Jan 19

The Russian Connection: From Russia With Love To The NRA

Early on in a story by McClatchy reporters, Peter Stone and Greg Gordon, it was revealed that the FBI was investigating whether Russian money went to the National Rifle Association to help the Trump campaign,

The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy.

FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said.

It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal election

It’s unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s campaign, has been heating up.

Disclosure of the Torshin investigation signals a new dimension in the 18-month-old FBI probe of Russia’s interference. McClatchy reported a year ago that a multi-agency U.S. law enforcement and counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s intervention, begun even before the start of the 2016 general election campaign, initially included a focus on whether the Kremlin secretly helped fund efforts to boost Trump, but little has been said about that possibility in recent months.

The extent to which the FBI has evidence of money flowing from Torshin to the NRA, or of the NRA’s participation in the transfer of funds, could not be learned.

However, the NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Trump – triple what the group devoted to backing Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race. Most of that was money was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors

Two people with close connections to the powerful gun lobby said its total election spending actually approached or exceeded $70 million. The reporting gap could be explained by the fact that independent groups are not required to reveal how much they spend on Internet ads or field operations, including get-out-the-vote efforts. [..]

Torshin, a leading figure in Putin’s party, has been implicated in money laundering by judicial authorities in Spain, as Bloomberg News first revealed in 2016. Spanish investigators alleged in an almost 500-page internal report that Torshin, who was then a senator, capitalized on his government role to assist mobsters laundering funds through Spanish properties and banks, Bloomberg reported

A summary obtained by McClatchy of the still-secret report links Torshin to Russian money laundering and describes him as a godfather in a major Russian criminal organization called Taganskaya.

Investigators for three congressional committees probing Russia’s 2016 operations also have shown interest in Torshin, a lifetime NRA member who has attended several of its annual conventions. At the group’s meeting in Kentucky in May 2016, Torshin spoke to Donald Trump Jr. during a gala event at the group’s national gathering in Kentucky in May 2016, when his father won an earlier-than-usual NRA presidential endorsement.

Torshin is among a phalanx of Putin proxies to draw the close attention of U.S. investigators, who also have tracked the activities of several Russian billionaires and pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs that have come in contact with Trump or his surrogates.

Torshin was a senior member of the Russian Senate and in recent years helped set up a Moscow gun rights group called Right to Bear Arms. He not only spoke with Trump Jr. at the NRA convention, but he also tried unsuccessfully to broker a meeting between Putin and the presidential candidate in 2016, according to the Times. He further sought to meet privately with the candidate himself near the 2016 NRA convention. [..]

Torshin’s ties with the NRA have flourished in recent years. In late 2015, he hosted two dinners for a high-level NRA delegation during its week-long visit to Moscow that included meetings with influential Russian government and business figures.

 

The whole article is an indictment of NRA officials and the Trump campaign. Then later the same day the House Intelligence Committee released its transcripts of Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson’s testimony revealing that the company, too, has been looking into the Torshin and NRA ties..

It was the second release of Congressional testimony by Simpson, and it contained no Earth-shattering revelations, but Simpson went into much greater detail with the House committee than he did with the Senate Judiciary Committee about his research into Trump’s alleged business dealings with Russians and organized crime figures, in passages that at times read like a work of pulp fiction.

Simpson also asserted that the Russian government had “infiltrated “ the National Rifle Association, which spent more than $400 million in the 2016 election, according to public records. The NRA supports mainly Republicans.

“It appears the Russians, you know, infiltrated the NRA, and there is more than one explanation for why,” he said in the testimony. “But I would say broadly speaking, it appears that the Russian operation was designed to infiltrate conservative organizations. 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. And so there is a Russian banker-slash-Duma member-slash-Mafia leader named Alexander Torshin who is a life member of the NRA. And we spent a lot of time investigating Mr. Torshin. And he is well known to Spanish law enforcement for money laundering activity…”

NBC News has previously reported that Torshin sought a meeting with Trump, and ended up at an an NRA dinner with Donald Trump Jr.

Simpson also mentioned a Russian NRA member named Maria Butina, who he says “started hanging around the Trump transition after the election.”

“The most absurd [thing] about this is that, you know, Vladimir Putin is not in favor of universal gun ownership for Russians,” said Simpson. “And so it’s all a big charade, basically.”

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow unravels some of Simpson’s testimony and in her second segment speaks with McClatchy reporter Greg Gordon on the FBI investigation into Russian money being funneled to the Trump campaign.