Russia cultivates ties to U.S. political leaders through the National Rifle Association (NRA).
In 2015, a Russian gun enthusiast and aspiring foreign agent named Maria Butina pitched an espionage proposal to Alexander Torshin, who is a senior Russian government official and close Putin ally: Because official diplomatic channels under the Obama administration were not succeeding at altering U.S. foreign policy, Russia should instead pursue the same objectives via a back channel that Torshin and Butina would develop through the NRA to the Republican party and a future Trump administration. Torshin agreed and funded the secret operation. Butina brought into the conspiracy a longtime Republican operative she was dating named Paul Erickson. She met one presidential candidate at an NRA convention, used her FSB connections to facilitate a trip to Moscow meant to cultivate top NRA officials, hosted multiple large “friendship dinners” for prominent Republicans, publicly asked then-candidate Donald Trump a question about Russia sanctions at a 2015 rally, and brought a Russian delegation to the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast (where the Russians sought to establish the back channel and report back directly to Putin). Between 2012 and 2016, Torshin met every NRA president and attended all NRA annual meetings. At the 2016 annual meeting, Torshin was trying to arrange a Trump-Putin summit and met privately with Donald Trump Jr. In 2018, Butina was arrested and pled guilty to conspiring “to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence in U.S. politics” for the “benefit of the Russian Federation.” Separately, the FBI investigated whether Torshin funneled secret campaign donations to Trump through the National Rifle Association, but it’s not clear what came of the inquiry, if anything, and the NRA was not mentioned in the unredacted Mueller report. Spanish authorities have sought to arrest Torshin as they consider him the investor atop an elaborate money laundering scheme. In 2016, the NRA spent triple the amount of money supporting Trump as it devoted to the 2012 election, with most of the money coming from the NRA’s 501(c)(4) that doesn’t have to disclose its donors. The NRA has said it only received $2,513 “from people associated with Russian addresses” or known Russian nationals living in the United States and that it didn’t spend Russian-linked money on politics, but the NRA has not disclosed its donor identifies, methods of vetting shell companies, or systems of segregating foreign money.

About This Incident

Incident Metadata

Date: 2016-2019
Country: United States