In case you missed it, another shoe may have dropped in the ongoing NRA-Russia scandal yesterday. According to McClatchy, “two sources familiar with the matter say” that congressional investigators have learned that a longtime attorney for the NRA “expressed concerns about the group’s ties to Russia and possible involvement in channeling Russian money into the 2016 elections to help Donald Trump.”
The attorney’s name appeared on a list of witnesses who were not called to testify as part of the House Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, after House Republicans abruptly closed the investigation earlier this week. According to a House Intelligence Committee memo, released by Democrats on the committee on the “Status of the Russia Investigation,” the witnesses included:
“(I)ndividuals or groups who were involved in or may have knowledge of third-party political outreach from the Kremlin to the Trump campaign, including persons linked to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and who can shed light on the NRA’s relationship with Alexander Torshin, a close ally of Russian President Putin, such as Maria Butina, Paul Erickson, and Cleta Mitchell”
The lawyer, Cleta Mitchell, is a partner at Foley & Lardner and a former NRA board member.
McClatchy’s report comes just days before the Monday, March 19, deadline for the NRA to respond to a recent letter from U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), requesting that the NRA answer questions to “determine whether the NRA hid Russian involvement by accepting financial assistance to nonpolitical accounts, freeing up other money for political activity.”
Congressional investigators have learned that a longtime attorney for the National Rifle Association expressed concerns about the group’s ties to Russia and possible involvement in channeling Russian money into the 2016 elections to help Donald Trump, two sources familiar with the matter say.
Cleta Mitchell, a former NRA board member who has done legal work for the organization, is on a newly disclosed list of people whom Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are seeking to interview. Democratic investigators for that committee’s Senate counterpart also are interested in what she may know about relationships between the NRA or its allies and wealthy Russians, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The sources declined to detail the specific nature of the information prompting investigators’ interest in Mitchell, a prominent gun rights champion, election law specialist and veteran conservative operative.
Mitchell told McClatchy in an email that any suggestion she has concerns about the NRA’s Russia connections is a “complete fabrication.”
The nation’s leading gun rights lobby was the biggest backer of Trump’s presidential campaign, spending $30 million to help propel him to his upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton, a strong advocate of gun control laws. But in January, the NRA was drawn into the furor over Russian interference in the election when McClatchy reported that the FBI was investigating whether Russian banker and “lifetime” NRA member Alexander Torshin, who hosted a high-level NRA delegation in Moscow in late 2015, funneled funds to the NRA to help Trump.
It’s illegal for foreign funds to be spent in American elections.
“Whether there was an effort by Russia to create a back channel or assist the Trump campaign through the NRA or gun-rights groups is an open question the committee’s minority has endeavored to answer for the past year,” California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement to McClatchy. “Much work remains to be done concerning that thread of our investigation, including conducting witness interviews and receiving relevant documents from several organizations and individuals.”
The NRA has denied that it used Russian money for election purposes. However, in a previous letter response to Senator Wyden, the NRA’s General Counsel “did not directly deny that the group had received any Russian money,” according to McClatchy.