A constantly updated timeline of the relationship between the Putin government in Russia and the NRA. Most recent items at bottom.
In 1992, paleoconservative Pat Buchanan launched a failed bid for the GOP presidential nomination. Buchanan’s campaign manager was Paul Erickson, a former staffer with the national College Republicans who had some experience in managing political campaigns. Also working on the campaign was George D. O’Neill, Jr., a tech-savvy Rockefeller heir who was adept with computer databases. After a promising opening primary in the state of New Hampshire, the Buchanan campaign quickly fizzled out.
In 1995, Paul Erickson, the former campaign manager of 1992 Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, obtained a $30,000 contract to lobby on Capitol Hill for six weeks on behalf of military dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, the president of Zaire (later Republic of Congo) during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. [During the genocide, the majority Hutu government in Rwanda ordered the army and government-backed militias to kill Tutsi people. Mobutu supported Hutu genocidaires based in refugee camps in Zaire, and was accused of allowing them to attack Tutsi. In a period of just 100 days, 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed.]
Mobutu was banned from entering the United States because of his history of human rights violations and embezzlement from his own government (between $4 and $15 billion). He wanted Erickson and Jack Abramoff (who worked for Erickson’s lobbying firm and had produced films with him) to convince Members of Congress to ask the State Department for a change in policy so he could obtain a visa. Mobutu also employed David Keene, the chairman of the board at the American Conservative Union (ACU), for this purpose. Keene did this work through a private lobbying firm he started with his wife Diana in 1987. The combined efforts of Keene, Erickson and Abramoff were ultimately unsuccessful — the State Department rejected Mobutu’s request.
American Conservative Union chair David Keene was first elected to the National Rifle Association (NRA) board of directors in 2000.
Vanity Fair published a lurid expose about the divorce proceedings of conservative scion/Rockefeller heir George D. O’Neill, Jr. (estimated net worth: $200 million) and Amy Whittlesey in their January 2000 issue (“Irreconcilable Rockefellers”). The divorce was provoked by O’Neill’s infidelity. As author Lisa Depaulo put it, O’Neill was “diddling everyone from baby-sitters to the local funeral director’s wife, employing a harem of big-breasted young women in his business, trying to force his wife into threesomes with the help.” One employee noted “he treated the dogs better than Amy.”
Politically, “George was best known publicly for his vigorous support of the far right … He worked tirelessly for [Republican presidential candidate Pat] Buchanan, as well as for Phyllis Schlafly, the pro-life zealot famous for spearheading the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment.” O’Neill “was often at the shooting range he had built down the road from their house, indulging his interest in guns.” He “slept with a loaded pistol by the bed and took great pride in being a National Rifle Association [certified firearms] instructor.” After the tragedies at Waco and Ruby Ridge in the 1990s, O’Neill “made [his wife] watch videos, many, many videos, concerning the activities of the A.T.F. and how they violated people’s First Amendment rights and broke into homes and shot people and stuff.”
One night after Whittlesey called the husband of one his mistresses, O’Neill “stomped around with a semi-automatic gun in his hand, threatening to blow his brains out if she didn’t retract, in writing, her accusations of adultery.” The next day she left him with their four children. Whittlesey would return to him to reconcile, but after O’Neill claimed (wrongly) not to be the father of their subsequent fifth child, she left him for good. In divorce proceedings in 2000, O’Neill was aggressively fighting Whittlesey’s request for $7,500 per month in alimony payments.
American Conservative Union chair and NRA board member David Keene co-authored an article with Donald Devine (the editor of the ACU’s ConservativeBattleline newsletter) in the December 25, 2000 edition of Insight on the News, a conservative print and online magazine owned by Unification movement founder Sun Myung Moon. Titled “American Imperialism is Not in the U.S. Interest,” the article offered a sharp critique of Neo-Conservatism and the Clinton administration’s foreign policy concerning Russia and its new authoritarian president, Vladimir Putin. Keene and Devine impugned several foreign policy decisions made by the U.S. and its allies, including the Council of Europe’s threat to suspend Russia for its war in Chechnya, the expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders, and NATO forces’ bombing of Serbia and occupation of Kosovo. According to Keene and Devine, these actions “humiliated Russia and created a national consensus there for a strong leader to do what was necessary to restore Russia’s standing in the world.” The “real threats” to U.S. interests were “Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism, global governance and, potentially, China.” In the view of Keene and Devine, the Clinton administration was wrong for wanting to “want[ing] to scold [the Russians] every time they slip a democracy lesson!”
American Conservative Union director of online communications David M. Keene — the 21 year-old son of ACU chair David Keene — was sentenced to ten years in prison in 2003 after he shot at the driver of another vehicle from his BMW on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in northern Virginia. Keene missed the other driver’s head by inches according to police reports.
In 2004, United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin made his first known visit to the United States of America. Torshin was known to have ties to the Federal Security Service (FSB), the intelligence agency formerly known as the KGB. Torshin also had ties to the Taganskaya mob in Moscow going back to the mid-1990s. Torshin had previously worked as a mid-level official at Russia’s Central Bank, where he befriended one of his subordinates, Alexander Romanov. When Torshin went into politics and became a senator, Romanov became an executive at the Rosneft energy company and gained notoriety for engaging in illicit business with the Taganskaya mafia.
On December 28, 2005, a parliamentary commission chaired by United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin released a report that cleared Russian president Vladimir Putin of wrong-doing in a botched attempt to rescue hostages. The rescue attempt occurred after Ingush and Chechen militants took 1,100 hostages at a school in Beslan, Russia. Russian Security Forces stormed the campus on September 1, 2004 and initiated a siege that lasted for three days. 334 people — including 186 children — were killed in the fighting. Torshin’s commission exonerated Putin and the Russian military and blamed local officials in Beslan for the casualty totals.
Conservative attorney G. Kline Preston invited a Russian embassy official in the U.S. to attend a Fabergé egg exhibition in Nashville, Tennesee with him in 2007. The two struck up a friendship and the embassy official introduced Preston to United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin. Preston said he “provided legal advice on Russian law to Torshin.” At this time, Preston was also serving as the “Current President, Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc.” Preston originally became involved in Blackburn’s campaign operation in 2003, just after the Tennessee state senator was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in the state’s 7th congressional district. According to Preston’s website, he would remain involved until 2014.
In June 2008, legendary American businessman Maurice “Hank” Greenberg’s Starr Russia Investments III fund bought 20 percent of Investtorgbank, a Russian bank. The fund paid about $100 million for its share of Investtorgbank.
Greenberg is a major Republican donor, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and the former CEO/chair of insurance and financial services giant AIG. Greenberg was forced out of AIG in 2005 for his role in a fraudulent transaction that made the company’s financial position appear to be stronger than it really was. Greenberg is also a social friend and former client of Nixon Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. In 1987, Greenberg appointed Kissinger as chairman of AIG’s International Advisory Board.
NRA board member David Keene joined the board of directors of the pro-Russia Center for the National Interest (CFTNI) in 2009, according to the organization’s 990 records. CFTNI was established by the administration of Republican President Richard Nixon. Its board of directors includes former AIG CEO Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, former Nixon Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and a Russian-born confidant of president Vladimir Putin, Dmitri Simes.
In May 2009, the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kisylak, requested that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin meet with United Russia senator Alexander Torshin, who was visiting the state. Palin turned down the request, but the lieutenant governor of Alaska, Sean Parnell, agreed to a sit-down with Torshin. Parnell said the following to NPR about his meeting with the Russian legislator: “It wouldn’t be unusual for Alaska’s Lt. Governor to take a meeting with a visiting foreign dignitary, especially if the Governor’s Office had been approached first by the visitor/visiting delegation to schedule a meeting and the governor had declined.”
In August 2009, American businessman Maurice “Hank” Greenberg’s Starr Russia Investments III fund invested an additional $8 million in the Russian bank Investtorgbank.
In 2010, Alexander Torshin, a Senator in Russian president Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, “penned a glossy gun rights pamphlet, illustrated by cartoon figures wielding guns to fend off masked robbers. The booklet cited U.S. statistics to argue for gun ownership, at one point echoing in Russian an old NRA slogan: ‘Guns don’t shoot — people shoot.’”
In 2010, United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin hosted a delegation of 15 student body presidents from American universities as part of an exchange program in Moscow. The program was sponsored by the Russian Cultural Center and focused on “youth affairs.” Sessions were conducted in the “ornate chambers of the Russian parliament.” Before their meeting with Torshin, the students were warned by the then-National Security Council director for Russian affairs Michael McFaul and other White House officials that the program could be a Russian influence operation in disguise.
On February 23, 2010, the National Rifle Association and Las Vegas-based gun manufacturer Arsenal, Inc. announced the sale of 500 limited-edition gold- and silver-plated AK-74s, with proceeds going to the NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA). “Each [rifle] features engravings in dedication of Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov’s 90th birthday, 35 years of AK-74 production, the Izhmash factory logo, and Dr. Kalashnikov’s signature,” read the announcement. “Besides honoring the great [gun] designer, Dr. Kalashnikov, this project is intended to bring the West and the East together, as well as to eliminate the negative stigma attached by some to the AK rifle.” [AK-style rifles were originally designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov and manufactured by the arms factory Izhmash in the former Soviet Union.] The silver rifles sold for $3,500 each, the gold ones $5,000 each. All told, the auction raised $1.9 million for the NRA-ILA.
The World Russia Forum was held in the Senate Hart Building in Washington, D.C. on April 26, 2010 to “commemorate the Elbe River Linkage and WWII Victory.” The event was co-organized by United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin, an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and Dr. Edward Lonzansky, a “conservative movement insider.”
Opening remarks were provided by the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Daniel Russell, and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador to the United States. At a luncheon, Torshin spoke on a panel with the following U.S. Congressmen: Bill Delahunt (D-MA), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Dana Rohrarbacher (R-CA). The vice-chair of the American Conservative Union, Donald Devine, spoke on a panel in the afternoon titled “Reset in U.S.-Russia Relations.” “Russia should not be looked at from a Cold War perspective,” Devine told those in attendance. “It shouldn’t be looked at as essentially the enemy. We should look at it as a great power which has enormous capacities to do good or do ill.”
On February 9, 2011, scandal-plagued American Conservative Union (ACU) chair David Keene resigned his position on the eve of the organization’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Keene had served as ACU chair since 1984, but was implicated in the embezzlement of as much as $400,000 in donor money from the organization’s coffers between 2006 and 2009 (approximate ACU annual budget at time: $1.5 million). Keene blamed the crime on his ex-wife, Diana Carr, who worked at ACU as “administrative director” despite suffering from “extensive mental health problems.”
Keene’s ouster was also prompted by his decision to let a Republican group that advocates for LGTBQ rights, GOProud, participate at CPAC. Additionally, Center for Security Policy founder Frank Gaffney charged that ACU had fallen under the sway of the Muslim Brotherhood during Keene’s watch.
United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin met with another group of leading students from American universities in March 2011 as part of a “youth affairs” program organized by the Russian Cultural Center in Washington, D.C.
On March 2, 2011, Russian president Vladimir Putin told the Russian state news agency TASS that he was “deeply convinced that the free flow of firearms will bring a great harm and represents a great danger for us … Moreover, I believe that it is necessary to tighten the distribution rules.”
The National Rifle Association conducted its annual meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from April 29-May 1, 2011 and elected board member David Keene as the new president of the organization. Keene credited NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre with getting him more involved with NRA leadership. United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin attended the meeting and met with Keene at a hotel restaurant in Pittsburgh. That meeting was arranged by conservative Nashville lawyer G. Kline Preston IV. “[Torshin] was interested in the NRA so I hooked him up,” recalled Preston, who keeps a porcelain bust of Russian president Vladimir Putin in his office. “He wanted to learn from the best and that’s the NRA when it comes to gun rights.”
On May 7, 2011, NRA president David Keene wrote a thank you letter to United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin. “Just a brief note to let you know just how much I enjoyed our meeting in Pittsburgh during the NRA annual meeting,” Keene wrote. “As I indicated, you and your colleagues will receive a formal invitation to next year’s meeting in St. Louis. For planning purposes, you may wish to note that it will be held on April 12–17th, 2012.”
The Russian Weapons Company (RWC) was established in June 2011 in Tullytown, Pennsylvania with Eldad Oz as manager. The brother of Eldad is Moshe Oz, a former Israeli commando turned arms dealer who runs a tactical gear company, CAA.
On June 6, 2011, NRA president David Keene’s ex-wife Diana Carr pleaded guilty to mail fraud for embezzling $120,000 to $400,000 from the American Conservative Union (ACU) during the period of 2006–2009. At the time, Carr was the ACU’s administrative director reporting to Keene, the ACU’s chair from 1984 until his forced resignation in February 2011.
In the “President’s Column” in the September 2011 issue of the NRA’s America’s 1st Freedom magazine, David Keene announced he was appointing lawyer John Bolton to be chair of the NRA’s international affairs subcommittee. Bolton served in the Reagan and Bush administrations, where he gained a reputation as a war hawk. “[Bolton] may not be in the State Department anymore, but he’s as dedicated to preserving the Second Amendment as any NRA member and will be advising us on strategy as we confront our opponents in [the United Nations],” wrote Keene. At the time, the U.N. was considering a treaty to halt the illicit trade of small arms globally. Keene’s paranoid view of the U.N. and opposition to the treaty was shared by Bolton, who told NRATV host Cam Edwards in 2009: “[The Obama administration] will use [the small arms treaty] as an excuse to get [gun control] domestically [that] they couldn’t otherwise.”
Fifty-seven year-old Diana Carr, the ex-wife of NRA president David Keene, was sentenced to a year in federal prison on September 16, 2011 after pleading guilty to one count of mail fraud for embezzling more than $300,000 from the American Conservative Union (ACU). Carr worked there as administrative director and reported to Keene, who served as the ACU’s chair from 1984 until his forced resignation in 2011.
