A bombshell report by the New York Times has found that a conservative operative with Russian ties, Paul Erickson, told a Trump campaign aide that he could arrange a back-channel meeting between Donald J. Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia through his connections with the National Rifle Association.
This report is the latest in a series of revelations that continue to raise a number of questions, which the NRA has refused to answer:
- A report found that the NRA spent $419 million in 2016, and more than $50 million to elect Donald Trump and allied members of Congress (far more than they ever spent during a previous election). But the NRA’s funding sources are not public information. Will the NRA say if any of their funds have come from Russian or other foreign sources?
- Was the NRA aware of Paul Erickson or Johnny Yenason’s efforts to coordinate a meeting between Aleksander Torshin and Donald Trump or senior Trump campaign officials?
- Does the NRA invest in Russian-owned entities, or have NRA officials advised Russian gun rights organizations?
According to the New York Times:
A May 2016 email to the campaign adviser, Rick Dearborn, bore the subject line “Kremlin Connection.” In it, the N.R.A. member said he wanted the advice of Mr. Dearborn and Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, then a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump and Mr. Dearborn’s longtime boss, about how to proceed in connecting the two leaders.
Russia, he wrote, was “quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S.” and would attempt to use the N.R.A.’s annual convention in Louisville, Ky., to make “‘first contact.’” The email, which was among a trove of campaign-related documents turned over to investigators on Capitol Hill, was described in detail to The New York Times.
Earlier this year, the Washington Post published a blockbuster report, which uncovered how, around the same time Russia began a covert campaign to meddle in the presidential election, NRA leaders had “forged ties with well-connected Russians and come to see that country’s authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin, as a potential ally.”
The report found that in 2011, then-NRA president David Keene began a close friendship with Torshin when Torshin was deputy director of the Russian Central Bank. Shortly after, Torshin began building a pro-gun movement in Russia with the help of Maria Butina, who has since claimed to be a go-between between the Trump campaign and Russia. For years, Torshin and Butina traveled to the U.S. to meet with top NRA officials, while NRA leaders have traveled to Russia, and met with Torshin, Butina and a sanctioned Russian official.