In the midst of the reported FBI investigation into whether Russian banker, politician, lifetime NRA member and NRA donor Alexander Torshin “illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency” in 2016, McClatchy is now reporting that the Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators may have gained access to the NRA’s tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service, including all of its donors.
The NRA reported spending more than $55 million on the 2016 election including more than $30 million to elect President Trump. According to an earlier McClatchy report, two NRA insiders say that the group’s actual election spending exceeded $70 million, including resources devoted to field operations and online advertising, which are not required to be publicly reported.
Torshin was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department earlier this year. According to a recent report, the FBI obtained wiretaps of conversations between Torshin and a convicted Russian money launderer, Alexander Romanov, in which the Romanov referred to Torshin as “‘El Padrino,’ the godfather.” According to NRA spokesperson Andrew Arulanandam, Torshin’s NRA membership is now “frozen.”
“The NRA, which spent $30 million-plus backing Trump’s bid, has heard nothing from the FBI or any other law enforcement agency, spokesman Andrew Arulanandam reiterated in an email the other day.
“Legal experts, though, say there’s an easy explanation for that. They say it would be routine for Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators, who are looking at the NRA’s funding as part of a broader inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections, to secretly gain access to the NRA’s tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service.
“On the returns, the group was required to identify its so-called “dark money” donors — companies and wealthy individuals who financed $21 million of the group’s publicly disclosed pro-Trump spending, as well as its multimillion-dollar efforts to heighten voter turnout. The NRA’s nonprofit status allows it to shield those donors’ names from the public, but not the IRS.
“A central question for Mueller’s office is whether any of the confidential donors’ names hold clues that could enable investigators to trace a donation camouflaged to hide its Russian origins – such as a shell company that might be the end point in a chain of offshore transactions.
“Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said in a statement to McClatchy that if investigators haven’t yet obtained a list of the NRA’s secret donors, it’s a vital step for determining if Russians “used shell companies as part of a scheme to influence the 2016 election.”
Steve Hall, a former chief of the CIA’s Russia operations said that the NRA-Russia connection still bears close examination by Mueller:
“It’s just so insidious, and it sort of ticks all the boxes: connections to the current administration, major backer of then-candidate Trump, the Russians wanting to get in and manipulate our own political system.”
Meanwhile, Mike Carpenter, a Russian specialist who worked at the Pentagon during the Obama administration, said he believes the NRA knows more about its ties to Vladimir Putin’s Russia than it has publicly stated. Carpenter tweeted this morning: