Democratic Senator: NRA Acted as ‘Foreign Asset’ to Russia Ahead of 2016 Election
A congressional investigation conducted by Senate Finance Committee Democrats found the National Rifle Association (NRA) allegedly acted as a “foreign asset” for Russia ahead of the 2016 election.
The official 76-page report, titled “The NRA Russia: How a Tax-Exempt Organization Became a Foreign Asset,” was released Friday by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and relies on internal NRA documents obtained by the committee during its 18-month probe.
Wyden opened the investigation into the NRA’s relationship to Maria Butina—a Russian gun rights activist who was charged by the Department of Justice after failing to register as a foreign agent—and Alexander Torshin, a senior official at the Russian central bank, last year. Butina admitted to gathering intelligence on the NRA at Torshin’s request.
“NRA resources appear to have been used to pay for membership and registration fees to third party events for [Torshin and Butina] as well as to arrange for transit to and lodging for many of those events throughout 2015 and 2016,” the report says.
NRA officials reportedly sponsored and facilitated Butina and Torshin’s access to political organizations and events, including the Council for National Policy, the National Prayer Breakfast, the National Sporting Goods Wholesalers Association, and Safari Club International, according to the report. They were also given access to GOP officials at NRA events from 2014 to 2016, the report alleges.
“Russian nationals effectively used the promise of lucrative personal business opportunities to capture the NRA and gain access to the American political system,” Wyden said in a statement.
Wyden said the NRA may have also violated tax laws.
The investigation further focuses on a 2015 trip to Moscow, which the report states was planned “for the purpose of advancing personal business interests.” Former NRA president David Keene and top NRA donor Joe Gregory were designated to lead the trip. Then-NRA President Allan Cors at the time wrote to Torshin that Keene and Gregory “will represent the NRA and our five million members better than anyone else,” according to the report.
The NRA covered a portion of the trip’s costs, though former NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch denied that the trip was authorized by the organization, according to the report.
“This report lays out in significant detail that the NRA lied about the 2015 delegation trip to Moscow. This was an official trip undertaken so NRA insiders could get rich—a clear violation of the principle that tax-exempt resources should not be used for personal benefit,” Wyden said.
In a statement to Fortune, Andrew Arulanandam, NRA managing director of Public Affairs said, “Certain NRA members made the trip of their own accord. The record reflects it was not an official NRA trip. NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre was opposed to it and, at his directive, no NRA staff members or employees attended.”
William A. Brewer III, counsel to the NRA added the report “promotes a politically motivated and contrived narrative. An avalanche of proof confirms that the NRA, as an organization, was never involved in the activities about which the Democrats write.
“This report goes to great lengths to try to involve the NRA in activities of private individuals and create the false impression that the NRA did not act appropriately. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
Meanwhile, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee have put forth their own report. They state, “there is nothing wrong with taking a trip with two purposes in mind, even if one of those purposes involves a tax-exempt organization.”
Wyden recommended the IRS launch its own investigation. “The IRS needs to examine these findings and investigate other publicly reported incidents of potential lawbreaking,” he said.
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