The National Rifle Association spent millions of dollars in support of President Trump during the 2016 election. That spending might be under scrutiny now, with a report out Thursday stating that the FBI is investigating Russian donations to the NRA from a key government official that may have been meant to help elect Trump to the Oval Office.
Published by McClatchy D.C., this latest revelation of potential Russian interference in the election is sourced to two individuals "familiar with the matter."
At the center of the investigation is the deputy governor of Russia's central bank, Alexander Torshin. According to the story's sources, Torshin is known to have a close relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin, as well as with the NRA. Torshin is a lifetime NRA member, and regular guest at its annual conventions. The FBI is reportedly investigating the possibility that Torshin illegally funneled money to the NRA so the organization could turn around and spend it on pro-Trump activities.
Neither Torshin nor the NRA responded to McClatchy's request for comment; Bustle also has reached out to the NRA.
This is not the first time Torshin has provoked the interest of a foreign government. While serving as a Russian senator, Torshin was accused by Spanish authorities of helping to run a money laundering operation through real estate holding and financial institutions in the country. The McClatchy article cites a secret report labeling Torshin a "godfather"-like figure in the Russian crime organization known as Taganskaya.
The NRA spent at least $55 million during the 2016 election, with around $30 million going specifically to Trump himself. That means the pro-gun rights organization spent triple on Trump what they shelled out for 2012 Republican candidate Mitt Romney. It's over four times the average amount they spent on the previous four election cycles.
However, two unnamed NRA insiders reported the organization actually spent closer to $70 million on various campaigns in 2016. Because of certain loopholes in how political spending must be reported, some activities can remain off the books entirely.
For instance, money spent on online ads doesn't have to be reported at all. Additionally, field work — such as efforts to get out the vote — requires no documentation. Charlie Black, a GOP operative and lobbyist, told McClatchy, "These field operations may be even more important than the ads, and the field work doesn't have to be reported under campaign finance laws."
Torshin began his own NRA-like organization in Russia, giving it the name "The Right to Bear Arms," and has developed relationships with both prominent NRA figures and a handful of Republican lawmakers in D.C.
In 2015, the NRA headed to Moscow for a week of wining and dining with a group of like-minded, pro-gun members of Torshin's group. Present at that gathering were former NRA president David Keene; NRA First Vice President Pete Brownell; head of the Outdoor Life channel, Jim Liberatore; and, one of Fox News' most ubiquitous guests, Sheriff David A. Clarke.
During those seven days of gun-rights socializing, Torshin hosted two dinners with prominent NRA representatives.
He also spoke personally with Donald Trump Jr. at a later NRA convention. A laywer for Trump Jr. has since told Congress that his client's conversation with Torshin consisted only of "gun-related small talk."
But it seems that Congress' interest in Torshin is only just beginning — Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and both the House and Senate Intelligence Committes, have inquired about Torshin's activities in the United States.
Sen. Diane Feinstein has sent letters to two of Trump's top campaign aides, asking explicitly about any contact with Torshin. Feinstein also inquired after communication between the Trump campaign and the NRA, Russian gun-rights activist Maria Butina, and conservative operative Paul Erickson.
Erickson is the author of a much-publicized email offering to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin, prior to Trump's election win.
McClatchy reporters Peter Stone and Greg Gordon detailed in January 2017 the multi-pronged intelligence investigation into the possible funneling of Russian money into the U.S. election. That issue has largely taken a back seat to speculation about possible connections specifically between Trump's campaign and Russian operatives — but the revelation that Torshin may have funded the NRA is a reminder of how wide this investigation's scope stretches.