In late 2011, an enigmatic young Russian national Muria Butina founded a fake gun rights group called The Right to Bear Arms with assistance from United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin. Butina gained national prominence when she competed in the Youth Primaries of the Young Guard of United Russia, designed to cultivate new political talent for the Kremlin. Prior to that she had worked at a Siberian furniture store. “[The Right to Bear Arms] was created as the Russian version of the NRA, and we wanted to have as much NRA involvement as possible,” explained a member of the group.
The Right to Bear Arms was funded by oligarch Konstantin Nikolaev, a Russian billionaire with investments in U.S. energy and technology companies, from 2012 to 2014. The group listed more than 20 “honorary members” on its website, most of them hardliner nationalists with Rodina and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. They were characterized as “individuals who make decisions on a national scale, as well as opinion leaders” who associate with The Right to Bear Arms by consent. Radicals like LDPR leaders Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who blames Jews for WWII and the Holocaust, and Ilya Drozdov, who called for Ukraine to be “wiped off the map,” appeared on the list. Also on the list was Alexei Zhuravlev, the Rodina party leader. Rodina supports the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, which has openly recruited and organized U.S. secessionists and neo-Nazis.
The Right to Bear Arms purported to be interested in loosening Russia’s gun laws, but despite their high-level advisers no progress was ever made. Russia continues to have very restrictive gun laws to this day. Civilians are unable to own handguns and must license and register long guns. “The checks [are] incredibly hard just for a shotgun,” Butina admitted. “For a rifle, you have to have been an owner of a shotgun with no problems with the law.” The NRA has never voiced any criticism of Russia’s gun laws.
On December 4, 2011, Nashville lawyer G. Kline Preston served as an international observer of the parliamentary elections in Russia, calling them “impressive” and “very well organized.” The elections led to massive street protests in Moscow because of alleged ballot-rigging.
Saul Anuzis, a former chair of the Michigan GOP and Republican National Committee (RNC) technology panel, was appointed by the NRA board of directors to serve on the organization’s Public Affairs Committee in 2012.
GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson joined the board of directors of the American Conservative Union (ACU) in 2012.
In January 2012, the Russian Weapons Company (RWC) in Tullytown, Pennsylvania began operations as the exclusive U.S. importer of Izhmash Saiga rifles and shotguns manufactured in Russia (based on the original AK-47 designs by Mikhail Kalashnikov).
On February 29, 2012, United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin tweeted, “We will start organizing our own Russian NRA [after Russia’s presidential election on March 4, 2012].”
United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin met with another group of leading students from American universities in March 2012 as part of a cultural exchange program organized by the Russian Cultural Center in Washington, D.C.
From April 12–15, 2012, the NRA’s annual meeting was conducted in St. Louis, Missouri under the theme “A Celebration of American Values.” United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin attended the meeting again, this time as a VIP Guest of NRA president David Keene.
On April 15, 2012, Alexander Torshin tweeted about having just returned from the NRA’s annual meeting in St. Louis. He noted that he was attending a rally of the The Right to Bear Arms in Moscow that same day.
Gun designer Mikhail Kalashnikov wrote a letter to the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriach Kirill of Moscow, in May 2012 to express the anguish he felt over designing a weapon that had taken so many lives globally since 1949, the AK-47 assault rifle. “My spiritual pain is unbearable,” Kalashnikov told Kirill. “I keep having the same unsolved question: if my rifle claimed people’s lives, then can it be that I…a Christian and an Orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?”
United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin and his “assistant” Maria Butina appeared before the Russian Senate on July 24, 2012—just four days after the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado in which 70 Americans were shot in just two minutes by a single gunman. Torshin and Butina advocated for more permissive gun laws in Russia, including civilian access to handguns, but their proposal was rejected by senators. Another speaker that day in favor of loosening Russia’s gun laws was American attorney G. Kline Peterson. He related the following to Think Progress:
[Maria] was there not to meet me, but she was there because she was lobbying for this law that was being discussed [to liberalize gun laws in Russia]. And I just met her in passing. Like, you know, “Hey, this is Maria Butina, she’s with such and such.” “Oh, hey.” Whatever. That was it. And then I circled back around and saw her with Torshin later.
On November 6, 2012, conservative lawyer G. Kline Preston observed voting at the polls in Nashville, Tennessee with guest Alexander Torshin, a United Russia Senator, and Russian diplomat Igor Mateev. Torshin was allowed to inspect electronic voting machines and election queues. Both Preston and Torshin claimed they witnessed violations of U.S. law. While in Tennessee, Torshin also met with Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN-7th) in her home county, Williamson County. Preston was still working on Blackburn’s political campaigns at the time.
United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin tweeted a photo of himself standing outside the headquarters of the NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia on November 8, 2012. Torshin was there to speak to the NRA’s legislative affairs committee per the request of NRA president David Keene.
United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin spoke to journalist Julia Ioffe at the New Republic for a November 16, 2012 article titled “The Rise of Russia’s Gun Nuts.” Torshin told her he was attracted to the NRA because it represents “stability,” which Ioffe described as “the credo of [Russian president Vladimir] Putin’s reign.”
About 80 people gathered in a square in Moscow, Russia on December 1, 2012 for a rally hosted by The Right to Bear Arms, the gun rights group headed by Russian agent Maria Butina. Most attendees “carried nationalist flags or displayed nationalist insignia.”
Speaking to reporter Glenn Kates of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty for a December 20, 2012 article, Russian spy Maria Butina addressed the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in the United States, which had happened six days earlier. She echoed the NRA’s talking points about “gun-free zones,”stating, “In this shooting six teachers died, six people who could literally use only their hands to defend children. The murderer planned this knowing that no one would be armed.”
United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin met with another group of leading students from American universities in March 2013 as part of a cultural exchange program organized by the Russian Cultural Center in Washington, DC.
From May 2–5, 2013, United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin attended his third straight NRA annual meeting, this time in Houston, Texas. NRA leaders presented Torshin with a rifle as a gift and he bragged on Twitter: “Three thousand delegates of the NRA Congress greeted me with an ovation!” He also shared pictures of a private “Golden Ring of Freedom” event for the NRA’s largest donors. Jim Porter was elected as the new NRA president at the meeting, replacing David Keene, who retained his seat on the NRA board of directors. Torshin was photographed with Keene and NRA director of operations Kyle Weaver at the meeting. Weaver worked directly under NRA CEO and executive vice president Wayne LaPierre.
On June 14, 2013, Spain’s Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) reported that United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin was laundering money for the Taganskaya mafia in Moscow through banks and properties in Spain. They recorded 33 phone conversations that Torshin had with Taganskaya boss Alexander Romanov (his former subordinate at the Russian Central Bank) in 2012 and 2013, and seized relevant documents during a raid. “Within the hierarchical structure of the organization, it’s known that Russian politician Alexander Porfirievich Torshin stands above Taganskaya leader in Spain, Alexander Romanov, who calls him ‘godfather’ or ‘boss’ and conducts ‘activities and investments’ on his behalf,” the Civil Guard concluded.
NRA board member and former NRA president David Keene was hired as the opinion editor of the Washington Times on July 15, 2013.
Two Russian arms manufacturers, Izhmash and Izhmekh, merged on August 13, 2013 to create the Kalashnikov Concern, the largest arms manufacturer in the country.
In the fall of 2013, the FBI abruptly stopped American participation in a Russian cultural exchange program that involved meetings between leading American undergraduate students and top-ranking Russian officials, including United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin. The FBI determined the Russian program was a “Washington-based Russian spy recruiting effort.” “They said they had a great degree of confidence that the trips were part of an effort to spot and assess future intelligence assets,” reported one student who participated in the program after meeting with FBI agents. “They told us it was standard Russian spycraft.”
The Moscow Times reported on October 3, 2013 that the private arms manufacturer ORSIS would be making a “sporting” version of its military sniper rifle, the T-5000, for sale to civilians. The T-5000 was dubbed the “Rogozin rifle” because of the closeness of the Russian deputy prime minister in charge of the defense industry, Dmitry Rogozin, to ORSIS.
Russian agent Maria Butina made a presentation to an Israeli pro-gun group, the Association for the Promotion of Weapons Culture (APWC), on October 12, 2013. APWC posted on Facebook after her talk, writing in Hebrew that Butina claimed her group The Right to Bear Arms had “signed cooperation agreements with neighboring countries and with the American NRA.” According to Butina, APWC was “probably next in line.” One of the slides in Butina’s presentation also touted “cooperation” with the Texas-based International Defensive Pistol Association.
On October 30, 2013, Russian agent Maria Butina picked up NRA board member and past president David Keene and his “body man,” GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson, at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. The two men were in town to attend a meeting of Butina’s fake gun rights group, The Right to Bear Arms.
From October 31 — November 1, 2013, The Right to Bear Arms conducted its annual meeting in Moscow. United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin and his “assistant” Maria Butina were present. The lead-off speaker at the event was Alan Gottlieb, president of the Seattle, Washington-based Second Amendment Foundation (SAF). Gottlieb’s wife, SAF director of operations Julianne Versnel, also spoke. Just months earlier, Versnel had testified on behalf of SAF at the United Nations, objecting to the exclusion of gun rights provisions from a U.N. small arms trade treaty. “If there is a right to not be a victim of sexual or personal violence, then that right involves the right to defend one’s self,” she told U.N. delegates. Following Versnel at the podium was NRA board member and past president David Keene. He told the audience it was a “great honor” to be at the conference “because over the course of the last three years, I’ve hosted your Senator Alexander Torshin at the National Rifle Association’s annual meetings. We need to work together.”
Joining Keene at the meeting was GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson. The “cultural” program at the event featured an exhibition of images by pro-gun photographer Olga Volk (one of the stranger “honorary members” of The Right to Bear Arms) and a concealed carry fashion show. Volk achieved notoriety in American pro-gun circles by frequently posing women and babies with assault rifles for his online memes.
Alan Gottlieb reported that during The Right to Bear Arms meeting, Torshin and Butina took him and his wife out for dinner “and gave them gifts that displayed research into their interests — exotic fabric for Gottlieb’s wife, a needlepoint enthusiast, and for Gottlieb, “commemorative stamps that Torshin received as a member of the Russian legislature.”
On November 1, 2013, Russian agent Maria Butina tweeted a photo of herself and GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson taken at The Right to Bear Arms meeting in Moscow. A charging affadavit from the U.S. Department of Justice notes that “in or around 2013” an “American political operative” identified as “U.S. Person 1” (Erickson) first met Butina in Moscow. According to the affadavit, they began working to “jointly arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics, including an organization promoting gun rights [the NRA].”
CAA Tactical owner Moshe Oz spoke to the Israeli business magazine Globes for a November 13, 2013 article about increased sales of the company’s 30-bullet magazines following the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. “The economic situation in the U.S. is not great, and the firearms industry generates tremendous amounts of money and is a major growth engine,” said Oz. “The solution for extreme situations, such as these criminal massacres, is simply to increase security. It creates more jobs and prevents crazy acts of violence. An attacker will not choose a target that is secured.” The article also mentioned Oz’s factory in Pennsylvania managed by his brother Eldad, which goes by the name Russian Weapons Company.
On December 10, 2013, The Right to Bear Arms posted a video address the group received from lawyer John Bolton, the chair of the NRA’s international affairs subcommittee. The video was shown to the The Right to Bear Arms’ members during a meeting in Russia, at which spy and group founder Maria Butina was present. In his address, Bolton spoke about the Second Amendment and what gun rights mean to him.
On December 23, 2013, Mikhail Kalashnikov, the famed gun designer who invented the AK-47 for the Soviet Army, died at the age of 94.
The NRA received a $4.9 million grant from Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce in 2014. FPCC is the financial hub of the conservative advocacy network funded by the billionaire Koch brothers.
In January 2014, the Kalashnikov Concern announced plans to export 200,000 firearms a year to the U.S. via the Russian Weapons Company (RWC).
On January 2, 2014, NRA board member and Washington Times opinion editor David Keene published an op-ed by United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin titled “Kalashnikov, the Man and the Weapon.” In the op-ed, Torshin eulogized his recently deceased “friend and colleague” Mikhail Kalashnikov, and said the gun designer’s invention of the AK-47 assault rifle was one of Russia’s “greatest accomplishments.” Torshin added, “Last year, I had the pleasure of attending the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Houston. Kalashnikov couldn’t join me, though we have both been ‘life members’ of the NRA for years.”
In February 2014, Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister in charge of the defense industry and head of Russia’s cyberwar unit, approved Alexey Krivoruchko as CEO of Kalashnikov Concern and allowed him to buy a 49 percent stake in the company along with two oligarchs close to president Vladimir Putin: Andrei Bokarev and Iskander Makhmudov. The other 51 percent of the company remained under the control of state company Rostec. Krivoruchko is a career executive in Russian state companies who has enjoyed support from Sergey Chemezov, head of Rostec, during his career.
In late February 2014, the Russian military invaded the territory of Crimea in the sovereign nation of Ukraine, sparking an international crisis.
On February 27, 2014, United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin tweeted, “Republicans are the bones of the NRA. Great political victories are ahead of you!”
The United States enacted its first round of sanctions on March 6, 2014 in response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Crimea. The sanctions targeted individuals and companies, banning their travel to the United States and freezing their domestically-held financial assets.
Russian spy Maria Butina attended the 2014 plenary session of the World Forum on Shooting Activities (WFSA) in Nuremberg, Germany on March 6, 2014. Also in attendance was NRA board member and former president Sandy Froman, who spoke on a panel titled “Breaking Gender Barriers.” The panel focused on women’s role in the shootings sports and firearms lobbying. The WFSA is an official United Nations Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) recognized by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations General Assembly.
U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order on March 17, 2014 authorizing a second round of U.S. sanctions against Russia for its illegal invasion of Crimea. The sanctions targeted seven Russian individuals, including the deputy prime minister in charge of Russia’s defense industry, Dmitry Rogozin. Rogozin was also the head of Russia’s “social networks” unit. On the same day, Russian agent Maria Butina posted a blog, writing that U.S. sanctions would “bankrupt the Russian arms industry” and were therefore “a direct threat to [Russia’s] national security.”
