It seems like a story concocted by a left-wing conspiracy theorist, but the FBI and congressional intelligence committees reportedly are investigating whether Russian interests with ties to President Vladimir Putin and organized crime used the National Rifle Association to funnel money into the 2016 U.S. elections.
It is illegal to use foreign-supplied money to influence U.S. elections. That the NRA, which loves to wrap itself in the flag, might have been used to subvert U.S. law adds an entirely new dimension to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian involvement with President Donald Trump’s election.
McClatchy newspapers’ Washington bureau reported Thursday that the investigation focuses on Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank and a leading figure in Putin’s United Russia Party. Spanish authorities have tied Torshin to a money laundering scheme organized by a Russian criminal gang.
Since about 2013, Torshin has been active in the NRA, where he enjoys special ties with David Keene, a board member and former president. Torshin hosted Keene and other NRA heavy-hitters at a series of dinners and events in Moscow in 2015. He helped set up a Moscow group called Right to Bear Arms, though gun rights are limited in Russia.
In 2016, McClatchy and other news outlets have reported, Torshin unsuccessfully tried get close to Trump. In May 2016, shortly before the NRA’s convention in Louisville, conservative activist and NRA fundraiser Paul Erickson sent an email to Trump campaign aide Rick Dearborn. The subject line was “Kremlin Connection.” It said Russia planned to use the NRA convention to make “first contact” with the Trump camp.
Torshin got as close as dinner table conversation with Donald Trump Jr. but failed in his efforts to sit down with the candidate or to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin. Mueller’s investigators now want to know if Torshin then turned to his friends at the NRA for help in passing secret money to Trump.
The Supreme Court’s misguided Citizens United decision in 2010 led to the creation of hundreds of “dark money” committees that don’t have to disclose donors’ names. The NRA has one, the Institute for Legislative Action, that spent $33.3 million on conservative candidates and causes in 2016. The total far outstripped the $19.2 million spent by the NRA’s disclosed-donor political action committee. The Trump campaign got about $30 million from NRA committees, considerably more than the $12.5 million Mitt Romney received in 2012.
Did some of that money have its origins in Russia? The NRA has not commented, and given the opacity of campaign finance laws, it might not even know. But the FBI has ways to access secret donors’ names. The NRA, if it’s as patriotic as it claims, should cooperate fully. A failure to do so would speak volumes.
This editorial was written by the staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.