NEW YORK — A bombshell report by Pete Madden and Matthew Mosk at ABC News today sheds more light on the NRA’s involvement in planning its now infamous 2015 trip to Moscow. It appears to contradict statements made by the NRA’s outside counsel published two days ago, in which the lawyer minimized the NRA’s participation in the trip and claimed that it was unofficial and unapproved.
The 2015 trip has come under intense scrutiny since the arrest of Russian national and purported lifetime NRA member Maria Butina, who pled guilty to conspiracy last month after allegedly using the NRA to advance the Kremlin’s agenda.
“Put simply, the NRA’s half-baked explanation for its infamous 2015 Russia trip doesn’t pass the smell test,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “It’s time for the NRA to dispense with the smoke and mirrors and tell the full truth about its ties to the Kremlin.”
Specifically, the ABC story reveals:
- Private emails show that an NRA employee worked directly with Butina, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy in December, to set up travel arrangements for the multiple senior NRA officials participating in the trip, which included former NRA president David Keene, then-first vice chair Pete Brownell (who became the next NRA president), top NRA fundraiser Joe Gregory, NRA advocate and then-Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, and more.
- NRA emails suggested the NRA would pay for travel expenses for Keene and then-NRA president Alan Cors, who later decided not to attend.
- Emails suggested the NRA intended to provide formal NRA “gifts” for the delegation to present to their Russian hosts.
- Photos obtained by ABC show that Butina welcomed the NRA delegation at the Moscow airport with a giant red banner which read “Welcome to Russia Comrads” [sic] and featured the NRA’s logo.
- A Facebook post by one of Butina’s colleagues stated, “a delegation of the world’s largest social organization for supporters of weapons, the National Rifle Association USA (The NRA) made an official visit to Moscow.”
“The National Rifle Association made its first public attempt this week to distance itself from any formal involvement in a now infamous trip to Moscow undertaken by a group of its high-ranking members, but internal NRA emails and photos posted on social media reviewed by ABC News appear to show the organization was significantly involved in planning it.
“Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who has launched an investigation of the NRA and written a series of letters seeking “information and documentation” about the trip, disputed the NRA’s public attempt to distance itself from the trip.
“‘It’s not credible for the NRA to claim that they played no official role in the 2015 Moscow trip,’ Sen. Wyden told ABC News on Tuesday.
“Emails sent by NRA officials before the trip, as well as photos taken during the visit, offer greater detail about the organization’s role in arranging the excursion.
“In one email, an NRA employee appears to help Butina make travel arrangements for a delegation that included former NRA president David Keene, future NRA president Pete Brownell, NRA fundraiser Joe Gregory, NRA benefactor Dr. Arnold Goldschlager and his daughter Hilary, Outdoor Channel CEO Jim Liberatore, and prominent NRA advocate and Trump campaign surrogate David Clarke, then the sheriff of Milwaukee County.
“Other emails suggest that the NRA would pay for travel expenses for two delegation members and provide formal NRA ‘gifts’ for the delegation to present to their Russian hosts.
“And if the trip wasn’t ‘official,’ Butina doesn’t appear to have been told. ‘I’ll meet you at the airport,’ she wrote to several members of the delegation on Dec. 3, 2015. ‘For your convenience, in our hands will be a big red sign saying Welcome NRA.’
“Photos posted on Facebook by one of Butina’s fellow gun-rights enthusiasts and obtained by ABC News show Butina and members of the NRA delegation in Moscow, posing alongside a large red sign that reads ‘Welcome to Russia comrads [sic].’ It bears the NRA logo in its bottom-right corner.
“Another Facebook post – this one from one of Butina’s colleagues – about the trip even tags Butina, Clarke and Liberatore, though it offers a version of events that now conflicts with the NRA’s public stance.
“‘The delegation of the world’s largest social organization for supporters of weapons, the National Rifle Association USA (The NRA) made an official visit to Moscow and met with supporters of the movement, Right to Arms,’ the posts reads when translated from Russian. ‘This is the first time this has happened in Russia’s history.’”