On March 18, 2014, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed legislation annexing the Ukranian territory of Crimea. United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin was present at the ceremony.
Russian agent Maria Butina talked to the newspaper New Sevastopol on March 19, 2014 and said that because “security problems” in Crimea would persist, there was a need for Russia to develop civilian “self-defense units” (militias) to control the local population.
During the weekend of March 25, 2014, Russian agent Maria Butina conducted a press conference in Crimea with Sergei Veselovsky, a leader of a pro-Russian separatist group, the Crimean Front. Butina boasted of her Kremlin connections and mentioned a civilian gun initiative undertaken by Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy defense minister in charge of Russia’s defense industry. She also said her group The Right to Bear Arms planned to expand into Crimea. The press conference was conducted at the formerly independent Crimean Center for Investigative Journalism. During Russia’s invasion of Crimea, the Crimean Front decried the influence of “American agents” at the center and stormed its offices with armed men. After local journalists fled, the center was re-branded as the pro-Russian “News Front.” It is reportedly funded by the Russian security services and publishes stories attacking U.S. sanctions on Russia and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the campaign/transition/administration of Republican president Donald Trump.
Russian agent Maria Butina posted the following to her LiveJournal blog on April 25, 2014: “I only got a visa to the United States for annual NRA meetings on the third try. Before that, I missed these congresses for two years because of the opposition of the American government bureaucracy. Finally, the leadership of the NRA itself [came] to visit us [at The Right to Bear Arms conference in late October 2013], after which it was possible to prove that I would not stay in the US, and I went there on business.”
From April 25–27 2014, United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin attended his fourth straight NRA annual meeting, this time with Maria Butina in tow. At the meeting (in Indianapolis, Indiana), Butina met NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, was given the “rare privilege” of ringing a Liberty Bell replica during a Ring of Freedom event for the NRA’s top donors, and presented NRA president Jim Porter with a special plaque from her group The Right to Bear Arms. She was also a special guest of two former NRA presidents at the meeting: Sandy Froman at the NRA’s Women Luncheon, and David Keene during the general meeting. “We would like to be friends with the NRA,” she told the media.
At an auction during the meeting, Butina took photos of Arsenal, Inc.’s limited-edition gold- and silver-plated AK-74s signed by Mikhail Kalashnikov which helped raise money for the NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), in 2010. She also socialized with NRA board member David Keene and Milwaukee County (Wisconsin) sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr. during her time in Indianapolis.
Russian agent Maria Butina visited South Dakota for the first time following the NRA meeting in Indianapolis, traveling with GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson to his home town of Sioux Falls. There she toured Mount Rushmore, took pilot lessons, and hunted pheasants with locals. “When she was connecting on a very local level, she was getting information on how our society works and building her backstory,” said Alex Finley, a former CIA operations officer. “She was figuring out how things work. What are the political divisions on the local level? What could you exploit?” Sioux Falls resident Nicole Allen added, “It’s a rural, gun-loving state so I believe that’s why it was perfect for her mission.”
The United States imposed a second round of sanctions on Russia on April 28, 2014 for its illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. This time seven Russian officials and 17 Russian companies were targeted.
On May 6, 2014, Russian agent Maria Butina visited the Alexandria, Virginia offices of the American Conservative Union (ACU), where lover and GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson served on the board of directors. Later that day, she tweeted a photo of herself and NRA board member David Keene standing outside the NRA’S HQ in Fairfax, Virginia. “An experience at the Washington office of the NRA” she boasted. Butina was allowed to shoot at the NRA’s indoor range. Keene served as the chair of the ACU from 1984–2011.
Kremlin official Marika Korotaeva texted “Hey. Help please” to her boss Timur Prokopenko, the head of internal politics for Russian president Vladimir Putin, after Butina’s visit to NRA HQ. She continued: “Butina (for legalization of weapons)…now posts pictures with the President of the US gunsmiths now at the main office in Virginia. Against the background of statements about the supply of arms to Ukraine. I ask your help.”
Conservative pundit Katie Pavlich published a two-part series of interviews with Russian agent Maria Butina at Townhall on May 6–7, 2014. The interviews took place at the NRA’s annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana two weekends prior. Butina indicated her visa to travel to the U.S. was approved “just days before” the meeting started. “[The Right to Bear Arms] would like to be friends with NRA,” she told Pavlich, referencing the fake gun rights group she created in 2011 with the assistance of United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin and pro-Putin oligarch Konstantin Nikolaev. Butina cited Torshin and NRA board member David Keene as the backbone of her group’s relationship with the American gun lobby.
Washington Times opinion editor David Keene published a self-written op-ed on May 12, 2014. Keene serves as a board member at the NRA and the pro-Russia Center for the National Interest. In the op-ed, he criticized President Barack Obama, the European Union, and NATO, writing:
The United States and the European Union spent millions of dollars proselytizing inside Ukraine, urging those within that troubled nation who identify with the West rather than Russia to seek membership in the EU, with the hope that like other former possessions of the Soviet Union, she might not just gravitate toward the West but, eventually, even join the NATO alliance … The consequences have been both tragic and predictable. Russian President Vladimir Putin was about a hundred times more committed to preventing Ukraine from moving west as the EU was to promoting it … It is clear that Mr. Putin understands his country’s history and the power of nationalism.
On June 11, 2014, Russian agent Maria Butina gave a speech at a Moscow rally. She endorsed Russia’s invasion of Crimea and called on the crowd to support Russian separatists fighting elsewhere in Ukraine. Butina also claimed ethnic Russians were being oppressed in Ukraine. “We can’t allow this,” she declared. “And that’s why, today, let’s support our guys, our citizens of Russia who today are helping, who are fighting for freedom.”
Former George W. Bush administration official Matt Schlapp was elected chairman of the American Conservative Union (ACU) on June 19, 2014. Shortly thereafter, he removed GOP operative/NRA Life Member from the ACU board of directors over “concern about his track record.” Erickson had “left a trail of fraud lawsuits accusing him of peddling worthless investments in oil fields and medical equipment.” Conservative publicist and writer L. Brent Bozell warned ACU personally after Erickson persuaded him to invest $200,000 in the “Compass Care” scheme.
On June 20, 2014, Russian agent Maria Butina hosted an event in Crimea with a gun company based out of Moscow to advocate for the arming of locals under Russian law.
On July 7, 2014, the newspaper Pravda reported that Russia was seeking to export ORSIS sniper rifles in an attempt to develop new markets for the country’s small arms manufacturers. The rifle, the T-5000, is known for its ability to penetrate body armor and was dubbed the “Rogozin rifle” because of ORSIS’ connection to the deputy prime minister in charge of Russia’s defense industry, Dmitry Rogozin. Rogozin’s son ran ORSIS for a short time. According to Pravda, “Defense officials from the Philippines and Pakistan evinced interest in the so-called Rogozin rifle, advertised by [Russian president Vladimir] Putin and [American actor] Steven Seagal. The countries offered to test sniper rifle ORSIS T-5000 on their territory. Similar proposals came from Malaysia and Indonesia.”
As part of a third round of sanctions against Russia for its illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Foreign Assets Control Office (OFAC) added Kalashnikov Concern to its list of sanctioned companies on July 16, 2014. This action blocked American companies, including the Russians Weapon Company (RWC) in Pennsylvania, from negotiating new contracts for the purchase of firearms manufactured by Kalashnikov Concern. This blocked RWC from importing Izhmash Saiga rifles and shotguns, effectively ending the company’s line of business in the United States.
In a Russian interview, spy Maria Butina argued that Russian firearm manufacturers like Kalashnikov Concern were among the companies “most impacted” by U.S. sanctions in response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.
The National Rifle Association issued an angry statement on July 17, 2014 in response to the U.S. Treasury Department’s decision to sanction Russian arms giant Kalashnikov Concern a day earlier, writing:
The only decent product ever produced by the USSR was the AK-47. After the breakup of the USSR and the end of Cold War, Russia has continued to produce well-regarded AK-pattern rifles that have become popular among American gun owners … While the United States government blames the Ukrainian conflict for this latest move, gun control advocates will no doubt applaud the ban on…so-called “assault weapons” … Whatever the true basis of the current decision might be, import restrictions have long been used by the executive branch as a means of unilaterally enacting gun control … These latest sanctions will no doubt engender the idea among some that the Treasury Department is using a geopolitical crisis as a convenient excuse to advance the president’s domestic anti-gun agenda. We will continue to look for opportunities to block the Obama administration’s anti-gun agenda whether through the legal, legislative or political arenas.
On July 31, 2014, Russian agent Maria Butina hosted another event in Crimea with a gun company based out of Moscow to advocate for the arming of locals under Russian law.
On September 3, 2014, The Right to Bear Arms hosted an “open meeting” in Moscow featuring NRA life member/GOP operative Paul Erickson as speaker. Russian agent Maria Butina’s promotion for the event said Erickson was a “gun collector, a Christian and airplane aficionado who had served as a political consultant in six presidential campaigns.”
The Russian state company Rostec was sanctioned by the United States on September 12, 2014 for its role in Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. Rostec has a financial relationship with several arms manufacturers in Russia, including Kalashnikov Concern (sanctioned by U.S. in July 2014) and Tula Arms Plant/TulAmmo (sanctioned by European Union in 2014 and Canada in 2015). TulAmmo has a U.S. subsidiary, TulAmmo USA, that distributes ammunition manufactured by Tula Cartridge Works in Russia out of a headquarters in Round Rock, Texas.
On November 21, 2014, Russian spy Maria Butina published a blog post with the title, “According to supporters of the U.S. Democratic Party, Russians cannot be trusted with weapons.”
Russia amended its Federal Law on Weapons on November 26, 2014, granting individuals the right to use guns for personal self defense in the home, but simultaneously tightening the gun licensing process and safe storage requirements.
In December 2014, GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson received $8,000 in two wires from spy Maria Butina’s Alfa Bank account in Russia. Butina noted the funds were for “grant assistant.”
The Russian Central Bank began auditing Investtorgbank’s books in December 2014. Lawyers for American businessman Maurice “Hank” Greenberg’s fund, Starr Russia Investments III, said Investtorgbank chairman Vladimir Gudkov and others in the bank “engaged in egregious self-dealing, frittering away tens of millions of dollars.” Russian government auditors concluded that Investtorgbank was insolvent by the end of 2014. During the decline of Investtorgbank:
[Russian spy Maria] Butina appeared to be aware that the Russian bank in which Greenberg had invested was in trouble … She approached his Starr investment empire and recommended he invest more money in the flailing bank. The move left observers shocked and disturbed — a little-known twenty-something who was closely linked to a top official in the Russian Central Bank appeared to be telling a major American financier how to handle his Russia investments … Dimitri Simes, the president of the Center for the National Interest, learned about Butina’s outreach … He communicated to her that she needed to drop it.
In 2014, Russian arms manufacturer Kalashnikov Concern generated its first operating net profit in seven years (88 million rubles).
In 2015, NRA board member and former president David Keene replaced longtime NRA lawyer Cleta Mitchell as a director and secretary of the NRA Freedom Action Foundation (NRA-FAF). The NRA-FAF runs the organization’s “non-partisan voter registration program” called “Trigger the Vote.” The foundation also engages in “viral online advertising and social media.” Most of NRA-FAF’s expenditures are to “Federal Capital Communications” in Alexandria, Virginia. FCC’s listed owner is Patrick O’Malley.
In 2015, NRA board member Pete Brownell expanded his family-owned retailer of gun accessories and ammunition, Brownells, into Russia. Brownells, Inc. licensed its name to a local company in Russia and collected a percentage of its sales.
The Russian Weapons Company (RWC) applied with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) in January 2015 for $162,000 in state, county, and local tax breaks. RWC proposed to do business through its holding, Kalashnikov USA, which would manufacture AK-47 assault rifles and other firearms in Pompano Beach, Florida. The company cited a net worth exceeding $5 million and promised to create 54 jobs with a total wage commitment of $51,266. RWC claimed it was not the subject of any pending criminal investigation “or governmental enforcement action.” The company admitted it would assemble, test-fire, and ship 95 percent of its firearms from Kalashnikov Concern (KC) in Russia — indicating a breach of the July 2014 sanctions enacted against KC by the United States. DEO designated RWC’s public application “Project 762” to keep the company’s name secret.
On January 20, 2015, United Russia Senator Torshin tweeted, “I was there at [American President Barack] Obama’s last election! The NRA card, to me as an observer from Russia, opened access to any [polling] station.” Torshin was making reference to his November 2012 poll-watching activities in Nashville, Tennessee with conservative lawyer G. Kline Preston and a Russian diplomat.
United Russia Senator Alexander Torshin left the Russian parliament on January 21, 2015 and was appointed State Secretary, Deputy Governor of the Bank of Russia. He selected spy Maria Butina as his “special assistant” in this new position. At this point, Torshin gained financial ties to the small arms manufacturer Kalashnikov Concern. As described by Sam Thielman at Talking Points Memo:
Torshin serves as deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia, which is Russia’s version of the U.S. Federal Reserve, but also controls a major Russian consumer bank, Sberbank, which it founded. Sberbank, which also is on the U.S. sanctions list, is a major lender to Rostec, a company owned directly by the Russian Federation that buys other companies near bankruptcy on behalf of the government and tries to recuperate them. One of Rostec’s holdings is Kalashnikov [Concern].
In February 2015, Russian-born Center for the National Interest (CFTNI) CEO Dimitri Simes traveled to Moscow, where he met with Russian president Vladimir Putin and other Kremlin officials. Other CFTNI board members include former AIG CEO Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, NRA board member and past president David Keene, and former Nixon Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on February 27, 2015, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre hypocritically attacked the foreign policy of the Obama administration, warning attendees, “You feel it. The threats are all around us. Russia’s advancing.” He made no mention of the NRA’s longstanding relationship with the deputy governor of the Russian central bank, Alexander Torshin, and his “assistant” Maria Butina.
