says, is for the IRS to launch its own inquiry.

"The totality of evidence uncovered during my investigation, as well as the mounting evidence of rampant self-dealing, indicate the NRA may have violated tax laws," Wyden said. "The IRS needs to examine these findings and investigate other publicly reported incidents of potential lawbreaking."
https://www.npr.org/2019/09/27/76487924 ... rt-reveals



Moscow visit: 7/4/18 Daines (Mont.), Hoeven (N.D.) Johnson (Wis.), Kennedy (La.) Moran (Kan.), Thune (S.D.) Granger (Tex.), Shelby (Ala.)


Ron Wyden

NEWS: For more than a year my @SenateFinance staff has been investigating the NRA’s relationship with foreign agent Maria Butina and Russian government official Alexander Torshin and their role in the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.

Here’s what they found.

7:11 AM - 27 Sep 2019


The NRA lied about the December 2015 Moscow trip not being an official trip.

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NRA leaders were told the trip was needed to prove Torshin’s American connections to the Kremlin, and that building relationships with Russians was “NRA business.”

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While in Moscow, the NRA delegation met with a host of senior level Kremlin officials, including some of Putin’s closest advisors (at least two of whom had been sanctioned by the U.S. government), and multiple Russian oligarchs close to Putin.


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The now-convicted Russian agent Maria Butina made clear to the NRA she wanted to bring the “head of the most powerful political organization in America” to Russia.


The incoming NRA president only agreed to participate in the trip after he was offered the opportunity to explore lucrative business deals with Russian weapons manufacturers, on the condition that he bring the NRA to Russia.


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He was even offered a meeting with Vladimir Putin.

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After returning from Moscow, the NRA gave the Russians free rein over the guest list for its 2016 Annual Meeting. It also provided access to other political organizations in 2015 and 2016 like the National Prayer Breakfast and the secretive right-wing Council for National Policy.


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NRA officers’ apparent use of the NRA for personal gain fits a larger pattern of reported self-dealing and raises serious questions about whether the NRA broke U.S. tax laws.


Read more about our investigation and its extensive findings:
https://www.finance.senate.gov/download ... eign-asset
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Re: The NRA The Russia Connection

Postby seemslikeadream » Thu Oct 03, 2019 9:43 am

How the NRA Sold Out America
A new report details the limits of the gun lobby's patriotism when there's Russian moolah on the line.

Casey MichelOctober 2, 2019
Last Friday, the Senate Finance Committee dropped what would have been—in any other timeline—a bombshell that might have dominated headlines and talking heads for days: A 77-page report, issued by Senator Ron Wyden, detailing the means and machinations with which a number of Russian figures cozied up to the National Rifle Association (NRA) since 2014. The top-line findings are there in the title of the report: “The NRA and Russia: How a Tax-Exempt Organization Became a Foreign Asset.”

The report is the most detailed examination to date of one of the primary aspects of Russia’s broader 2016 interference and influence efforts. Text messages and timelines, meeting rosters and discreet communiques, feasts and fêtes and flights back and forth from Moscow: Everything you ever wanted to know about how the NRA became an all-too-willing prong of the Kremlin’s 2016 schemes is there, in garish, unsparing detail. This volume reveals how cheap the NRA’s claims to patriotism, to American pride, to security for person and nation alike really are. The NRA sold out its legacy for a quick, craven buck—in a way that eerily paralleled the Trump campaign’s own interactions with Russia in 2016.

Many of the details of the Russians’ operations in the compendium have been reported elsewhere, including the key players who greased the skids. Alexander Torshin—a former Russian Central Bank official, now sanctioned by the U.S. government—makes an obligatory appearance in the report, wining and dining former NRA presidents David Keene and Pete Brownell. Maria Butina—now a convicted foreign agent, awaiting a deportation back to Russia once her prison sentence ends this month—joins the mise-en-scène as well, sidling up to the NRA’s brass to convince them that she was simply an innocent young woman, interested solely in the kinds of arms peddled by the NRA and its backers, and maybe in re-building bridges between Moscow and Washington along the way. The Torshin-Butina tandem used their NRA connections to launch themselves to meetings with GOP officials, interactions with Donald Trump’s family, and events where they could lob questions at then-candidate Trump himself.

But the report fills in one of the largest gaps remaining within the entire, sordid saga: Why did the NRA leadership play along so willingly? Why did they lap up Butina’s and Torshin’s spin, their profession of mutual interests in Glocks and Kalashnikovs and AR-15s, so readily? Why were they so cheerfully duped?

