McClatchy reports today that the FBI is investigating whether the National Rifle Association received money from the Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign. The NRA, of course, backed Donald Trump heavily. I’m going to work through the article in some detail, because it’s hard to get at the bottom line.
The news is that there is an investigation into Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is closely connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The sources did not say whether there was evidence that the NRA received Russian money.
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.
In late 2015, [Torshin] 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 article details connections between Maria Butina, who is connected to Torshin and has set up a pro-gun group in the US, and an NRA lawyer. Torshin is also a friend of Dana Rohrabacher, the California congressman who loves Russia.
It’s an FBI counterintelligence investigation, but it seems to be coordinated with the Mueller investigation. These paragraphs reference both. They seem to be separate, but likely coordinated.
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 elections.
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.
The article goes on to detail NRA spending on the election, perhaps more than was reported. Organizations like NRA don’t have to file the detailed reports that campaigns do. It also provides more information about Torshin, who has been accused of money laundering in Spain and of ties to Russian organized crime.
“Two people with close connections to” the NRA are sources for the article. Neither the NRA, the FBI, nor the Mueller investigation were willing to comment.
Here’s more about a 2015 meeting between NRA officials and Russians, referenced in the McClatchy article.
It’s hard to keep track of all the connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. The structure of news articles and the desire of media to provide background make it hard to know what is really news in any given article. It’s necessary to pick an article apart, sentence by sentence, to figure out what is actually being said and who is saying it.
Let’s step back. The sheer number of Russian connections or attempts to connect with the Trump campaign is unprecedented. This NRA connection (whether or not it includes money), Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, the June 9, 2016, meeting, and more, particularly if we count Donald Trump’s trips to Russia and his Russian-related connections like Felix Sater and his investments in Azerbaijan.
If other candidates had this number of connections, we haven’t heard about them, and it’s hard to believe that Hillary Clinton, in particular, could keep them secret. How about Marco Rubio? Ted Cruz? Rand Paul?
Robert Mueller has a lot more information than we do and is working on more. Toward the end of the 1990s, we had one wall covered with paper on which we were working out the structure of the Soviet nuclear complex. I imagine Mueller has a wall like that. Maybe more than one.
Cross-posted to Balloon Juice.