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 ... 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. ... 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. ... 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. ... 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 ... ssion=true
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