Thursday, February 21, 2019

Democratic lawmakers launch probe into whether NRA helped Russia funnel money to Republicans

The usually pugnacious National Rifle Association has grown rather quiet over the past year regarding its links to Russia, and two Democratic lawmakers want to know why.

Top NRA members made a trip to Moscow in 2015 that the organization has since tried to distance itself from, with its outside counsel saying CEO Wayne LaPierre (pictured below) was "personally opposed" to the trip. But as ABC News notes, internal emails and social media posts viewed by the news outlet suggest the NRA not only supported the trip but helped organize it too.

“We are disturbed by the lack of transparency the NRA has demonstrated surrounding the December 2015 trip to Moscow,” Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu of California and Kathleen Rice of New York write in a letter obtained by ABC News. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The two Democratic lawmakers are launching an investigation into the “complex web of relationships” between the NRA and Moscow, and at base, they want to know whether the NRA served as a vehicle for the Kremlin to illegally exert influence over U.S. elections.

“How much money did the NRA receive from Russia or Russia-linked individuals or entities during the 2016 election cycle?” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “Did the NRA use any of that money in their 2016 election campaign contributions?” The NRA lavished a record amount of money on the 2016 elections—more than $50 million in total, with $30 million going to Donald Trump, and most of the remainder being used to shore up GOP Senate candidates in tight re-election bids.

Lieu and Rice are asking the NRA to turn over records of any communications, meetings, or financial transactions between NRA officials and individuals linked to Russia. The 2015 Moscow trip was spearheaded by alleged Russian spy Maria Butina, who sought to infiltrate the NRA and has pleaded guilty to conspiring against the U.S.

The NRA delegation met with an entourage of well-connected Russians, including Butina's boss, Alexander Torshin, who was serving as deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank at the time and has since gone into the shadows; Russia’s then-Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin; and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Sounds swanky.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon has already launched a similar probe into the mysterious Moscow trip and has called it "not credible" for NRA officials to claim they didn't take part in the planning. But the investigation led by Reps. Lieu and Rice, of the House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, respectively, will be invested with the power of the subpoena.

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