The FBI is reportedly investigating if Russian money was funneled to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump during the 2016 election, news that adds to a portrait of Kremlin outreach to the NRA and Trump campaign.
McClatchyDC reported Thursday that the FBI is looking into Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Kremlin’s central bank, who hosted a NRA delegation in Moscow in late 2015. Torshin then reportedly met with Donald Trump Jr. at the NRA’s 2016 convention. At the same time, a business partner of Torshin’s former deputy tried to arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. After the election, Torshin’s former deputy claimed she was part of a Trump-Kremlin connection.
Torshin hosted a NRA delegation led by the group’s former president in Dec. 2015. The NRA delegation also met with Dmitry Rogozin, as The Daily Beast originally reported. Rogozin is the chairman of the Russian Shooting Federation and also a U.S.-sanctioned deputy to Putin.
Months later, the NRA pledged to spend a record amount of money on the election: $30 million on Trump, according to the group, and $70 million overall, according to McClatchy.
The FBI wants to know if the NRA’s record-breaking spending was fueled by secret Russian cash from Torshin. He was previously accused by Spanish investigators of laundering money for Russian mobsters through properties and banks in Spain, an allegation Torshin denied.
In May 2016, Torshin flew to Kentucky for the NRA’s annual convention where he met with Trump Jr, according to The New York Times, and tried but failed to meet Trump.
That didn’t stop Russians from trying to talk to the candidate though.
Campaign advisor Rick Dearborn, got an email from Paul Erickson. “Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump,” Erickson wrote, according to the Times. “He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election.”
Erickson, a long-time GOP activist, was a business partner of Torshin’s former deputy, Maria Butina. A pro-gun activist herself, Butina ingratiated herself among Republican politicos in Washington, D.C. At a party there following the election, Butina boasted she was “part of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia,” The Daily Beast reported last year.
The NRA outreach came during a period of intense Russian outreach to the Trump campaign. In March and April 2016, a London professor told campaign George Papadopoulos that Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” In June 2016, a Kremlin-connected lawyer talked about U.S. sanctions on Russia with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort in Trump Tower.