On March 22, 2015, Russian agent Maria Butina announced on Facebook that she would be attending the NRA’s upcoming annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.
Russian agent Maria Butina emailed GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson (AKA “U.S. Person 1”) on March 24, 2015 under the subject line “The Second Pozner.” She included a project proposal titled “Diplomacy.” The proposal stated the GOP “would likely obtain control over the U.S. government after the 2016 elections,” but worried the party “was traditionally associated with negative and aggressive foreign policy, particularly with regards to Russia.” “However, now with the right to negotiate seems best to build [constructive] relations,” Butina continued. The NRA has significant influence inside the GOP as “the largest sponsor of the elections to the U.S. Congress, as well as a sponsor to the CPAC conference and other events,” she noted. Butina bragged about the relationships she and Russian central banker Alexander Torshin enjoyed with NRA leaders. She also indicated she had met with GOP leaders in the United States on behalf of Russia. She asked Erickson for a budget of $125,000 to participate in “all upcoming major conferences” of the GOP. She concluded the proposal by stating, “The resulting status needs to be strengthened is in the current time interval, before the presidential election in 2016.”
In late March 2015, GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson responded to Russian agent Maria Butina in two emails. In the first email, Erickson wrote:
Your challenge in your “special project” will be to balance two opposing imperatives: Your desire to communicate that you speak for Russian interests that will be ascendant (still around) in a post-Putin world while simultaneously doing nothing to criticize the President or speed the arrival of his successor.
This restriction is easily understood in private meetings with political and business leaders. It will SEVERELY limit your interactions with media. Most of the potential “guest appearances” will only be possible if you’re willing to be candid (honest) than is politically prudent for you. But ALL of the media personalities listed would be interested in meeting you “off-the-record” — though your patrons and sponsors may not fully understand the power of such meetings if you do not appear on television, radio, or print as you do in Russia.
There is NO limit as to how many American companies that you can meet — at the highest levels — if you are able to represent that you are a potential line of communication into future Russian Federation governments.
The email listed “media, business and political contacts” and concluded with “Everyone on this list understands (to some degree) U.S./Russian relations under President [Barack] Obama and President [Vladimir] Putin. Everyone on this list would like to better understand U.S./Russian relations under new presidents for each country. YOU can provide commentary on both — if you’re willing to take that risk.”
The second email from Paul Erickson to Maria Butina had the subject line “Your Plan Forward.” It stated:
If you were to sit down with your special friends and make a list of ALL the most important contacts you could find in America for a time when the political situation between the U.S. and Russia will change, you could NOT do better than the list that I just emailed you. NO one — certainly not the “official” Russian Federation public relations representative in New York — could build a better list. And for variety of current political reasons, the current Russian Ambassadors to the United States and United Nations do not even try.
YOU HAVE ALREADY MET ALL OF THE AMERICANS necessary to introduce you to EVERYONE on that list.
If you had NOT spent the last year attending conferences in America, it would take you ANOTHER year to be able to meet the names on that list. What you have done is prepared all of the groundwork (necessary introductions) in order to be introduced to everyone on that list. All that is needed is for your friends to provide you with the financial resources to spend time in America to TAKE ALL OF THESE MEETINGS. I and your friends in America can’t make it any easier than that.
Your potential sponsors either understand this or they don’t. The names of all of the people that impress your friends by listing them. All your friends need to know is that meetings with the names on MY list would not be possible with the unknown names in your “business card” notebook. Keep them focused on who you are NOW able to meet, NOT the people you have ALREADY met.
Butina sent her budget proposal for $125,000 in travel expenses inside the United States to Russian oligarch Konstantin Y. Nikolayev, a transport magnate whose wife runs the Russian gun company ORSIS.
Erickson also sent a dozen wires to Butina’s Alfa Bank account in Russia totaling $27,000, and an additional $30,000 to a U.S. account she held.
In April 2015, the Russian Weapons Company (RWC) filed additional documents as part of its January 2015 incentives application with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). These documents confirmed that RWC’s proposed holding in Pompano Beach, Kalashnikov USA, would be using parts imported from Kalashnikov Concern in Russia in violation of U.S. sanctions enacted in July 2014.
In April 2015, Russian agent Maria Butina was given a private tour of the NRA’s headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia.
The deputy governor of the Russian central bank, Alexander Torshin, and his assistant, Russian spy Maria Butina, attended a private discussion of Russia’s financial situation at the Center for the National Interest (CFTNI) in April 2015. American businessmen Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, former AIG CEO and CFTNI’s largest donor, was present. During the meeting, Butina “braced” Greenberg and asked that his investment company (Starr Russia Investments III) put more money into the Russian bank Investtorgbank, which was being audited by the country’s central bank. CFTNI CEO Dmitri Simes “told her to drop it.”
On April 7, 2015, the deputy governor of the central bank of Russia, Alexander Torshin, and his “assistant” Maria Butina met privately and separately with two senior officials from the U.S. Department of Treasury to discuss U.S.-Russia economic relations. The two officials were Stanley Fischer, vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Nathan Sheets, Treasury undersecretary for international affairs. Center for the National Interest (CFTNI) board member and donor Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was also present at the meetings, which were arranged by CFTNI CEO Dmitri Simes.
Fischer said his conversation with Butina and Torshin was about “the state of the Russian economy.” He added, “I recall Mr. Torshin mentioning, as an aside, that he planned to attend a meeting of the National Rifle Association, a fact that I considered irrelevant to our conversation.”
Deputy governor of the Russian central bank Alexander Torshin also met with Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX-14th) during his trip to Washington, D.C.
From April 10–12, 2015, deputy governor of the Russian central bank Alexander Torshin and his “assistant” Maria Butina attended the NRA’s annual meeting in Nashville,Tennessee with conservative lawyer G. Kline Preston. There, Torshin ran into Donald Trump and the two had a “jovial exchange.” According to Torshin, Trump told him, “So, you’re from Russia. When are you going to invade Latvia?” Trump spoke at the “Leadership Forum” conducted by the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA).
Torshin and Butina were also introduced to Wisconsin Governor and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker (another speaker at NRA-ILA leadership forum) by NRA board member/former NRA president David Keene. The meeting occurred at a fundraiser for Walker hosted by the 527 organization Our American Revival in Nashville.
TulAmmo USA, which distributes ammunition manufactured at the Tula Cartridge Works in Russia, was allowed to exhibit at the NRA’s 2015 annual meeting (for the fifth year in a row) despite sanctions enacted by the United States against the Russian state defense conglomerate Rostec in September 2014. Rostec owns part of Tula Cartridge Works. TulAmmo USA, TulAmmo, and Tula Cartridge Works all share the same name, address, logo and at least one former officer.
Gun manufacturer Pete Brownell was elected first vice president of the NRA during the 2015 annual meeting.
On April 14, 2015, the 527 organization Our American Revival obtained a donation of $250,000 from Len Blavatnik, a U.S. citizen who co-owns businesses in Russia with two oligarchs, Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg, close to president Vladimir Putin. This made Blavatnik and his subsidiary Access industries the second-largest donor to the tax-exempt 527. Blavatnik also gave $1.1 million to Walker’s Unintimidated Super PAC.
Russian spy Maria Butina gave a talk about gun rights at the University of South Dakota in GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson’s hometown of Vermillion on April 16, 2015. She claimed her group The Right to Bear Arms had more than 10,000 members and 76 offices across Russia and justified the need for more permissive gun laws using “two arguments often advanced by Russian officials: that Western sanctions had weakened Russia’s economy, causing more crime, and that the Ukrainian war posed a threat.” Butina also told students that South Dakota reminded her of Siberia, praised U.S. gun laws, and and concluded with a verse from the Bible. A spokesperson from the University of South Dakota said Butina was invited “as an international guest lecturer upon the recommendation of Paul Erickson,” who is listed as a “Life Executive Member” of the W.O. Farber Center for Civic Leadership, a USD program.
On April 24, 2015, Russian agent Maria Butina blogged about meeting Republican governor Scott Walker earlier in the month. She claimed Walker had greeted her in Russian. “We talked about Russia,” she wrote. “I did not hear any aggression towards our country, the president or my compatriots.”
Russian spy Maria Butina’s calendar indicates she spoke to the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, on the phone in May 2015.
In May 2015, the Pompano Beach Commission approved local tax incentives for the Russian Weapons Company (RWC) to open a Kalashnikov USA plant in the community. Records indicate the commission acted at the behest of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, a public/private partnership that promotes economic development in the area. The codename developed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for RWC’s tax incentives package, “Project 762,” was used to hide the identity of the company from local officials. Members of the Pompano Beach Commission only knew they were dealing with some type of gun company.
Russia agent Maria Butina shared an article by pro-gun activist Bob Owens on Twitter on May 3, 2015. Owen’s article appeared on the website Bearing Arms and was titled “Hillary Equates Gun Owners With Terrorists, Says They Are ‘Prone to Violence.’”
Yevgeny Lukyanov, the deputy head of Russia’s security council, announced the sale of S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran on May 26, 2015, sparking concern in Israel and the United States.
On June 7, 2015, Russian spy Maria Butina emailed Center for The National Interest CEO Dmitri Simes about his efforts to schedule meetings in Moscow with Kremlin officials for CFTNI’s top donor, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg. “You and I spoke about how Mr. Greenberg plans to travel to Moscow at the end of June,” Butina wrote in Russian. “[Russian central bank deputy governor] Alexander [Torshin] expressed a desire to meet with Greenberg in Moscow, and also to lend assistance in organizing meetings in the Russian capital, if you need our help.”
CFTNI CEO Dmitri Simes replied to Russian agent Maria Butina’s email on June 8, 2015. “It is always nice to hear from you,” Simes wrote. “Please of course also pass my best wishes to [United Russia Senator] Alexander Torshin. We really appreciate his willingness to help with the Hank Greenberg visit to Moscow.” He added that he attempted to set up a meeting for Greenberg with Elvira Nabiullina, the head of the Russian central bank “some time ago,” but scheduling conflicts kept it from taking place. Simes told Butina that once Greenberg’s schedule was clear, he would reach out to Nabiullina’s chief of staff to try again. “However, of course, any help Mr. Torshin can offer would be most welcome.” Simes mentioned that when Greenberg travels to Russia, he identifies himself as “an investor in the Russian economy,” with a controlling share in a Moscow office building and a major investment in Investtorgbank (which was insolvent by the end of 2014).
Simes also told Butina he would connect her with Jacob Heilbrunn, the editor-in-chief of CFTNI’s magazine, The National Interest. “I will mention to him that he may get a piece from you,” Simes wrote.
On June 10, 2015, Russian spy Maria Butina wrote back to Center for the National Interest CEO Dmitri Simes. “A big thank you for the response and information,” she wrote. “I passed everything on to [deputy governor of the Russian central bank] Alexander Porfiryevich [Torshin]. As soon as we know the exact dates of your arrival, we will absolutely help with your visit and the organization of meetings.” Butina was referencing logistics concerning a meeting that CFTNI donor Maurice “Hank” Greenberg wanted to take with Russian central bank chief Elvira Nabiullina in Moscow.
Marcus Owens, an attorney at Loeb & Loeb who formerly worked in the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division, commented on the relationship between Greenberg and the CFTNI, saying “an unusual degree of attention” was “being paid to a donor who apparently [had] a business issue. The fact that it appears that the head of the charity [CFTNI CEO Dmitri Simes] was willing to travel to Russia to help resolve [the issue], that would be truly extraordinary.”
Russian agent Maria Butina also emailed Jacob Heilbrunn, editor-in-chief of The National Interest, on June 10, 2015. Butina told Heilbrunn she met Center for the National Interest CEO Dmitri Simes at the organization’s Washington, D.C. offices recently. Butina also provided Heilbrunn a draft of an op-ed she wrote titled, “The Bear and the Elephant.”
“Many thanks for your audacious essay,” Heilbrunn wrote back to Butina. “I will be delighted to publish it and will edit it tomorrow. We will send you a final copy for your approval but I don’t anticipate any big changes.”
Butina forwarded Heilbrunn’s reply to GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson, her lover. “‘Audacious’!!!” Erickson wrote back. “You’re on your way to becoming a notable on-line columnist!!! If Dmitri Simes’ editors are happy, DMITRI is happy — well done, my brilliant Siberian princess!!!”
The bi-monthly international affairs magazine The National Interest, owned by the pro-Russia Center for The National Interest (CFTNI), published a piece by Russian spy Maria Butina on June 12, 2015 in which she questioned the value of U.S. sanctions against Russia for its illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. “It may take the election of a Republican to the White House in 2016 to improve relations between the Russian Federation and the United States,” Butina wrote. “Many Russians have taken note…that the American Republican Party derives much of its support from social conservatives, businessmen and those that support an aggressive approach to the war against Islamic terrorism. These are values espoused by United Russia, the current ruling political party in Moscow. At the very least, it would appear that modern Russia has more to talk about with American Republicans than American Democrats.”
During a rally at Trump Tower in Manhattan on June 16, 2015, businessman Donald Trump announced he would seek the Republican nomination for president of the United States in the upcoming 2016 election.
On approximately, June 19, 2015, Russian agent Maria Butina emailed Center for the National Interest CEO Dmitri Simes and the publisher of the organization’s magazine, Jacob Heilbrunn. “Thank you very much for publishing my article [“The Bear and the Elephant” on June 12, 2015],” she wrote. “It was translated by RT into Russian and really exploded Russian media. Now there are some political scientists that told that they agree with me. It makes me happy because before no one believed and at least talked that Russian-American relationships could be restored thanks to the future republican president.” Butina then suggested she write another piece for The National Interest about Russian oil projects.
“Dear Maria, I am pleased to hear that your piece had a real impact in Russia,” Simes replied. “I know Jacob was quite pleased to publish it. He is planning to be in touch with you regarding other possibilities. Please convey my regards to [the deputy governor of the Russian central bank] Alexandr Torshin. We are always glad to see him in Washington.” Heilbrunn sent his own reply to Butina, asking if she would write a piece for The National Interest about her efforts to liberalize gun laws in Russia. Butina never crafted such a piece for Heilbrunn.
