Yesterday, news broke that Russian national and purported lifetime NRA member Maria Butina was arrested on Sunday 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.”
The arrest affidavit stated “U.S. Person 1 worked with Butina to jointly arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics, including an organization promoting gun rights for the purpose of advancing the agenda of the Russian Federation.” The fact is Maria Butina’s ties to the NRA, top GOP operatives and even the current White House National Security Advisory and former head of the NRA’s international affairs subcommittee, John Bolton, date back years.
The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support 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 McClatchy, NRA spending may have actually exceeded $70 million during the 2016 election.
More about Maria Butina’s deep ties to the NRA and its leadership:
- In 2011, then-NRA president David Keene formed a friendship with Russian banker and politician Alexander Torshin. Torshin attended six consecutive NRA conventions between 2011 and 2016. Shortly thereafter in 2011, Torshin joined with Maria Butina to form a Russian gun rights group supposedly modeled after the NRA called the Right to Bear Arms.
- In 2013, Butina’s gun rights group hosted Keene and NRA-linked Republican operative Paul Erickson at the Right to Bear Arms’ annual convention in Moscow. Days later, now-White House national security advisor John Bolton, a longtime friend of Keene’s, recorded a video for the group praising “a new era of freedom” in Russia.
- In 2014, Butina attended her first of three consecutive NRA conventions. Torshin and Butina’s attendance at NRA conventions gave them access to prominent Republican figures, including President Donald Trump, Governor Scott Walker, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal and others.
- Weeks after President Trump launched his presidential campaign and during a public question-and-answer session at FreedomFest, a libertarian convention in Las Vegas in July 2015, Butina asked Trump what he would do as president about “damaging” US sanctions. Trump suggested he would get rid of them.
- In 2015, Butina’s gun rights group hosted an NRA delegation in Moscow, which included former NRA president David Keene, NRA and Trump campaign surrogate Sheriff David Clarke, Charter Member of the NRA’s million dollar donor program Joe Gregory, and Pete Brownell, who would soon become NRA president.
- During the 2015 trip, the NRA delegation met with the then-sanctioned Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and visited a Russian gun manufacturer, whose weapons have been cited by the U.S. military as a threat to American troops. Clarke also claimed to have met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
- By 2016, “Torshin and Butina had become fixtures at the NRA’s high-dollar donor events, according to attendees,” even attending a dinner for the NRA’s million-dollar donor program, known as the Golden Ring of Freedom. The NRA has recently claimed that no foreign individuals were part of Golden Ring of Freedom.
- In February 2016, Butina and Paul Erickson created a mysterious limited liability company in South Dakota and attended Trump’s inauguration together.
- In May 2016, Erickson reached out to the Trump campaign on behalf of Butina’s mentor, Alexander Torshin, saying that Russia was “quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S.” and would try to use the NRA convention to make “first contact.”
- Donald Trump, Jr. met and spoke with Torshin and Butina at former NRA President David Keene’s birthday party in 2016, which was happening at the same restaurant as an event to which Trump, Jr. had been invited.
- Shortly after President Trump’s election, Butina hosted a birthday party at a restaurant in Washington, D.C. The party was attended by Trump campaign aides and Paul Erickson, who claimed to advise the Trump transition team. There, she claimed to have acted as a go-between between the Trump campaign and Russia.
- In March 2017, Butina wrote in an email to Time, “I am deeply grateful for the friendship of the American NRA.”
- In January 2018, McClatchy reported that the FBI was “investigating whether Russian money went to [the] NRA to help Trump” get elected.
- In February, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote his first of three letters to the NRA requesting any documents detailing financial links between Russia and the NRA. The NRA originally denied taking any money from foreign individuals or entities. Later, it acknowledged receiving a contribution from Torshin himself. In response to Sen. Wyden’s third letter, the NRA acknowledged receiving contributions from at least 23 Russia-linked individuals.
- In April, Torshin was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury.
The questions now are: When will the NRA come clean about its connections to Butina and her allies? And when will it fully answer questions about any role they may have played in the NRA’s record-breaking 2016 electoral activity?