Senate must investigate: Did the NRA help Russia meddle in our elections?
It is enough to make your head spin, but it also makes a twisted kind of sense: Some of America’s most dangerous right-wing extremists may have broken the law to help the Russian government illegally tilt the 2016 presidential election for Donald Trump.
Russian agent Maria Butina has been charged and arrested for trying to influence American politics.1 One of the allegations against her is that she "arranged introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics, including an organization promoting gun rights, for the purpose of advancing the agenda of the Russian Federation." That organization is the NRA, and Butina's connections to the pro-gun lobby go back years.
With each new Trump-Russia bombshell, the need for thorough investigation, both by Robert Mueller and Congress, grows. Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have already been investigating whether the NRA helped connect Russian officials to Trump’s campaign.2 Now the entire committee must engage. But the NRA’s stranglehold on Congress means it will take massive pressure for Senate Republicans to do the right thing.
Tell the Senate Judiciary Committee: Investigate whether the NRA helped Russia influence our elections. Click here to sign the petition.
In January, news broke that the FBI was investigating whether the NRA helped launder Russian money to support Trump’s election.3 In April, the Treasury Department sanctioned Butina's alleged boss, Aleksandr Torshin, an NRA member and official with Russia's central bank.4 But according to media reports, the NRA has cultivated deep relationships with influential Russians for years. And Torshin, with Butina at his side, has been at the top of the list:
- In 2011, Torshin befriended then NRA President David Keene. That same year, Torshin and Butina founded a Russian gun rights group that hosted 2013 and 2015 trips to Russia for high level NRA officials and Republican Party operatives.5
- High-profile Russians have been given high-level access at NRA meetings.6
- Leading up to the 2016 NRA convention, on Torshin's behalf, Paul Erickson, a conservative activist and NRA member who was part of one of Butina's NRA-Russia trips, tried to use the NRA convention as “first contact” to broker a connection between Russia and the Trump campaign.7 Torshin sat with Donald Trump Jr. at a convention-related dinner.8
Since Putin came back to power in 2012, Russia has increasingly pursued a goal of destabilizing the United States. Part of their strategy has been aligning with extreme groups within the American right wing to deepen existing cultural and political divisions.9 With the NRA, Russia has a perfect partner. The NRA is extremely divisive and has leverage over corrupt and craven members of Congress. The NRA divides us not only by blocking any efforts to keep communities safe from gun violence, but also by supercharging its long history of racism with reactionary, xenophobic and violent rhetoric that could help further radicalize white domestic terrorists.10
The NRA’s extremism combined with Russia’s desires to destabilize our democracy is a dangerous combination that the Senate Judiciary Committee must take seriously with a thorough investigation.
Tell the Senate Judiciary Committee: Investigate whether the NRA helped Russia influence our elections.
The NRA spent at least $55 million during the 2016 elections, including at least $30 million directly focused on electing Trump.11 When the Supreme Court opened the door for unlimited corporate dark money spending on elections with its Citizens United decision, the court’s right-wing majority alleged that the spending would be accompanied by disclosure.12 Nothing could be further from the truth.
The NRA has become a hub for dark money donations that are made to organizations that are not required to disclose their donors. A Karl Rove–aligned SuperPAC and a Koch brothers non-profit are among the groups that have given money to the NRA to advance Republicans’ extreme right-wing agenda.13 The influence of dark money is bad enough, but there have already been signs that the dark money loopholes will be used to illegally funnel foreign money into our elections.14 It is illegal for a campaign to solicit or receive anything of value from a foreign national. If the NRA helped Russia funnel money into the 2016 elections, it laundered money to help the Trump campaign – and potentially others in the Republican Party – break the law for electoral gain.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has a responsibility to make sure it deepens its investigation to find out what really happened – and ensure it does not happen again. We need to show the Republicans on the committee that defending our democracy is more important than their allegiance to the NRA and make sure the Democrats on the committee know we will have their backs if they use their power to dig in.
Can you add your name today to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate whether the NRA helped Russia influence our elections?
Thanks for everything you do,
- Matt Apuzzo, Katie Benner and Sharon LaFraniere, "Mariia Butina, Who Sought ‘Back Channel’ Meeting for Trump and Putin, Is Charged as Russian Agent," The New York Times, July 16, 2018.
- Peter Stone and Greg Gordon, "FBI investigating whether Russian money went to NRA to help Trump," McClatchy DC Bureau, Jan. 18, 2018.
- Christine Maza, "NRA's role in connecting Trump campaign with Russians is under investigation," Newsweek, Nov. 29, 2017.
- Tim Dickinson, "A Key Russian Figure with Connections to Trump and the NRA Faces Sanctions," Rolling Stone, April 6, 2018.
- Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, "Everything You Need to Know About Maria Butina, Purported Lifetime NRA Member and Russian National Charged With Conspiracy to Act as a Foreign Agent," July 17, 2018.
- Josh Israel, "Why has the NRA been cozying up to Russia?" ThinkProgress, Nov. 23, 2017.
- Nicholas Fandos, "Operative Offered Trump Campaign ‘Kremlin Connection’ Using N.R.A. Ties," The New York Times, Dec. 3, 2017.
- Casey Michel, "The Kremlin’s California Dream," Slate, May 4, 2017.
- Graham Lanktree, "New NRA video fuels American extremists, says former CIA analyst," Newsweek, June 30, 2017.
- Stone and Gordon, "FBI investigating whether Russian money went to NRA to help Trump."
- Liz Kennedy and Alex Tausanovitch, "Secret and Foreign Spending in U.S. Elections: Why America Needs the DISCLOSE Act," Center for American Progress, July 17, 2017.
- Tim Dickinson, "The Trump-Russia-NRA Connection: Here’s What You Need to Know," Rolling Stone, Jan. 18, 2018.
- Kennedy and Tausanovitch, "Secret and Foreign Spending in U.S. Elections: Why America Needs the DISCLOSE Act."
photos: Getty Images: Trump: Mandel Ngan, Putin: Mikhail Svetlov