At the urging of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, the Broward County Commission unanimously approved a resolution on June 23, 2015 promising Russian Weapons Company (RWC) a package of local tax incentives to manufacture AK-47 rifles in Pompano Beach under its holding, Kalashnikov USA. The project was given a code name to hide the identity of RWC from the commission. “Project 762 will continue to provide firearms products to meet growing market demand,” said the county staff’s approval recommendation. “Project 762’s business model aligns with the Board of County Commissioner’s vision: Unlimited Economic Opportunities.”
On June 30, 2015, Russian Weapons Company (RWC) told CNN Money, fraudulently, that its subsidiary Kalashnikov USA was already manufacturing semiautomatic AK-47 assault rifles at a factory in Florida. It did not name the location of the factory. In truth, RWC had yet to relocate its operations from Tullytown, Pennsylvania to Pompano Beach.
Russian agent Maria Butina communicated with central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin via a series of direct messages on Twitter during the “latter half of 2015.” The two discussed the following topics:
- Butina asked Torshin if he had received approval from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. Butina provided Torshin with “biographies of U.S. politicians and [NRA] executives” for the trip.
- Butina referenced an NRA delegation’s upcoming trip to Moscow, stating, “Maybe, by inviting the NRA here, you have prevented a conflict between two great nations. Although, I think, this is the very beginning of the journey.”
- Butina talked about Torshin’s plans to meet with Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher during a congressional delegation trip to Moscow in August 2015.
In early July 2015, GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson contacted Sam Nunberg, one of the few Trump campaign officials hired at that time. Erickson told him about Maria Butina, who he described as “Russian [and] involved with the NRA.” Erickson asked Nunberg if he would introduce Butina to 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump at the upcoming libertarian FreedomFest in Las Vegas, Nevada. Butina was also hoping to take a photo with Trump. “I explained to [Erickson] that I don’t have the schedule but that I don’t think [Trump] has time for that,” Nunberg told Politico.
On July 11, 2015, Russian spy Maria Butina attended FreedomFest, a gathering of libertarians in Las Vegas, Nevada where Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) were speaking. During a Q&A, Butina introduced herself as a reporter and asked Trump a question. “I’m from Russia. My question will be about foreign politics,” Butina told him. “If you will be elected as president, what will be your foreign politics, especially in the relationships with my country? Do you want to continue the policy of sanctions that are damaging both economies? Or [do you] have any other ideas?” Trump replied, “I know [Russian president Vladimir] Putin, and I’ll tell you what, we’ll get along with Putin. I would get along very nicely with Putin, I mean, where we have the strength. I don’t think you’d need the sanctions. I think we would get along very, very well.”
“Much later,” Trump campaign adviser Stephen Bannon raised the issue of Butina’s question for Trump with Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus. “How was it that this Russian woman happened to be in Las Vegas for that event?” Bannon asked Priebus. “And how was it that Trump happened to call on her?” It was also “odd” that Trump had a “fully-developed answer” in responding, Bannon thought. Priebus agreed “there was something strange about Butina.” “Whenever there were events held by conservative groups, she ways always around,” he told Bannon.
While at the 2015 FreedomFest, Butina also met with Saul Anuzis. Anuzis is a former Michigan GOP chair who was appointed by the NRA board of directors to serve on the organization’s public affairs committee in 2012. Anuzis also helped Republican mega-donor Robert Mercer set up a super PAC in 2014 and was working with the billionaire to assist Republican Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign.
NRA life member/GOP operative Paul Erickson spoke to the Washington Times for an article dated July 12, 2015 that discussed Donald Trump’s appearance at FreedomFest in Las Vegas, Nevada a day earlier. “Houston, we have a [presidential candidate Ross] Perot ’92 on steroids,” he told the paper, praising Trump as a political maverick. “People have a deep apprehension about unfettered immigration. No one has ever found a way to discuss criminality associated with some illegal immigrants without impugning the character of all immigrants, legal and illegal.” Erickson suggested to the Times that Trump could be the first politician to accomplish that feat. The opinion editor of the Washington Times at this time was NRA board member (and former NRA president) David Keene.
On July 13, 2015, Russian spy Maria Butina attended Republican Scott Walker’s presidential campaign launch event in Waukesha, Wisconsin. There she had another “short personal contact” with Walker and his foreign policy adviser, Mike Gallagher.
Russian agent Maria Butina messaged the deputy governor of the central bank of Russia, Alexander Torshin, on July 14, 2015 and told him, “Judging from the American polls — our bet on [Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker] is correct.” Torshin responded, “In the [Russian Federation] no one is even looking in that direction. You will be the creator of something sensational, God willing!”
Russian spy Maria Butina was interviewed on an The Eric Mataxas Show (podcast) in Manhattan on July 15, 2015 to talk about “the current political climate.” Echoing the NRA’s rhetoric about “Good Guys with Guns,” Butina told Mataxas, “Legal guns never do crime.” She also spoke of how she came to like firearms. “My father is a hunter,” Butina said. “I was born in Siberia. For such places like Siberia or forest of Russia, this is a question of survival. Everyone has a gun.” She also claimed “there actually [are] no strict limits” on freedom of speech in Russia. GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson was present in the studio for Butina’s interview and was introduced by Mataxas (“I forgot we were in the same class at Yale,” Mataxas told Erickson). Erickson connected Butina to deceased AK-47 inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov, saying: “Maria is very humble when she talks about this. She started The Right to Bear Arms in the Russian version of McDonald’s with friends, and her work became noticed by the highest levels of the Russian government, the Russian people, including the now late general Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the AK-47, who became aware of her organization and supported her, held his hand and extended the protection of the Hero of the Motherland to her early efforts and now [The Right to Bear Arms] which began less than four years ago has over 10,000 members in Russia, not a mean feat in a time of political uncertainty.”
A Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) memo dated July 17, 2015 commented on the January 2015 application of the Russian Weapons Company (RWC) to open a Kalashnikov USA factory in Pompano Beach, Florida. The memo made it clear DEO was aware Kalashnikov Concern, sanctioned by the United States a year earlier, was using RWC and Kalashnikov USA as shell companies. “[RWC] has the exclusive license to manufacture and distribute products designed and under the brands of Concern Kalashnikov, a Russian military, hunting and sporting firearms manufacturer founded in 1807,” stated the memo. “The Company’s products are marketed under the Kalashnikov USA brand and are produced with state-of-the-art computer numeric control design and manufacturing systems, allowing for improved fit and finish. The Company’s product line includes semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. The Company’s products are available through direct dealers nationwide.”
Maria Butina spoke to a South Dakota Teenage Republicans Camp in the Black Hills on July 21, 2015. NRA Life Member/GOP operative Paul Erickson was present. The event was organized by Dusty Johnson, a Republican candidate for South Dakota’s lone U.S. House seat. “Maria Butina was incredible,” he tweeted. “The kids *loved* her stories of working for freedom in Russia.”
Speaking to the Washington Times for an article about Donald Trump dated July 29, 2015, NRA Life Member/GOP operative Paul Erickson opined, “Trump’s statements about immigration are simply the ‘gateway drug’ to candid statements about everything else,” said Erickson. “I don’t believe the GOP primary will be solely defined by immigration screeds. People are desperate for candor and non-Beltway speak, period, whatever the topic. No one cares or is listening to the tut-tutting of the ‘responsible’ candidates over The Donald’s remarks. Voters in uncertain numbers are watching HBO Trump and deciding whether to take him seriously. And until they do, every other candidate is PBS.” The opinion editor of the Washington Times is NRA board member (and former NRA pres.) David Keene.
NRA board member David Keene wrote an email to Russian spy Maria Butina in August 2015 indicating that Outdoor Channel president and CEO Jim Liberatore might be joining an NRA delegation traveling to Moscow in December 2015. “He wants to do a non-political short series of shows,” Keene told Butina, “that he would tentatively call ‘Putin’s Russia’ featuring the Russian outdoors, hunting, fishing and conservation efforts such as the effort to save the Siberian Tiger.”
From August 4–6, 2015, Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA-48th) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY-5th) were in Moscow as part of a congressional delegation from the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats. An aide to Rohrabacher, Ken Grubbs, told The Daily Beast that Rohrabacher met with the deputy governor of the Russian central bank, Alexander Torshin. “All he could recall about [Torshin assistant Maria] Butina is that she was an aide to Torshin who arranged a dinner meeting and was of no consequence other than that,” said Grubb. “His CODEL [congressional delegation] as well as his meeting with Torshin all came under the normal, fact-finding auspices of the [subcommittee].” Meeks recalled, “The main message of the Russians to the legislators was to decry [U.S. President] Barack Obama, denounce the U.S. and NATO as aggressors, and attack a piece of human-rights sanctions legislation known as the Magnitsky Act.”
On August 23, 2015, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin, tweeted a photo he took months earlier at the NRA’s annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. In the photo are Donald Trump (who spoke at the “Leadership Forum” conducted by the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action), his wife Melania, and an unidentified woman. Torshin tagged Igor Korotchenko, a pro-Putin military scholar and member of the Russian Defense Ministry’s public advisory council, in the tweet and captioned, “D. Trump supporter of traditional family values. A Member of the NRA. Saw him in Nashville (April of this year).” [Torshin has since deleted the tweet.]
Russia’s Central Bank seized the Russian bank InvesttorgBank on August 27, 2015. The Central Bank concluded that InvesttorgBank was racked by “massive fraud” and acted to “investigate the bank’s financial health and protect its creditors.”
On August 29, 2015, conservative lawyer G. Kline Preston IV (who introduced Alexander Torshin to NRA leader David Keene) tweeted a photo of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking at the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, writing (in Russian), “Donald Trump today in Nashville. He is a friend of Russia.”
In September 2015, Russian spy Maria Butina responded to Donna Weisner, the wife of NRA board member David Keene, regarding a proposal by Outdoor Channel president and CEO Jim Liberatore to develop a new show called “Putin’s Russia” which would focus on hunting, fishing and conversation. “We think it is a good idea [for Liberatore to join an upcoming NRA delegation trip to Moscow to discuss the proposal],” Butina wrote. “Let’s plan it.”
The Oz brothers (Eldad and Moshe) moved the Russian Weapons Company (RWC) and CAA into a 40,000-square-foot facility inside the Pompano Distribution Center in Pompano Beach, Florida in September 2015, for the purpose of manufacturing assault weapons and tactical accessories. The address of the facility is 3901 NE 12th Avenue #400, Pompano Beach, FL 33064.
On September 25, 2015, The Right to Bear Arms posted a meme of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Facebook with the caption, “Nobody can encroach on the citizenry’s right to store and carry firearms. Period.”
In October 2015, Florida Governor Rick Scott and the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) approved the January 2015 application of the Russian Weapons Company (RWC) and made a formal offer of $162,000 in tax incentives to the company to open a Kalashnikov USA factory in Pompano Beach, Florida. The offer was made despite the Scott administration’s knowledge that Kalashnkov USA would be importing parts from Kalashnikov Concern in Russia. Kalashnikov Concern was sanctioned by the U.S. in July 2014 for its role in the illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.
“What arrangements for meetings are being made for the gentleman from the Outdoor Channel [CEO Jim Liberatore] who would be joining the NRA group in Russia [in December]?” wrote Nicholas Perrine, the special assistant to NRA president Allan Cors, from an NRA email account on October 10, 2015.
A few days later, Perrine asked Butina for guidance on how to handle the visa applications of NRA delegates. He also told her the NRA would be covering travel expenses for NRA board member David Keene and president Allan Cors.
“Where it asks who will be paying for their trip and stay in Russia — what should our people put for an answer?” NRA special assistant to the president Nicholas Perrine wrote to Russian spy Maria Butina on October 15, 2015. “For the Keenes and Cors should they say NRA? Should the Goldschlagers put themselves? Or do we need to put down an organization in Russia who will be providing the lodging?” The Goldschlagers, Arnold and Hillary, are a pair of top NRA donors.
In November 2015, GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson emailed a member of an NRA delegation preparing to travel to Moscow the following month in December. Erickson wrote:
Impressing the NRA’s Russian hosts is also the quickest way to secure a private interview with [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin on behalf of [NRA board member and NRA delegation leader] David Keene and the Washington Times [where Keene serves as opinion editor] — a plum that was dangled in front of Keene by [the deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank Alexander] Torshin himself during a recent Torshin visit to Washington, D.C. High stakes all around … As we discussed over lunch in Iowa, Russia believes that high level contacts with the NRA might be the BEST means of neutral introduction to either the next American President OR to a meaningful re-set in relations with the Congress under a (God forbid) President [Hillary] Clinton. This simple good will trip would have enormous diplomatic consequences for a future U.S. / Russia bilateral relationship to the world … As you know from your discussions with [Russian spy] Maria Butina, she and…Torshin (but mostly Maria) have been slaving away for several months preparing a truly ‘Nixon goes to China’ itinerary for a senior NRA delegation to Moscow next month. This has been a dream and happy burden for David Keene for a couple of years. JUST as the agenda was being finalized this week, [NRA] President [Allan] Cors announces–VERY privately–to David that a chronic health issue must now force Cors to abandon the trip. This has caught Keene totally off guard and could have disastrous consequences for the trip — and for our young Maria and the future of her ‘The Right to Bear Arms’ organization. Keene is so angry that he is close to ending his friendship with Cors over what Keene views as Cors’ duplicity in keeping this health information from the powers that be.
On November 2, 2015, Donna Wiesner, the wife of NRA board member and past president David Keene, emailed Russian spy Maria Butina regarding the upcoming NRA delegation trip to Moscow in December. Wiesner told Butina that the NRA delegates would be bringing formal gifts for deputy defense minister Dmitry Rogozin and their other Russian hosts. “They particularly want to know how many gifts they will need,” Wiesner told Butina. “NRA will supply the formal ones, but for any meetings…they don’t want to be caught rude like I must have seemed at our last dinner.”
