One week after Russian national and purported lifetime NRA member Maria Butina was arrested and charged by the Department of Justice with “conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior notification to the Attorney General” and infiltrating the upper ranks of the NRA, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin wrote a column titled “Who met with Maria Butina?” In her piece, Rubin urges politicians who’ve taken NRA money to “divest themselves of any money they received, remove the taint of Russian influence and prevent their receipt of Russian-tainted money or meetings with Russian operatives from being used to, well, blackmail them.”
The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Donald Trump – nearly triple what the group devoted to backing Republican Mitt Romney 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 McClatchy, NRA spending may have actually exceeded $70 million during the 2016 election.
“Former federal prosecutor Harry Litman explains, ‘There have been reports for years that Torshin illegally funneled money to the NRA for use in the Trump campaign, and the criminal charges against Butina lay out a thick relationship that she and Russian officials forged with the organization, and through it, various Republican political figures.’ He adds, ‘It would be derelict of Congress not to seek to get to the bottom of whether Moscow used the NRA to illegally interfere in the election.’
“In the meantime, it is not unreasonable for all recipients of NRA money to put any NRA-related donations aside and not touch the money unless and until this is all cleared up. Every Republican on the ballot in November, as well as members of their staff, needs to disclose contacts with Torshin and Butina or their associates. NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre needs to be questioned as to whether he knew his organization was being used by a hostile foreign power, and if so, when he knew it. Alas, all that will likely have to wait until there is a Democratic majority in one or both houses.
“‘We need to know who at the NRA received money, above all, for the purposes of awareness. The Torshin/Butina case should serve as an example to all future campaigns and organizations the dangers of foreign influence via financial donations,’ says former FBI special agent Clinton Watts. ‘We should also be looking at how Torshin/Butina donations might have been used to direct foreign policy influence. Who were the individuals that received the money? Why did Torshin/Butina send them cash and what did the Russian influence effort seek to achieve in return for the donation?’”
And while the NRA has become increasingly extreme and toxic, candidates are actively embracing gun violence prevention as they seek office. In years past, a candidate’s position on gun safety was considered something to run from – pundits deemed gun safety a third rail of politics. But in 2018, candidates across the country, of all parties, are actively running on their gun violence prevention bonafides as they seek elected office – just as we saw happen in 2017 in Virginia when candidates up and down the ballot ran on gun safety and won in the NRA’s backyard.