A long-awaited Senate report into the connections between the National Rifle Association and Russia describes the NRA as a “foreign asset” and underscores the NRA’s connections to, and activities in, Russia could “jeopardize” the organization’s nonprofit status.
The investigation, conducted by ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and the minority staff of the Senate Finance Committee, “confirms that the NRA, its officers, board members, and donors engaged in a years-long effort to facilitate the U.S.-based activities of Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin,” the report states.
Butina and Torshin’s efforts to use the NRA as a conduit to influence top Republicans was the subject of an April 2018 Rolling Stone exposé, Inside the Decade-Long Russian Campaign to Infiltrate the NRA and Help Elect Trump, which is cited in the Senate investigation.
Butina, arrested that July, is now serving time in federal prison for a conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent. Torshin, a former Russian senator and central banker, was hit with U.S. sanctions, as the report describes, “for the Russian Federation’s global malign activity, including attempting to subvert Western democracies.”
Torshin is a gun enthusiast who first spearheaded a connection with NRA executives nearly a decade ago. According to the U.S. government, he then acted as the “handler” of Butina, an ambitious, young Russian gun-rights leader, who leveraged and deepened the Russian relationship with the gun group, in furtherance of their ultimate goal of gaining access to top GOP influencers, politicians, and even the Trump family.
The Senate report validates the DOJ’s conclusion that “the activity of those Russian nationals… amounted to an illegal conspiracy to gain access to American organizations through the NRA.” But it also makes clear that the effort was reciprocal, specifically that the NRA “was engaged in a years-long effort to facilitate Butina and Torshin’s domestic activity. “
The report zeroes in on the infamous December 2015 trip by NRA officials to Moscow, and concludes this trip was official NRA business — the gun group’s denials notwithstanding. The report states many of the American participants sought to advance personal economic interests on the visit sponsored by the non-profit.
“The minority staff investigation confirms confirms Butina and Torshin utilized a network of Russian oligarchs and high-ranking Kremlin officials to bring the NRA to Moscow with promises of lucrative business opportunities with Russian entities,” the report states. “The trip included meetings with weapons manufacturers that produce weaponry for the Russian military and numerous entities and individuals under United States sanction or representatives and subsidiaries of entities under sanction,” it adds.
The report makes plain that NRA leaders understood they were helping elevate the status of the now-sanctioned Torshin by appearing in Russia. “NRA leadership and participants were explicitly told that their participation would help demonstrate to the Kremlin Alexander Torshin’s American connections,” the report states.
The document suggests that the NRA’s participation in this scheme, driven in part by the profit motives of executives and board members involved, may have violated the restrictions of the NRA’s tax exempt charter. The report states that a “broader review of NRA’s activities in recent years is necessary to determine whether NRA has engaged in a persistent pattern of impermissible conduct.”
The NRA’s status as a non-profit is currently under investigation by the state of New York. And the report emphasizes that the Senate findings “should be considered in the context of any other potentially improper conduct that benefited its officers or board members.”
The NRA has recently been under a cloud, in part resulting from allegations that its chief executive Wayne LaPierre, billed the organization for hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending on luxury travel and designer clothing. The report adds: “The minority staff is aware of additional allegations of private inurement and misuse of tax-exempt resources at the NRA beyond the 2015 Russia trip.” And it makes clear that those activities are now part of a different finance committee investigation that is ongoing.
William A. Brewer III, the NRA’s top counsel, told Rolling Stone in a statement that the Senate report “promotes a politically motivated and contrived narrative,” and insisted that “the NRA, as an organization, was never involved in the activities about which the Democrats write.”
Specifically regarding the 2015 trip to Moscow, Andrew Arulanandam, NRA managing director of Public Affairs, added: “Certain NRA members made the trip of their own accord.” Arulanandam insisted, “it was not an official NRA trip” and that “NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre was opposed to it and, at his directive, no NRA staff members or employees attended.”
This is a developing story and will be updated.