Politics & Government

NRA cites policy barring foreign funds to fend off Russia questions

President Donald Trump speaks during the National Rifle Association-ILA Leadership Forum, Friday, April 28, 2017, in Atlanta.
President Donald Trump speaks during the National Rifle Association-ILA Leadership Forum, Friday, April 28, 2017, in Atlanta. AP

The National Rifle Association’s top lawyer, responding to a senator’s request for documents about possible financial dealings with Russians during the 2016 election campaign, cited a “longstanding policy” by the powerful gun lobby group not to accept funds from foreign individuals or entities for election purposes.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee that is probing Russian influence on the election, sought the documents after McClatchy reported last month that the FBI was investigating whether a top Russian banker, Alexander Torshin, may have illegally funneled money to the group. Torshin is a lifetime NRA member who has attended several of the organization’s national conferences.

The NRA was the biggest financial backer of Donald Trump’s Republican presidential campaign, spending at least $30 million on his behalf – nearly triple what it spent to support Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012.

Wyden’s office on Friday released the NRA’s reply: a six-paragraph letter dated Feb. 15 in which General Counsel John Frazer pointed to the group’s policies prohibiting acceptance of foreign money by its various political committees, in compliance with federal election law. The group did not provide Wyden with any documents.

Frazier’s letter did not directly deny that any Russian funds may have flowed into its coffers in 2016.

He did say that the NRA has not been contacted by the FBI about an investigation into Torshin, as McClatchy had previously quoted an NRA outside attorney as saying.

Torshin hosted an elite NRA delegation, which included a past NRA president and a top fundraiser for the organization, in Moscow in December 2015, and attended the NRA’s convention in May 2016 where Trump received the NRA’s coveted endorsement. During the convention, Torshin had a brief conversation with then-candidate Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr., and reportedly tried to set up a meeting during the campaign between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

National Rifle Association executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre said opponents of gun rights "hate individual freedoms" and want to eliminate the 2nd Amendment. LaPierre spoke at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Ma

The NRA general counsel’s letter generally reiterated NRA fundraising policies, and also noted that “significant contributions from unknown entities are vetted to ensure the legitimacy of donors.”

An aide to Sen. Wyden said he is “reviewing the NRA’s response and considering additional follow-up questions.”

In his Feb. 2 letter to the NRA, Wyden had asked for any documents or information about possible Russian contributions by Torshin or other Russians to the NRA or intermediaries aimed at helping Trump win the 2016 elections. The senator’s letter stated that, as McClatchy and several other news outlets had written, “Torshin has reported links to money laundering.”

El Pais, a Spanish newspaper, last year wrote that Spanish authorities investigating Russian money-laundering operations in Spain planned to arrest Torshin in 2013 during a scheduled visit, but he was apparently tipped off and canceled his trip. Another Russian businessman, who was heard talking to Torshin on numerous tapes in the hands of Spanish authorities, has pleaded guilty to a money laundering scheme and was imprisoned for his crimes. Torshin has denied allegations that he had a role in any money laundering operations in Spain.

Wyden, who is also the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, also sent a similar letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Torshin, who has attended several NRA national conventions going back at least to the 2013 event in Houston, was instrumental in founding a pro-gun group in Russia called Right to Bear Arms. An early meeting of the group, held in the fall of 2013, was attended by NRA leader David Keene, who helped cement the NRA’s ties to Torshin. Keene was also a leader of the NRA delegation that visited Moscow for a week of lavish meals and at least one meeting with a high-level Russian official in late 2015.

Peter Stone is a special correspondent.

Greg Gordon: 202-383-6152, @greggordon2

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