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Six Months After Maria Butina’s Arrest, NRA Finally Breaks Silence on its Relationship with Russia

It’s been nearly two years since questions first arose about the NRA’s relationship with Russia, and with alleged Kremlin agent and purported lifetime NRA member Maria Butina. Now, six months after Butina was arrested and charged with “conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior notification to the attorney general” while allegedly using the NRA in order to advance the Kremlin’s agenda, the NRA is finally talking to the media.

The New York Times’ Danny Hakim reports:

“When a delegation of high-profile donors, boosters and board members from the National Rifle Association traveled to Russia in 2015, they visited a gun factory in Moscow, took in a ballet and met with members of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

“But now the N.R.A. is seeking to distance itself from the trip, after revelations that a Russian woman who helped arrange it, Maria Butina, was conspiring to infiltrate the organization.

“The N.R.A.’s chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, forbade staff members to join the delegation that went to Russia, according to the organization’s outside counsel, William A. Brewer III — ‘Wayne was opposed to the trip,’ he said. The N.R.A.’s president at the time, Allan Cors, abandoned a plan to join the delegation, and the group refused to pay all of the related travel expenses, though it did cover some of them.

“‘Wayne expressed concerns about this trip and suggested that I not participate,’ Mr. Cors said in a statement released through the N.R.A. ‘Wayne did not want any misconception that this was an official trip. Frankly, I had similar concerns.’

“Given Mr. LaPierre’s power within the organization, it is unclear how such a trip would have proceeded at all despite his opposition to it.

“The trip was organized by David Keene, a former N.R.A. president who was close to Ms. Butina, and who had his own interests in Russia. An email between a member of the delegation and Paul Erickson, a Republican operative who is Ms. Butina’s boyfriend, suggests that Mr. Keene, who was then the opinion editor of The Washington Times, hoped to secure an interview with Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, according to people familiar with the email. Mr. Keene also later explored a deal to import Russian gas with Ms. Butina’s help, though it never appeared close to fruition.

“While the N.R.A. has turned over thousands of pages of records in the Senate inquiries, those documents do not include the organization’s closely held donor records; it is possible, however, that federal investigators have obtained the organization’s tax records from the Internal Revenue Service.”

Wayne LaPierre’s attempt to minimize the NRA’s official involvement with the now-infamous 2015 delegation trip to Moscow is inconsistent with basic facts that have been well-documented and reported by media for more than a year:

    1. Pete Brownell, as then the NRA’s first vice president, was next in line to become NRA president when he led the delegation trip in December 2015. In May 2017, he officially became president of the NRA.

    2. Joe Gregory, a charter member of the NRA’s high-dollar donor program, was also part of the delegation.

    3. Hilary Goldschlager, an executive member of the NRA’s Women’s Leadership Forum, was on the NRA trip.

    4. Former NRA president and current board member David Keene was also on the trip.

    5. David Clarke, then a member of multiple NRA committees, was on the trip.

    6. Russian gun manufacturer ORSIS documented the NRA delegation’s tour of its facilities and meeting with its top executives, including in a promotional video, “The delegation of the National Rifle Association of America (NRA), headed by the first vice-president of the association Pete Brownell, visited the Moscow firearms factory ORSIS on December 11, 2015.”

    7. The NRA paid for David Clarke’s airfare to Israel, the first leg of the delegation trip, and Brownell paid for the second leg, from Israel to Russia.

The NRA spent $55 million – or perhaps more than $70 million, according to McClatchy — to influence the 2016 elections. That’s far more than the group ever spent during a previous election. But the NRA does not have to disclose all of its donors, making it difficult to tell where the majority of the money came from.

If you’re interested in more information on the NRA and its ties to Russia, don’t hesitate to reach out.