Responding to a tweet about comedian Larry David accusing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump of being a racist, Russian central banker Alexander Torshin tweeted the following on November 8, 2015: “A comedian should make people laugh! Right? So he is trying! I know D. Trump (through NRA). A decent person.”
On November 17, 2015, Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin exchanged the following series of Twitter direct messages with his “assistant” Maria Butina:
TORSHIN: Incidentally, [Center for The National Interest CEO Dmitri] Simes is pressuring me about the interests of [CFTNI top donor Maurice “Hank”] Greenberg. I really don’t like that. Who knows what they will think in the [Russia] Central Bank. Today I made it very clear that I am not their helper for these affairs in the Central Bank. I ask that you don’t speak with anyone about banking in the Russian Federation. They may try to get you involved as well.
BUTINA: I’m not talking about it with anyone. You and I know that you are only talking to them because of an old friendship and not personal interests, but from the outside it will look different.
TORSHIN: It’s necessary to know the limits: It’s one thing if Greenberg comes to invite him to lunch, that’s fine, but these phone calls need to stop. What, are you their informant or something?! Screw them. The consequences could be very serious. There is one nuance. The chances of improving U.S.-Russia relations are increasing. We don’t need a scandal (and Greenberg has a way of that). Scandal cuts down on chances for investment, although after today’s latest announcement by Gref about the major banking crisis in Russia it would harm investments even more.
BUTINA: Then it’s absolutely necessary to get permission for negotiations with them from the boss. It’s necessary to cover our rear. Later on no one will bother to try to get to the bottom of what your motives were. Don’t forget, Greenberg for some reason thinks you promised to protect his investments… You promised him NOTHING.
TORSHIN: I stopped communications on this theme with Simes today. And I explained everything to him, the threats it carries to my reputation. There will be no more conversations about this topic. The boss is aware that they are appealing to me.
BUTINA: I fully support this approach.
GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson emailed NRA first vice-president and gun manufacturer Pete Brownell on November 21, 2015, regarding his upcoming trip to Moscow with an NRA delegation:
Dear International Man of Mystery or should we just start calling you “Austin Powers” to your face?? Miss Butina has (apparently) moved heaven and earth and manipulated the Russian FSB (the current incarnation of the old KGB) and gotten you cleared for a tour of one (1) Russian arms factory the day before the NRA delegation arrives in Moscow. She found a way to shrink a normally 3-week process into about 3-days (probably because most of the FSB agents ‘assigned’ to her want to marry her).
Erickson also provided Brownell with an itinerary for the trip.
On December 3, 2015, Russian agent Maria Butina emailed several members of an NRA delegation preparing to travel to Moscow in a week. “I’ll meet you at the airport,” she told them. “For your convenience, in our hands will be a big red sign saying Welcome NRA.”
Radical Wisconsin County Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr. tweeted a series of pictures from Israel on December 5–10, 2015 during a trip there with members of an NRA delegation. During this five-day period, Clarke and the delegation met with the Commander of the 91st Division of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) at Israel’s northern border with Lebanon; test-shot firearms at the Israel Weapon Industries factory, a division of SK Group Israel; posed with IDF soldiers at Masada on the way to the Dead Sea; discussed “the Islamic State and regional threats for Israel” with Dr. Eran Lerman, the Vice President of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security; and received a briefing from Tiberias Mayor Yosef Ben David on the “security conditions in and around Galilee.”
William A. Brewer III, an outside counsel for the NRA, claims that “NRA staff members who were in Israel (for a trip that preceded [a] visit to Russia) returned home” because they were uncomfortable with the group’s planned meetings in Moscow.
During the week of December 9–13, 2015, an NRA delegation led by NRA board member and past president David Keene traveled to Moscow, Russia to meet with foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, deputy defense minister Dmitry Rogozin, and other top-level Russian officials.
The NRA delegation included Keene; radical Wisconsin County Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr.; gun manufacturer and NRA first vice-president Pete Brownell; high-dollar NRA donors Arnold and Hillary Goldschlager; the Outdoor Channel’s Jim and Kim Liberatore; multi-millionaire pharma king Joe Gregory, who runs the NRA “Ring of Freedom” program for donors who contribute $1,000 or more to the organization per year; and GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson, who had worked covertly with Russian agent Maria Butina since 2013 to create pro-Russia sentiment in the highest circles of the GOP. NRA president Allan Cors was supposed to be part of the delegation, but canceled the trip to Moscow with his wife at the last minute “for health reasons.”
On December 9, 2015, the NRA delegation traveled to the Presidential Administration Office for a meeting with Evgeny Lukyanov, then-deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council. Lukyanov is a former KGB employee who also worked in the Russian banking sector. He is known for his harsh, provocative, anti-NATO rhetoric.
On December 10, 2015, sheriff David A. Clarke. Jr. tweeted about the NRA delegation meeting with “Russian Foreign Minister” Sergey Lavrov. Clarke said the subject of the “Mid East” was discussed.
On December 11, 2015, the NRA delegation toured the offices and facilities of ORSIS, a private arms manufacturer that manufactures the T-5000 sniper rifle, accompanied by Russian spy Maria Butina. NRA leaders met with Svetlana Nikolaeva, the head of ORSIS’ parent company Promtechnologies and wife of Russian oligarch Konstantin Nikolaev. Nikolaev has admitted to funding Butina’s pro-gun front group, The Right to Bear Arms, from 2012 to 2014. The delegation shot firearms at the ORSIS range, were given a presentation on the T-5000, and received expensive-looking watches with the ORSIS brand on them. During the tour, radical sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr. tweeted a photo of himself holding a T-5000 rifle. ORSIS filmed the NRA delegation throughout the tour.
The T-5000 is known for its ability to penetrate body armor and feared by NATO forces. It’s called the “Rogozin rifle” because of the deputy defense minister’s close ties to ORSIS. Dmitry Rogozin’s son was deputy director of the company for a time.
On December 12, 2015, deputy defense minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted a photo of a meeting he was in with members of the NRA delegation. Visible in the photo are American gun-maker Pete Brownell, radical Wisconsin sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr., Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin, and controversial foundation head Sergei Rudov. At the time, Rogozin ran Russia’s defense industry and “social networks” unit.
Rudov is the co-chair of the Guardianship Council of the Federation of Practical Shooting of Russia and the general director of the St. Basil the Great Charitable Foundation. St. Basil is Russia’s largest private foundation, established by pro-Putin oligarch Konstantin Malofeevin in 2007. The foundation has been accused of being a “tool for money laundering,” and of supporting Russia’s illegal military intervention in Ukraine in 2014 under “the guise of charity.” Ukraine’s interior ministry initiated criminal proceedings against Konstantin Malofeev for “the creation of illegal paramilitary or armed groups” during the invasion.
Also present at the December 12 meeting were Vitaly Kryuchin, president of the International Practical Shooting Confederation and Russian Federation of Practical Shooting, and competitive shooter Anatoliy Kondrukh.
Alexander Torshin hosted two dinners for the NRA delegation during the trip. High-dollar NRA donor Arnold Goldschlager told McClatchy that the Russians were “killing” the NRA delegation with “vodka and the best Russian food.”
The NRA delegation also attended a party thrown by Torshin and the editor-in-chief of the pro-Putin newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, Pavel Gusev, at a Moscow hunting club. Gusev also served as the head of a pro-Ministry of Defense civilian group under the direct supervision of Russian secretary of defense Sergey Shoigu, a potential heir to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Gunmaker Pete Brownell paid $13,785 for Sheriff David Clarke’s travel to Russia. Clarke said Maria Butina’s group, The Right to Bear Arms, paid $6,000 toward the costs of his stay, including $1,200 in meals and $3,000 for a week in a hotel. The NRA covered expenses for other members of the NRA delegation.
Paul Erickson withdrew $14,000 from his bank accounts while in Moscow with the NRA delegation.
Trump campaign foreign policy adviser and retired Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn and his son were in Moscow at the same time as the NRA delegation. They stayed at a luxury hotel in the city from December 9–12, 2015 and Flynn appeared at Russia Today’s 10th anniversary gala dinner beside Russian president Vladimir Putin. RT is a Russian state news outlet. Flynn was paid $45,000 by a Kremlin-backed news organization to give a talk at the RT dinner about world affairs.
“Days after” arriving back in the United States from the NRA delegation’s trip to Moscow, Outdoor Channel president and CEO Jim Liberatore emailed Russian spy Maria Butina and told her he wanted to “keep the momentum from our trip going.” Liberatore attached a full pitch letter for a new Outdoor Channel show that would “document [Russian president Vladimir] Putin’s personal efforts of conservation by producing several one hour programs that would be told through his eyes.” He added:
There is a strong tie between the people of Russia and those of the United States that is not often seen or discussed in the public eye. It is a love of the natural resources both countries have and strive to protect. Conservation is a bedrock for both of these nations, and there is no bigger champion for this in Eastern Europe than Vladimir Putin.
In 2016, the NRA’s Freedom Action Foundation hired the following firms to work on “Trigger the Vote,” the foundation’s “nonpartisan” voter registration campaign: British political consulting/voter data firm Cambridge Analytica; the Herald Group, a Washington, D.C.-based consultant, and; i360, a voter data firm closely tied to the Koch brothers’ donor network. The NRA-FAF also works on “viral online advertising and social media” and its leadership includes the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action Chris Cox and longtime NRA board member David Keene. American hedge fund tycoon Robert Mercer is a key investor in Cambridge Analytica.
In 2016, the pro-Russia Center for National Interest documented its Russia-related activities from 2013 to 2015. It described meetings that Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin and spy Maria Butina had with high-level U.S. Treasury officials as helping bring together “leading figures from the financial institutions of the United States and Russia.”
In January 2016, Russian spy Maria Butina sent an Outdoor Channel executive a proposed consulting agreement drafted for her by GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson. It called for the Outdoor Channel to pay Butina $5,000 per month to help the network “secure the cooperation of President [Vladimir] Putin and his staff in seeing him featured on one or more episodes of the tentatively titled ‘Unknown Russia’ outdoor adventure series.” Butina was “eager to use the political channels available to her” to further the project and suggested the payments begin in February 2016. Butina, however, never exploited her top-level contacts for the project, instead contacting a low-level Kremlin press officer, who expressed little interest.
On January 5, 2016, major NRA donor Arnold Goldschlager published an op-ed in the Washington Times, where NRA board member David Keene serves as opinion editor. The two men had spent time together in Moscow days earlier as part of an NRA delegation trip to meet with Dmitry Rogozin and other Russian leaders. Goldschlager’s op-ed began as follows: “I am often asked by my fellow American Jews why I belong to the National Rifle Association, support the Second Amendment and carry a gun.” He accused European Jews of being “passive and sheep-like” and American liberals of “stand[ing] by as a new wave of anti-Semitism seems visible just over the horizon.” The Second Amendment was the only thing standing in the way of a new holocaust in America, in Goldschlager’s view. “The Second Amendment to our Constitution has little to do with hunting and competitive shooting,” he wrote. “It was written to protect the people against a tyrannical government.” Goldschlager concluded by calling American Jews “suicidal” for supporting gun control.
Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin communicated with his assistant Maria Butina via Twitter direct message on January 19, 2016 regarding their upcoming trip to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. Torshin confirmed that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had approved his travel from Russia.
From January 19-22, 2016, Russia agent Maria Butina attended the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade) Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump also attended the show, and was photographed with The Outdoor Channel CEO Jim Liberatore.
The private Russians small arms manufacturer ORSIS posted a video to YouTube titled “The NRA delegation at Orsis” on January 20, 2016. NRA first vice president and gunmaker Pete Brownell, NRA board member (and former NRA pres.) David Keene, radical sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr. and other members of the delegation can be seen touring ORSIS’ offices on December 11, 2015. They fire guns at the company’s range, receive a presentation on the T-5000 sniper rifle, and get expensive-looking watches with the ORSIS brand on them when they leave. The video notes that the NRA delegation was “headed by the first vice-president of the association Pete Brownell.”
ORSIS was established by Dmtiry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister in charge of Russia’s defense industry. Rogozin also runs Russia’s “social networks” unit. Rogozin’s son was deputy director of ORSIS for a time.
On January 28, 2016, the Russian Weapons Company (RWC) announced it was moving its operations from Tullytown, Pennsylvania to Pompano Beach, Florida to launch a new holding, Kalashnikov USA. The moving process was estimated to be complete by mid-February 2016. Kalashnikov USA had received an incentives package from the state (and local counties) to manufacture AK-47s and other firearms in Pompano Beach.
Sometime shortly before February 2016 GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson emailed conservative scion/Rockefeller heir George O’Neill, Jr. “in an attempt to convince the latter to meet with [Russian spy Maria Butina] and [the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin] to begin establishing a ‘back-channel’ of communication.” Erickson added:
[Torshin] (former President of the Russian Senate — #3 in Russian
leadership — and now the new Deputy Governor of the Russian Central
Bank) and his young protégé, Maria Butina (the head of the Russian version
of the NRA — whose stunning back story is printed below as a postscript). Quietly — VERY quietly — there is a movement alive in Russia that’s looking ahead to a post-Putin era. These players are not disloyal to the current president; they are simply realists about the future and the need for Russian/American friendship …[Torshin] is making a triple bet: That [the GOP] are a better match for diplomatic relations with Russia, that a [Republican] will win the 2016 Presidential contest and that the NRA is the best back-channel into any [Republican] administration.
On February 2, 2016, GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson sent an email to conservative scion/Rockefeller and copied Russian spy Maria Butina, in order to introduce the two. Erickson told O’Neill, “Maria and [deputy governor of the Russian central bank Alexander Torshin] are very serious about improving relations between America and Russia. If you have any ideas on this front, George, they have the desire and authority to listen.”
The deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia, Alexander Torshin, and his “assistant” Maria Butina attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC on February 4, 2016.
