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Robert Mueller Eyes NRA in Russia Probe

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 influence.

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 Russian nationals.

“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 emerged.

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 elections, combined.

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 check.

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 hellos.”

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.

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