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Both Chambers of Congress Launch New Investigations into Ties Between NRA and Russia

The NRA can add two new congressional investigations to its list of things to worry about.

On Friday, NPR’s Tim Mak reported that the Senate Finance Committee is launching a bipartisan investigation into “how a conservative think tank aided Maria Butina, the admitted Russian agent who sought political influence through her ties with the National Rifle Association”:

“In a letter to Dimitri Simes, the CEO of the Center for the National Interest think tank, the committee requested records related to meetings Torshin and Butina had in 2015 with the Federal Reserve vice chairman and the Treasury Department undersecretary for international affairs.

“Republican Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Democratic ranking member Ron Wyden of Oregon also sent letters to the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve to find out more about these meetings and to receive more details about their policies regarding meeting with foreign officials.

“A Freedom of Information Act request by NPR, which the Federal Reserve responded to the day before the Senate Finance Committee made public its intention to investigate, answers some of the questions being posed by the committee.

“The memo reveals that back in spring 2015, both Torshin and Butina were already touting their relationships with the National Rifle Association — and that the meetings with senior officials were an offshoot of their primary trip purpose: to attend the yearly NRA conference.

“‘Butina … served as translator during the meeting. She is Founding Chairman and Board Member of a Russian organization which promotes the right to bear arms. They are both life members of the National Rifle Association,’ the internal memo reads. ‘They are in the United States to attend the NRA’s annual meeting.’”

And this week, Pete Madden and Matthew Mosk at ABC News reported that Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Kathleen Rice (D-NY) are launching an investigation into “what they called the ‘complex web of relationships’ between members of the National Rifle Association and Russian individuals with close ties to the Kremlin.”

The announcement of these investigations comes weeks after the NRA’s outside counsel William Brewer began telling the media that NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre “was opposed to” the NRA’s 2015 delegation trip to Moscow and “even prohibited staff members from joining the delegation out of concern that it would be perceived as officially sanctioned.” Days after Brewer first made such comments, ABC News revealed internal NRA emails and photos posted on social media that appear to show the organization was significantly involved in planning the trip.

ABC News reports:

“In a letter sent to NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, a copy of which was shared with ABC News, Rep. Ted Lieu of California and Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York expressed concern about the NRA’s attempts to distance itself from any formal involvement in a now infamous trip to Moscow undertaken by a group of its high-ranking members.

“Lieu, a member of the House Committee on the Judiciary, and Rice, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, suggested the discrepancy might be evidence of a broader deception and requested a full accounting of any communications, meetings and monetary transactions between NRA officials and Russia-linked individuals.

“‘We are disturbed by the lack of transparency the NRA has demonstrated surrounding the December 2015 trip to Moscow,’ wrote Lieu and Rice on Feb. 15. ‘Furthermore, we are concerned that this extends to other allegations that have been made against the organization as it relates to Russia.’”

The NRA spent $55 million—or perhaps more than $70 million, according to McClatchy—to influence the 2016 elections. That’s far more than the group ever spent during a previous election. But the NRA does not have to disclose all of its donors, making it difficult to tell where the majority of the money came from.