Safari Club International (SCI) conducted its annual convention at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada from February 3–6, 2016. NRA CEO and executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, president Jim Porter, and NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) executive director Chris Cox spoke at the convention at an NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum on the evening of February 4. From February 5–6, 2016, deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank Alexander Torshin and spy Maria Butina attended the convention. There they met with Joe Gregory, who runs the NRA “Ring of Freedom” program for donors who contribute $1,000 or more to the organization per year, and conservative scion/Rockefeller heir George O’Neill, Jr. The Russians were connected to O’Neill by GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson.
During a meeting away from the SCI convention, Butina and O’Neill discussed “U.S.-Russia Friendship Dinners.” According to Butina’s report:
Ms. Butina visited [George O’Neill, Jr’s residence]. In the course of the
conversation, the sides established even more trusting relationship; they
also discussed first steps towards establishing an informal communication
channel. O’Neill offered to organize events in Washington and New
York on May 23–25, 2016 with the purpose of gathering American pro-Russian
politicians, scientists and business people and discussing how, by
holding such meetings regularly in the US and Russia, they might establish
the informal communication channel. O’Neill also stated that he is
willing to finance these events. It is important to note that O’Neill
enjoys proximity to the formation of the future White House administration
(regardless of which side wins), and because of this, he thinks that the events
mentioned above should help the White House experts form the correct
outlook towards Russia.
Jason Hairston, a former San Francisco 49ers linebacker and founder of the hunting gear company Kuiu, said he helped to arrange meetings between “sportsman groups” and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a February 2016 gathering in Las Vegas.
On February 10, 2016, GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson and Russian spy Maria Butina established a limited liability corporation called “Bridges” in Erickson’s home state of South Dakota. Butina was listed as the “sole signer” on the LLC’s checking account, but Erickson wrote and signed checks from it. Butina paid an extra $50 to expedite the incorporation of Bridges.
Alexander Torshin tweeted the following on February 14, 2016: “Maria Butina is now in the USA. She writes to me that D. Trump (NRA member) really is for cooperation with Russia.”
Russian agent Maria Butina spoke at the Conference on World Affairs in St. Petersburg, Florida, which ran from February 17–19, 2016.
From February-June 2016, the Outdoor Channel paid Russian spy Maria Butina a total of $20,000 (four payments) to “provide advice on a planned program on hunting in Russia” involving Russian president Vladimir Putin. The payments were terminated in June because Butina “failed to make progress.”
In March 2016, GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson wrote the following in an invitation to paleoconservative Republican Pat Buchanan to attend a U.S.-Russia Friendship Dinner:
[Russian spy Maria] Butina represents factions within the top echelons of Russian power (political and business) that desperately want a new dialogue with the U.S. on behalf of the current regime and that are already (very quietly) imagining a post-[Russian president Vladimir] Putin era within Russia … Toward that end, our old friend from your…campaign, [George O’Neill, Jr.], has offered to host dinners in both Washington, D.C. and New York City in late May that will bring together very small groups of leading American thinkers with an unofficial but sanctioned Russian team consisting of [the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank Alexander Torshin], Butina, and an oligarch that has a foot inside Putin’s dacha and the international business community. The goal is simple and private: To have a candid discussion about shared international security interests and what steps need to be taken to bolster U.S.-Russian relations in the future.
Erickson was the national political director of Buchanan’s failed 1992 bid for the Republican nomination for president. O’Neill was a tech-savvy and valuable volunteer on the campaign.
In March 2016, J.D. Gordon was assigned as point person for a new advisory group on foreign policy and national security created by Republican Donald That group of advisers also included Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. Gordon attended a March 2016 meeting of the group presided over by candidate Donald Trump where Papadopoulos introduced himself by announcing he could help arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Russian agent Maria Butina exchanged emails with GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson and conservative scion/Rockefeller heir George O’Neill, Jr. on March 10–11, 2016 in regards to her plans to arrange a series of “friendship dinners” in New York City and Washington, DC that would bring GOP leaders and Russian officials together. Erickson provided a list of GOP leaders who might attend and help organize the dinners. Butina told O’Neill that Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin was “very much impressed by you and expresses his great appreciation for what you are doing to restore relations between the two countries. He also wants you to know that Russians will support the efforts from our side.”
Maria Butina emailed conservative scion/Rockefeller heir George O’Neill, Jr. on March 14, 2016 and told him that Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin confirmed “his desire in our Russian-American project.” She also noted a representative of Russian president Vladimir Putin had expressed approval “for building this communication channel.” She told him not to worry: “All that we needed is <<yes>> from Putin’s side. The rest is easier.”
The Center for the National Interest conducted a lunch event at Manhattan’s Time Warner Center on March 14, 2016, with CFTNI honorary chairman and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as the featured speaker. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, attended the lunch and spoke with Kissinger and CFTNI CEO Dmitri Simes. It was the first time Kushner met Kissinger. Kushner was invited to the lunch by “a Time Warner executive.” HBO CEO Richard Plepler and his boss, then-Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes, sit on the CFTNI board. Attendees other than Kushner included CNN president Jeffrey Zucker, CFTNI chairman General Charles Boyd, and Drew Guff, an “investment professional” at his firm Russia Partners.
On March 28, 2016, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hired veteran Republican strategist Paul Manafort to run his campaign and help secure delegates at the upcoming Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
Manafort was known for representing oppressive foreign leaders, including former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych (an ally of Vladimir Putin), former Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Angolan guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi, and the dictator of the former Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu was also previously represented by NRA Life Member/GOP operative Paul Erickson.
On March 30, 2016, Russian agent Maria Butina emailed an associate of the organizer of the National Prayer Breakfast to thank him/her for meeting with Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin and her in Moscow. She noted that Torshin “suggested to President Putin that he consider coming to the Prayer Breakfast [in Washington, DC] next year, Feb 2017, and Pres. Putin did not say ‘no’!” Butina observed that certain conditions would have to be met for that visit to occur. Putin would require a personal invitation from the President of the United States and at least 15 others heads of state would have to attend the event. The organizer of the National Prayer Breakfast responded immediately and promised he would provide ten seats for the Russian delegation at the 2017 event in Washington.
Rockefeller heir/conservative scion George D. O’Neill, Jr. wrote to Russian spy Maria Butina in an April 2016 letter after meeting her “at a convention for big-game hunters in Las Vegas.” He told Butina he used his considerable wealth to advocate a United States withdrawal from conflicts around the world and for better relations with Russia. “I have no other agenda,” he wrote.
On April 21, 2016, a staffer at the Center for The National Interest (CFTNI) photographed a draft of an upcoming foreign policy speech to be given by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump at the center six days later. The draft was sitting on the desk of CFTNI CEO Dmitri Simes. “The pictures demonstrate that significant changes were made from the speech’s detailed outline to its final version — including the removal of lines condemning bigotry, praising legal immigration, and disparaging Russia,” reported Daily Beast journalist Betsy Woodruff. The negative comment about Russia that was removed from Trump’s final speech was, “Russia is a declining but proud country with a nuclear arsenal that could obliterate our country.” A new line that showed up in the final speech was, “[America’s] allies are not paying their fair share.”
Russian spy Maria Butina contacted the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia, Alexander Torshin, on April 23, 2016 and told him, “Important in these circumstances are those contacts with the candidate and his entourage that will help form [Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s] correct view of Russian-American relations. Attending the general assembly of the [National Rifle Association] in May 2016 fully provides this unique opportunity.”
The Center for National Interest (CFTNI) hosted a foreign policy address by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the Mayflower Hotel on April 27, 2016. The event was organized by Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and CFTNI CEO Dmitri Simes. Before the address, Alabama Senator and Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Jeff Sessions (R-AL) met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a small VIP reception. Kislyak told his superiors in Moscow that he and Sessions discussed the 2016 presidential campaign in the U.S. and issues important to Russia. The event also marked the first time Kushner met Kislyak.
In Trump’s “America First” speech, he stated, “ We desire to live peacefully and in friendship with Russia.” Richard Burt, a former ambassador to Germany during the Reagan administration and a lobbyist for Russian interests, was “asked to provide a draft for the speech, and parts of that draft survived into the final [version].” Burt sits on the board of directors of CFTNI. He previously served on the advisory board of Alfa Capital Partners, a private equity fund in which Russia’s Alfa Bank is an investor.
Russian spy Maria Butina messaged the deputy governor of the central bank of Russia on April 28, 2016 to inquire as to whether he had been approved to attend the NRA’s upcoming annual meeting in Louisville in May 2016. “I hope your female boss [at the bank] will understand. This is an important moment for the future of our country.”
NRA Life Member and GOP operative Paul Erickson sent an email to Trump campaign adviser Rick Dearborn on May 10, 2016 titled “Kremlin Connection.” In the email, Erickson wrote:
Switching hats! I’m now writing to you and [Alabama] Sen. [Jeff] Sessions in your roles as [Republican presidential candidate Donald] Trump foreign policy experts/advisors … Happenstance and the (sometimes) international reach of the NRA placed me in a position a couple of years ago to slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin’s Kremlin. Russia is quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S. that isn’t forthcoming under the current administration. And for reasons that we can discuss in person or on the phone, the Kremlin believes that the only possibility of a true re-set in this relationship would be with a new Republican White House. Ever since [Democratic presidential candidate] Hillary [Clinton] compared Putin to Hitler, all senior Russian leaders consider her beyond redemption.
Erickson proposed creating a “back-channel to President Putin’s Kremlin” through Russian central banker Alexander Torshin and his assistant, Maria Butina. “Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with [Republican presidential candidate Donald] Trump.” Erickson continued. “He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election.” To make this “first contact” between Trump and Putin, Erickson suggested the following: “Let’s talk through what has transpired and [Alabama] Senator [and Trump foreign policy adviser Jeff] Sessions’s advice on how to proceed.”
“Within days” of the request by Paul Erickson, Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina routed a similar request to Trump campaign adviser Rick Dearborn through Johnny Yenason of the Military Warriors Support Foundation and conservative Christian activist Rick Clay. Yenason had met Torshin at an event in Moscow in March 2016. Clay was organizing a dinner for wounded veterans in Louisville, Kentucky, where the upcoming NRA annual meeting would be taking place. In an email to Dearborn, Clay relayed Torshin’s request to meet personally with Donald Trump during the NRA’s meeting in Louisville, without naming the Russian. Clay, a West Virginia resident, also told U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) about the Russians’ request. “It had everything to do with Christian values and putting two peoples together who had the same ideas,” he said. “At least, we thought that they did at the time.”
Rick Dearborn forwarded Clay’s request to campaign adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. “Pass on this,” Kushner responded. “Most likely these people then go back home and claim they have special access to gain importance for themselves. Be careful.” Dearborn told Rick Clay the request was “inappropriate” and should go through “proper channels” at the State Department.
Taganskaya mafia (Moscow) boss Alexander Romanov cut a deal with Spanish prosecutors and was sentenced to almost four years in prison on May 16, 2016 after pleading guilty to illegal transactions. Spanish authorities had hoped to arrest Romanov’s conspirator, Taganskaya “godfather” Alexander Torshin, but were unable to physically apprehend him after Torshin canceled a visit to Spain at the last minute. Taganskaya’s criminal activity has continued in Spain even with Romanov behind bars. Of Torshin, now the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, senior Spanish prosecutor José Grinda González said, “The thesis in August 2013 was that he was at the top of a criminal structure dedicated to money laundering … We still consider him the investor who injected money into this structure in Spain.”
On May 17, 2016, Rick Dearborn, campaign adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, forwarded the March 10, 2016 request he received from NRA Life Member/GOP operative Paul Erickson to Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, and campaign adviser/Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. As part of Erickson’s proposal to establish a back-channel between Russia and the Trump campaign, Dearborn indicated that Russian central banker Alexander Torshin would like to meet privately with Trump or “someone of high rank in the Trump Campaign” just before Trump’s speech at the upcoming NRA annual meeting in Kentucky.
Dearborn’s explained that Torshin wanted an opportunity “to discuss an offer he claims to be carrying from President [Vladimir] Putin to meet with DJT. They would also like DJT to visit Russia for a world summit on the persecution of Christians at which Putin and Trump would meet. Kushner responded to Dearborn, writing the following in an email: “A lot of people come claiming to carry messages. Very few we are able to verify. For now I think we decline such meetings.”
Russian agent Maria Butina was a guest speaker at the Heroes for Freedom and Liberty Dinner at the Mellwood Arts Center in Louisville, Kentucky on May 18, 2016. Butina was identified as the chairwoman of the “Russian NRA.” The event was a fundraiser for the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation that also included the following guests: Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton, “God Bless the U.S.A” singer Lee Greenwood, former Democratic Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, a former Miss America, and the former commissioner of the Kentucky’s Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Event planner Mike King recalled that Butina was added “at the suggestion of an NRA associate,” Johnny Yenason. Yenason is a businessman from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and an NRA Life Member. "When she got invited, we were kind of surprised that she was coming to it," King said. "She was considered a celebrity."
From May 19–22, 2016, the NRA conducted its annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke at the meeting and was formally endorsed by the NRA. This endorsement came far earlier in the election cycle than is typical for the organization.
Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin and his assistant Maria Butina were also in attendance at the meeting (Torshin’s sixth straight). Though he was rebuffed in his requests to meet with Trump, Torshin was allowed to speak with Donald Trump, Jr. at a private dinner hosted by the NRA in Louisville that weekend. Some NRA officials reported being “startled” to see Torshin and Butina present at the restaurant when they arrived. According to reporter Sara Murray at CNN, “Torshin and Butina weren’t invited to the dinner, but they were asked to stay and speak anyway.” “Donald J. Trump, Jr. was attending an NRA convention and having dinner when an acquaintance asked him to say hello to Torshin and made an introduction,” said Trump, Jr.’s attorney Alan Futerfas. “They made small talk for a few minutes and went back to their separate meals. That is the extent of their communication or contact.” NRA board member David Keene claims he was having a small birthday dinner at the same restaurant that evening — a gathering separate from the NRA dinner — and Torshin and Butina were there to celebrate with him.
