In February, McClatchy reported that the FBI was investigating whether an individual with ties to Vladimir Putin, Alexander Torshin, had funneled money to the NRA for political purposes, a move which if true would violate federal law. Following that report, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent letters to both the Treasury Department and the NRA containing specific questions regarding the matter. One of Wyden’s demands was that the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network hand over documents related to Torshin and the NRA. (Click here to read Treasury Letter and February NRA Letter.)
Apparently Wyden, a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wasn’t too impressed with the response from the gun lobby group, because yesterday the senator sent a follow-up letter to the NRA’s chief lawyer, John Frazer, asking for further clarification. Wyden bluntly challenged the organization to “categorically state your organizations have never, wittingly or unwittingly received any contributions from individuals or entities acting as conduits for foreign entities or interests.” Frazer responded to Wyden’s February letter with the typical boilerplate stating, “As a longstanding policy to comply with federal election law, the NRA and its related entities do not accept funds from foreign persons or entities in connection with the United States elections.” Wyden honed in on a portion of Frazer’s letter which said, “significant contributions from unknown entities are vetted to ensure the legitimacy of donors.” Wyden responded by asking what vetting procedures were used for such donations. What’s important to note is that Frazer didn’t directly deny that the NRA received any money from Russia.
The Russia investigation produces more characters than War and Peace. Like many figures in the inquiry, Alexander Torshin seems to be here there and everywhere. Torshin had a shady record even before he popped up in connection with the NRA. As was mentioned, Torshin is a close ally of Putin. He’s been implicated in a money laundering scheme by Spanish judicial authorities. In a 500 page report, Spanish authorities outlined how Torshin, who was once a senator and is now the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, used his position in government to assist organized crime figures in laundering money through properties and banks in Spain.
Torshin has been methodically cultivating ties to the NRA for the past 6 years. He claims it was those connections that allowed him to be a foreign election observer in the 2012 U.S. presidential race. Torshin is also a paid lifetime member of the NRA and led a delegation of senior NRA leaders to Russia in 2015.
As for Trump, Torshin has mentioned on Twitter that he knows him and has a connection with him through the NRA at their 2015 convention. But in 2017, the White House denied that Trump and Torshin had ever met. And when comedian Larry David accused Trump of being a racist, Torshin defended him on Twitter. Torshin did meet with Donald Trump, Jr. at the NRA’s 2016 convention.
Interestingly Torshin has been keeping a low profile in the last few months. For example, last February he was part of the Russian delegation to the National Prayer Breakfast. This year he didn’t attend.
No one knows the extent of the FBI’s evidence regarding Russia and the NRA, but it makes sense that the Russians would seek to use the powerful gun lobby group as a tool. Part of Russian interference in the 2016 election involved sowing discord around controversial issues such as guns in order to create further political divisions.
What is also interesting is that The NRA reported that they spent almost $55 million on the 2016 election, including $30 million to Trump. That’s triple what they gave Romney in 2012. Most of the money was spent by an arm of the NRA which isn’t required to disclose donors. There are some close to the organization who say the actual spending was closer to $70 million.
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said recently, "The National Rifle Association has not been contacted by the FBI or any other investigative body." The group also denies any wrongdoing and says the FBI investigation is about Torshin, not them. But Democrats on Capitol Hill may beg to differ. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent letters to two NRA officials back in January asking about their contacts to Torshin. It’s not clear whether she received a response. "Whether there was an effort by Russia to create a backchannel or assist the Trump campaign through the NRA is a question the (Intelligence) Committee has endeavored to answer," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) in an NPR interview. "Much work remains to be done concerning that thread of our investigation, although it is not at all clear that the Majority will permit the Committee to do so."
In other words, stay tuned!
Read how money laundering is dirtying our political system: NRA, Russia and Trump: How 'dark money' is poisoning American democracy
posted by Amy Levengood