Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday that the Russian government apparently used the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.
Documents suggest the Kremlin used the NRA to offer the campaign a back channel to Moscow—including a potential meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin—and might have secretly funded Trump’s campaign, the committee said. One of the Russians named in the report even bragged she was part of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia, The Daily Beast reported last year.
The NRA spent a record $30 million on Trump and the FBI is reportedly investigating whether any of the money came from Russia. U.S. law prohibits foreign money to be spent on elections.
Two Russian nationals figure prominently in the alleged scheme: Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Kremlin’s central bank, and his then-deputy Maria Butina.
Torshin met Donald Trump Jr. at the NRA’s 2016 convention in Kentucky and hosted an NRA delegation in Moscow in 2015. Torshin was previously accused by Spanish investigators of laundering money for Russian mobsters, an allegation he denied. (Last month he was sanctioned by the U.S.)
Butina founded a pro-gun group in Russia before coming to the United States in 2015 when she immediately began ingratiating herself in conservative circles. Butina started a business with NRA member and GOP activist Paul Erickson.
In May 2016, the same month Torshin met Trump Jr. at the NRA convention, Erickson emailed a Trump advisor about setting up a meeting between the candidate and Putin.
“Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump,” he wrote, according to the New York Times. “He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election.”
The Democrats’ report was released on the same day the Senate intelligence committee broke with Republicans on the House intelligence committee and said Russia clearly favored Trump in the 2016 election.
Editor’s Note, 12/11/18: This story has been updated to clarify it was a report released by Democrats on the committee.