Despite the fact that the Kremlin has long denied it had anything to do with the Russian infiltration of the NRA, a U.S. intelligence report just revealed by the Daily Beast details how Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin worked to infiltrate the NRA with the explicit approval of the Kremlin. The Daily Beast report also uncovered that the delegation of high-ranking NRA officials who traveled to Moscow in December 2015 planned a trip to the Russian Presidential Executive Office to meet with one of Vladimir Putin’s top-ranking officials.
Just over a month ago, purported lifetime NRA member Maria Butina pleaded guilty to “conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior notification to the attorney general.” According to the plea agreement, “Butina sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over American politics,” including a gun rights organization reported to be the NRA. To date, the NRA has not publicly commented on the arrest or conviction of Maria Butina.
“Alexander Torshin, the Russian central bank official who spent years aggressively courting NRA leaders, briefed the Kremlin on his efforts and recommended they participate, according to the report. Its existence and contents have not previously been reported.
“According to the report, Torshin suggested that Russian officials use the NRA to reach out to politically active Americans. Torshin, then a deputy governor at Russia’s central bank, noted the gun rights group’s influence in U.S. politics. He told the Kremlin about his contacts in the NRA, including conversations and meetings in the United States, and suggested that Kremlin officials scrutinize how some people affiliated with the group viewed relations between the U.S. and Russia.
“The report notes that Russian officials discussed having their embassy in Washington participate in the work of courting the NRA. Kremlin officials also discussed preparations for NRA members’ upcoming trip to Moscow. Torshin recommended that someone from President Vladimir Putin’s executive office, meaning the group of people who support his day-to-day activities, meet with the group.
“In December of 2015, she [Butina] and Torshin helped arrange for a group of influential NRA members to travel to the Kremlin, where they had high-level meetings—including with the country’s powerful Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, and sanctioned Putin deputy Dmitry Rogozin, an ultra-right politician who oversaw the country’s defense industry. A schedule of the 2015 trip reviewed by The Daily Beast showed attendees also planned to drive to the Presidential Administration Office on Dec. 9, 2015, for a meeting with Evgeny Lukyanov, then the deputy secretary of the Security Council. NRA trip participants did not respond to queries about whether the scheduled meeting with Lukyanov took place. When the trip made national news after the U.S. intelligence community publicly asserted that the Kremlin had tried to help Donald Trump win the 2016 campaign, [former NRA president David] Keene said it wasn’t about politics.”
The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Donald Trump – nearly triple what the group spent during the 2012 presidential race. Most of that money was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors, and according to a McClatchy report from January, NRA spending may have actually exceeded $70 million during the 2016 election.