Another shoe may have dropped in the ongoing NRA-Russia scandal today. According to a new McClatchy report, “federal investigators have traced a number of suspicious financial transactions” involving several obscure companies; Paul Erickson, an NRA-affiliated political operative; and Maria Butina, a Russian national and purported lifetime NRA member. Two weeks ago, 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” while infiltrating the upper ranks of the NRA.
According to McClatchy, per “two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is confidential,” the inquiry “began before Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and even before President Donald Trump’s inauguration.”
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 a McClatchy report from January, NRA spending may have actually exceeded $70 million during the 2016 election.
McClatchy’s report comes two weeks after news broke about Maria Butina’s arrest. To date, the NRA still has not publicly commented on the arrest or indictment of Maria Butina, or its many ties to Butina and Russia.
- “Paul Erickson also was involved in the financial dealings that drew investigators’ interest – transfers of money exceeding $10,000 to limited liability corporations, including two created in Erickson’s home state of South Dakota.”
- “Investigators at the Treasury Department received a number of Suspicious Activity Reports ‘relating to entities tied to Butina and Erickson and funds that were transferred to them,’ including some that appear to have come from Russia, one of the sources said. Financial institutions are required to flag unusually large movements of money for regulators, mainly to combat money laundering.”
- “Butina’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, told McClatchy that about $20,000 passed through one of the South Dakota firms, Bridges LLC, which Butina formed in early 2016, with Erickson serving as the firm’s registered agent. Driscoll said Butina received four $5,000 payments through that firm for consulting work for the Outdoor Channel, where she assisted in the production of a segment featuring bear hunting in Russia.”
- According to a spokesman for the NRA, the group had ‘frozen’ Alexander Torshin’s lifetime membership. Torshin is a Russian banker, politician and Putin ally who was recently sanctioned and has attracted scrutiny from the FBI. However, the NRA “declined to comment about the developments relating to Butina or whether her lifetime NRA membership also has been suspended.”