The investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team
into Russian interference in the 2016 election has so many threads and ties, it’s
enough to spin your head.
Now, add one more thread: the NRA.
According to former Trump campaign aid, Sam Nunberg, Mueller
is interested in exploring the relationship between Trump’s campaign team and
the National Rifle Association, as well as how it all ties in with Russian
Among those things that have piqued special counsel’s curiosity
is how Team Trump and the NRA connected, and also, what brought about Trump
being invited to speak at the 2015 annual meeting of NRA members, months before
he announced his candidacy.
So what do we know, to date, about the relationship?
We know the NRA dropped a lot of cash in promoting Trump in
2016. We also know the NRA has recently come under scrutiny for its ties to
“When I was interviewed by the special counsel’s office, I was asked about the Trump campaign and our dealings with the NRA,” Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign aide, told CNN.
That was in February 2018. Since then, other players have
In December 2018, Maria Butina pleaded guilty in a Washington,
D.C. court to engaging in a conspiracy against the US.
That conspiracy included, per her testimony, attempting to
infiltrate GOP circles, as well as seeking to influence the relationship
between the United States and Russia. Part of that plan included building ties
with prominent members of the NRA.
Of course, Russia has since began a campaign to accuse the
United States of violating Butina’s human rights, saying her plea was coerced.
And Russia pointing a finger at anyone, accusing them of human
rights violations is laughable.
She also admitted she was working at the direction of a prominent former Russian central banker, Alexander Torshin, who was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department last year for his role in the Russian government. Torshin is also a lifetime member of the NRA.
So is a Russian joining the NRA (if we’re to assume the “National”
part of the NRA means the United States) a big deal?
Maybe not that, alone, but then it isn’t just a case of a
single, random Russian joining an American gun rights group.
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate
Finance Committee has leaned on the NRA to be more transparent with where their
financing comes from.
Among those details the NRA has provided, since 2015 there
have been more than 20 Russian nations, currently living in the U.S., or
associated with Russian addresses that have contributed since 2015. However, we’re
not talking about major cash injections. The total is a bit over $2,500, and
the NRA insists they do not use foreign funds for campaign efforts.
So how does this tie in to Trump?
What we know is that when the NRA threw their support behind
Trump – in spite of his questionable past comments, in regards to gun rights –
they really went all in.
They spent more in supporting Trump than they did on any
candidate – in House, Senate, and presidential elections – in the 2008 and 2012
What does that look like?
It looks like a $30 million wad on a guy who is not exactly
the best friend of gun enthusiasts, no matter what he says while cashing the
Trump has relied on his sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric
Trump to up his cred with the gun group.
“They love the NRA more than anyone I know,” Trump said at the 2015 NRA meeting, as he brought his sons Trump Jr. and Eric Trump onstage with him. “They happen to be my sons. They’re lifetime members.”
“These are our people,” Trump Jr. said as he took the stage. “We’re shooters, we’re hunters, we’re outdoorsman, we’re sportsman and we love the Second Amendment.”
You forgot the part about being opportunists.
A year later, at the 2016 NRA meeting, Trump Jr. huddled
with the former Russian banker, Alexander Torshin.
Torshin had hoped to use the NRA meeting to initiate back-channel lines of communication between then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. While he failed to land a meeting with Trump, he and his associate, Butina, encountered Trump Jr. at a dinner with NRA officials.
While speaking before the House Intelligence Committee in
2017, Trump Jr. downplayed his meeting with Torshin, characterizing it as “casual
How much Butina may be working with Mueller’s team, at this
point, is not clear. A previous report stated that there wasn’t a lot of
interest from Mueller’s team with Butina’s case. Considering how closely
Mueller is playing his cards to the vest, however, there may be more there.
There’s also the interest of the House Intelligence
Committee, now in the hands of Democrats. They’d previously complained that the
Republicans were blocking their efforts to investigate the connection between
Russia and the NRA.
What we do know is that as recently as a month ago, Mueller’s
team was looking at the connection between the NRA and Trump’s team.
It seems, at this point, the only thing we can be certain of
is that Russia has actively sought to influence many avenues of American life.
Whether any of it can be traced directly back to Donald Trump or his associates
is in the hands of special counsel.