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Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden: NRA has “Flipped More Times Than a Kid on a Summer Diving Board” on Russian Money Question

June 22, 2018

In a new Vanity Fair report, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Mike Carpenter, a Russian specialist who worked at the Pentagon during the Obama administration, weigh in on the reported FBI investigation into whether Russian banker, politician, lifetime NRA member and NRA donor Alexander Torshinillegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency” in 2016.

Vanity Fair reported:

“The Russian state is run by a K.G.B. elite that wants nothing less than to have an armed citizenry,” [Mike] Carpenter says. “[former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry] Rogozin is a heavyweight in Russian politics. . . . Torshin has a direct line to Putin . . . and also has possible ties to organized crime. [general director of St. Basil’s the Great Charitable Foundation Sergei] Rudov is the right-hand man of Konstantin Malofeev, who is sort of a paleo-conservative, ultra-nationalist figure who bankrolls a lot of projects involving mercenaries in Ukraine.” Carpenter sees how a dark money trail could connect the Kremlin to the gun lobby. “Those three would only meet with N.R.A. officials if there were some concerted effort by senior members of the Russian government to try and co-opt the N.R.A. politically,” he continues. “And they are all money men. They can throw tens of millions around.”

“‘There are a lot of unanswered questions,’ Senator Ron Wyden says. The Oregon Democrat has spent months pushing the N.R.A. to explain the sources of its foreign contributions. The gun group’s responses shifted from saying it had received only one contribution from a Russian person in six years; to acknowledging 23 Russian-related contributions since 2015 totaling a little more than $2,500; to shutting down communications with Wyden. ‘”’Shifting’’ is a diplomatic way to put it,’ the senator says. ‘They have flipped more times than a kid on a summer diving board. . . . The notion that all of these important oligarchs who had involvement with the N.R.A. and were close to Putin were spending money on a few magazine subscriptions doesn’t strike me as very plausible.’ (The N.R.A. did not return a call for comment, but a spokesman has said previously that the group’s contacts with Russian figures had nothing to do with its spending in American political campaigns.)”

“Ted Lieu wants to summon N.R.A. officials to testify before him and the rest of the House Judiciary Committee — but that depends on the Democrats regaining a congressional majority this fall. For now, the California Democrat and one of his New York colleagues, Kathleen Rice, have written to F.B.I. director Chris Wray calling for the bureau to probe whether Russian money was channeled through the N.R.A. and spent on 2016 House and Senate campaigns. ‘These meetings with Russians and the N.R.A.’s increased spending could be coincidence number 395,’ Lieu says. ‘Or something extremely bad happened.’”

Torshin was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department earlier this year. According to a report, the FBI obtained wiretaps of conversations between Torshin and a convicted Russian money launderer, Alexander Romanov, in which Romanov referred to Torshin as “‘El Padrino,’ the godfather.”

The NRA reported spending more than $55 million on the 2016 election including more than $30 million to elect President Trump. According to McClatchy, 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.

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