Who needs patriotism when you can have profits?
The answer is money. Specifically, the kind of gob-smacking lucre the NRA thought they could make in building up an arms market in Russia. It didn’t matter who their partners were, nor did it concern the organization that they would be yukking it up with Russian officials specifically sanctioned by Washington—that is, men specifically cited by the U.S. government for their role in upending the post-Cold War order. Those who the NRA palled around with were the authors of invasion, war, and thousands of deaths in Ukraine, and those chiefly responsible for expanding the kleptocratic networks which have consistently undermined American interests. Who needs patriotism when you can have profits?

Brownell, as the report lays out, is a perfect case study in just how easily the NRA leadership could be bought off by those aiming to corrode American power—and how shallow the NRA’s supposed patriotism truly was. As Butina and Torshin worked to put together the NRA’s infamous December 2015 trip to Moscow, Brownell was an obvious name to add to the itinerary. Brownell, however, had one stipulation. As the report notes, “Brownell made clear that he would not have participated in the trip but for the opportunity to advance his personal business interests.” Brownell didn’t even bother to cloak his efforts; as he phrased it in one of the emails attached, “I am not interested in attending if just an [NRA] trip,” adding later that he wouldn’t make the trip if there was no “import or export opportunity” in it for him.


Must-reads.
5 days a week.

Butina was all too eager to play up this line for her marks. Meetings with Russian arms manufacturers—and sanctioned Russian officials—soon followed. With promises of riches flowing, Brownell and his colleagues were steered directly into the arms of an operation whose real aim was to create a backchannel to the GOP, and eventually lift the sanctions that had been placed on the folks hobnobbing with NRA leadership.

The benefits of these arrangements didn’t just flow to those with official positions in the NRA. As the report outlines, some of the mega-donors bankrolling the NRA wanted in on the action, as well. Joe Gregory—a burly Tennessee multi-millionaire who served as the face of the NRA’s ultra-elite “Ring of Freedom” donor program—decided that the NRA’s 2015 trip to Moscow would be the perfect occasion to make his first trip to Russia, and to schmooze with those sanctioned by the U.S. An appreciative Gregory returned the favor in 2016 by bringing Butina to the 2016 National Prayer Breakfast, where she mingled with the upper crust of America’s Christian conservative community. Butina’s preferred method of transportation to the National Prayer Breakfast, according to the report? Gregory’s private plane.

It’s difficult to overstate just how blinded Brownell, Keene and their colleagues were when it came to Butina’s and Torshin’s real designs. All they had to do was, say, visit Butina’s YouTube page, where they would have seen—and where you can still watch—Butina exhort an audience to back the Russian-supported separatists tearing apart eastern Ukraine. Minimal vetting of Butina’s social media presence would have revealed her boasting of visiting Crimea in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s illegal annexation, calling to arm separatists, and, as Mother Jones reported, “pledging support to a leader of a militia group that violently seized a Crimean news outlet it deemed ‘pro-American.’” Had they wanted to, they could have dropped the FBI a line to see if they had any information on Torshin—and they likely would have received details of Torshin’s alleged central role in a Russian organized crime ring in Spain, where one of the gangsters referred to Torshin as “the godfather.”

Lulled by the promise of fresh boodle, they were instead gulled by the Butina-Torshin duo. As Keene’s wife wrote in one of the emails contained in last week’s report, “David and I consider Maria and Alexander dear friends, so we will remain in touch. What have I missed?”

That the NRA has turned out to be only as patriotic as their bank accounts allow is a hallmark of the Trump era.
The answer to that question seems to be “any semblance of ethical bearings.” Nevertheless, that the NRA has turned out to be only as patriotic as their bank accounts allow is a hallmark of the Trump era. The same greed-driven calculus has seeped into every cranny of a Trump administration that prefers to mine illicit connections for personal profit rather than do what’s best for the U.S. The entire Giuliani-Ukraine affair is only the latest example of a White House apparatchik who’s willing to sell out his country’s interests for an electoral advantage necessary to sustain the grift.

That these arrangements presented a mile-wide opening for Russian actors to upend the 2016 election is not surprising. It’s why Trump and his campaign were more than willing to hear out prospective offers on a Trump Tower in Moscow, delivered alongside dirt on Hillary Clinton. It’s why a number of far-right Christian fundamentalist organizations continue to snuggle up to sanctioned Russian oligarchs and their minions. And it’s why former national security adviser Michael Flynn, one of the first members Trump appointed to his Cabinet, decided to attend a 2015 gala for the Russian propaganda arm RT, pocketing tens of thousands of dollars along the way—and touching down in Moscow at the same time as a greedy cohort from the NRA. With open arms and open checkbooks, all of these malefactors were welcomed. Now, they’ve been thrillingly exposed as well.
https://newrepublic.com/article/155224/nra-sold-america
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