TulAmmo USA, which distributes ammunition manufactured at the Tula Cartridge Works in Russia, was allowed to exhibit at the NRA’s 2016 annual meeting (for the sixth year in a row) despite sanctions enacted by the United States against the Russian state defense conglomerate Rostec in September 2014. Rostec owns part of Tula Cartridge Works. TulAmmo USA, TulAmmo, and Tula Cartridge Works all share the same name, address, logo and at least one former officer.
During the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum in Louisville, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre told NRA members that “a brazenly emboldened Russia” was one of several foreign policy disasters of the Obama administration.
Russian agent Maria Butina enrolled in a master’s degree program in international affairs at American University in Washington, D.C. during the summer of 2016.
Beginning in June 2016, GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson began sending a dozen wires to Maria Butina’s Alfa Bank account in Russia totaling $27,000. The wires continued until March 2017.
Catharine O’Neill, the daughter of conservative scion/Rockefeller heir George D. O’Neill, Jr. began an internship in the office of Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA-48th) in June 2016. The internship ended in September 2016.
In June 2016, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) sought to “streamline the approval process” and change the job-creation schedule for Project 762, their code-name for the tax incentives application of the Russian Weapons Company (RWC) and its holding Kalashnikov USA. DEO convinced Broward County and Pompano Beach officials to revise their previously-agreed-upon incentives deal after RWC failed to live up to the job-creation promises in its January 2015 application. The company had moved to Pompano Beach to manufacture AK-47s and other firearms.
Russian spy Maria Butina emailed a senior Outdoor Channel executive on June 8, 2016 and encouraged the company to continue paying her monthly installments of $20,000 to help develop a show for the channel dealing with hunting, fishing and conversation in Russia. “No western media company (or even news organization) has EVER had this much access to President Putin,” she boasted. “That my contacts are seriously considering this is groundbreaking.” In her email signature, Butina listed herself as the “president” of the Bridges LLC she established with GOP operative/NRA life member in South Dakota earlier in the year. The Outdoor Channel terminated its payments to Butina that month despite her entreaties.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the following during a private meeting with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill on June 15, 2016. “There’s two people I think [Russian president Vladimir] Putin pays: [Republican Congressman Dana] Rohrabacher [from California] and Trump.”
On June 21, 2016, Russian spy Maria Butina received a tasking from the deputy governor of the Russia Central Bank, Alexander Torshin, to create a report on “[her] perspective on the situation regarding [Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump].”
The following day, on June 22, 2016, Republican operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson responded to Butina in an email with the subject line “ “Suggested [Trump] Report Language1.” Erickson advised Butina to close her report to Torshin by noting she had made “deep, inside connections to [the GOP] in the past year.” “As of today, it’s more likely than not that [Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump] wins the presidency and that my connections can be utilized for the benefits of both countries,” Erickson added.
In July 2016, Russian spy Maria Butina, deputy governor of Russia’s central bank Alexander Torshin, and GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson exchanged a series of messages in which they fretted that their “covert influence operation” could be adversely affected by Russia’s cyber-arm hacking the emails of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Erickson remarked, “It complicates the hell out of nearly a year of quiet back-channel diplomacy in establishing links between reformers inside the Kremlin and a putative [GOP] administration (regardless of nominee or president). What a colossal waste of lead time.” Butina told Torshin, “Right now I’m sitting here very quietly after the scandal about our FSB hacking into [the DNC’s] emails. My all too blunt attempts to befriend politicians right now will probably be misinterpreted, as you yourself can understand.” Torshin responded by telling Butina she was “doing the right thing.”
Russian spy Maria Butina emailed the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin on July 3, 2016 with a requested report on “[her] perspective on the situation regarding [Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump].” Torshin responded by asking Butina if he could send her report on Trump to Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “That would be a great honor!” Butina replied. “The authorship completely doesn’t matter. If going to the MFA, glance at the content and language, I can make corrections.”
On July 6, 2016, Alexander Torshin tweeted a photo of a medal he received from the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s intelligence service formerly known as the KGB.
Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination on July 19, 2016.
WikiLeaks released thousands of hacked emails from top aides at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) on July 22, 2016. The emails raised questions about whether the DNC favored Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign over that of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. The DNC’s computers were hacked by agents of Vladimir Putin’s government who turned over the material to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
On July 28, 2016, lawyer John Bolton — the former chair of the NRA’s international affairs subcommittee and a frequent foreign policy surrogate for the organization— appeared on Breitbart News Daily with SiriusXM host Stephen K. Bannon. Bolton defended Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump after Trump publicly urged Russia to continue cyberattacks against his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton (“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails [on Clinton’s private server] that are missing.”). Bolton told Bannon, “I think the Democrats are scared to death that the Russians, or somebody, does have all those emails…about the Clinton Foundation.”
Maria Butina entered the United States on an F-1 student visa in August 2016, identifying her current employer as “Antares LLC.” The FBI was watching her activities at that point. According to the Washington Post, “Rather than question or confront her, they said, officials decided to track her movements to determine whom she was meeting and what she was doing in the U.S. — the kind of monitoring that is not uncommon when foreign nationals are suspected of working on behalf of a foreign government.”
Stephen K. Bannon, the chairman of the Breitbart News website, was named Donald Trump’s new presidential campaign manager on August 17, 2016 after Paul Manafort resigned from the position amidst investigations into his lobbying history in Ukraine, where he supported pro-Russian interests.
In September 2016, two months after Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination for President of the United States, Russian oligarch Len Blavatnik donated an additional $100,000 to the tax-exempt 527 organization Our American Revival. Our American Revival supported Wisconsin Scott Walker’s bid for the U.S. presidency in 2015 and 2016.
Catharine O’Neill, the daughter of conservative scion/Rockefeller heir George D. O’Neill, Jr. began working for incoming President Donald Trump’s transition team for the State Department in September 2016. That position lasted through January 2017.
During a meeting at the Research and Production Enterprise SPLAV on September 8, 2016, Russian president Vladimir Putin called for Russia’s defense industries to boost their “production of high-tech civilian and dual-purpose goods” to 50 percent of their manufactured goods by the end of 2016 and 80 percent by 2020.
Russian agent Maria Butina emailed GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson and conservative scion/Rockefeller heir George O’Neill, Jr. on September 16, 2016 regarding organizing another “friendship dinner” between GOP leaders and Russian officials in the District of Columbia. Butina suggested organizing the dinner at the beginning of October 2016 because “we have only 2 months left before the US elections and it’s the time for building an advisers team on Russia for a new president.” “I am seriously worry that the candidates some upcoming day will suddently realize that ‘now’ is the time to do something with Russia and will look for advisory among currently popular radically oppositional to Russia crowd of experts,” she wrote. “Bad things happen then. I believe we can prevent it.”
A donor who attends the twice-a-year policy and fundraising retreats hosted by the Koch network was quoted in a September 16, 2016 article in The Guardian. He reported that NRA CEO and executive vice president Wayne LaPierre has attended the retreats “on a couple of occasions.”
On September 17, 2016, Russian central banker Alexander Torshin tweeted two photos of himself at the 2016 NRA annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky four months earlier. In both photos, taken in the meeting’s exhibit hall, Torshin can be seen wearing an NRA Ring of Freedom member lanyard. Ring of Freedom donors give the NRA $1,000 or more per year.
J.D. Gordon, a national security adviser with the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, met Russian spy Maria Butina at a party at the Swiss ambassador’s residence on September 29, 2016. Gordon was invited to the party by Faith Whittlesey, the prominent Republican and former U.S. ambassador to Switzerland. Whittlesey is also the ex-mother-in-law of George D. O’Neill, Jr., the Rockefeller heir and conservative scion.
GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson emailed an acquaintance on October 4, 2016, writing, “Unrelated to specific presidential campaigns, I’ve been involved in a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key GOP leaders through, of all conduits, the NRA.”
Russian agent Maria Butina exchanged a series of direct messages on Twitter with Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin on October 5, 2016. Torshin inquired about the status of the “Russia-USA friendship society” Butina was organizing with conservative scion/Rockefeller heir George D. O’Neill, Jr. She was downcast in her response:
BUTINA: It’s not alive. We are currently ‘underground’ both here and there. Now, private clubs and quiet influence on people making decisions is the trend. No publicity. Advisor — is the profession of the current day. Even a secret advisor. Right now the Administration here is flexible — and there is the idea, so that the right thoughts would dominate … Time will tell. We made our bet. I am following our game. I will be connecting the people from the [national] prayer breakfast to this group. Most importantly, you get better. Everything else we will win.
TORSHIN: No doubt! Of course we will win, but I (you are right) need to beat the illness first and get out of the hospital (I made an attempt today — it didn’t work). And it is not about winning today’s fight (although we are striving for it) but to win the entire battle. This is the battle for the future, it cannot be lost! Or everyone will lose.
BUTINA: True! But don’t try to get out right now: the doctors ordered you to stay for a reason. Better finish the treatment. Please do not risk it. You have a key role and you know it. I will not manage with you.
TORSHIN: No! This is a mistake. Your political star has risen in the sky. Now it is important to rise to the zenith and not burn out (fall) prematurely.
BUTINA: Oh well. I am just starting in this field. I still have to learn and learn from you! These are not just words! Harsh and impetuous moves will ruin everything early.
TORSHIN: This is hard to teach. Patience and cold blood + faith in yourself. And everything will definitely turn out.
Following this Twitter conversation, Butina and Torshin discussed whether she should volunteer to serve as an election observer for the 2016 U.S. elections. Torshin stated, “the risk of provocation is too high and the ‘media hype’ which comes after it.” Butina agreed, noting, “Only incognito! Right now everything has to be quiet and careful.”
Butina and Torshin also intermittently communicated in October 2016 to discuss the upcoming 2017 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. Butina asked Torshin for a list of ten individuals from Russia who would be attending the breakfast. She noted it would be a good idea to invite the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, and continued: “[It] needs to be somebody influential from Russia, it would be better [if it were someone] from the Kremlin or RPC [Russian Orthodox Church] of course.”
On October 7, 2016, the U.S. intelligence community released a report confirming the Russian government was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee emails released by WikiLeaks on July 22, 2016.
On October 18, 2016, 48 year-old J.D. Gordon, who recently finished a six-month stint as a national security adviser with the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, took 27 year-old Russian spy Maria Butina to see a Styx concert at the Warner Theatre in Washington, DC.
At lunch we discussed the presidential election, her work for the Russian equivalent of the NRA, and her studies at American University. We also talked about Trump’s chances of winning. Like almost all journalists and pundits, John Gizzi and I were wrong. She was right. Trump would win.
Butina refused to speak to either reporter on the record, but on October 28, 2016 she messaged Crowther, writing, “Some people say that Russians have this sixth sense and sometimes can predict great things ahead — this is what I feel after our meeting. I feel that we will be having some interesting and important deals together.”
At lunch we discussed the presidential election, her work for the Russian equivalent of the NRA, and her studies at American University. We also talked about Trump’s chances of winning. Like almost all journalists and pundits, John Gizzi and I were wrong. She was right. Trump would win.
In early November 2016, Russia’s cyberwarfare arm bombarded social media with thousands of ads aimed at influencing voters in America’s upcoming presidential election. Many of the ads echoed the pro-gun propaganda of the NRA. One ad created by the Russians, for example, drove browsers to a Facebook group titled “Defend the 2nd [Amendment].”
Russian agent Maria Butina and the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin, discussed the U.S. presidential election on November 8, 2016 in a series of direct messages on Twitter. Butina told Torshin, “I’m going to sleep. It’s 3 am here. I am ready for further orders.” Torshin responded, “Think about in which areas of life we could go towards bringing us closer. ISIS — understandably, what else we need to look at the American agenda.”
At 11:45 p.m EST on election night, Russian agent Maria Butina posted a picture of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to Facebook with the following caption:
Well that’s it. America gets a Republican Donald Trump for the next presidential term. Supporter of gun rights and restoration of relations with Russia. Congratulations to all!
Butina then added the following comment on her thread: “100%. Even if he loses everything else. He got the necessary number of votes.” Trump did not look like the winner of the election until approximately 1:35AM EST, however, when he clinched Pennsylvania and reached 264 electoral votes.
To the surprise of pundits and pollsters nationwide, Republican Donald Trump was elected 45th President of the United States on November 8, 2016.
The NRA spent more than $30 million to elect Trump — more than Trump’s top super PAC and triple what the group spent on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012. Most of this funding came from an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors. The NRA spent more “dark money” than any other group in the 2016 U.S. elections.
On November 9, 2016, Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin tweeted, “Today in NRA (USA) I know only 2 people from the Russian Federation with the status of ‘Life Member’: Maria Butina and I.”
In another series of direct messages with Torshin on Twitter, Russian spy Maria Butina speculated about who would be named Secretary of State in the Trump administration. She suggested a phone call to discuss the matter, but Torshin balked, saying he was worried “all our phones being listened to!” Butina suggested they communicate via WhatsApp.
Russian spy Maria Butina emailed the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin, on November 10, 2016 with a report in which she referred to herself in the third-person (as she “often” does). “During the last 5 years, Torshin and Butina have constantly worked on establishing unofficial contact, based on common views and a system of conservative values, with a number of key [GOP] organizations in the US, including the executive level of [the GOP], its intellectual establishment and [GOP] organizations.” Butina then suggested the upcoming National Prayer Breakfast could be a good venue to further these efforts.
Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina communicated again in a series of Twitter direct messages on November 11, 2016. Butina predicted who the Trump administration would name as U.S. Secretary of State and asked Torshin to inquire how “our people” felt about the potential nomination. Butina also sent Torshin two screen shots of reports in Russian, one of which proposed to establish dialogue with U.S. politicians through a conference. The proposal stated “the conference must be presented as a private initiative, not a government undertaking.” Under “Advantages,” Butina wrote, “the event will get wide coverage in the press; it will be the first positive event regarding Russia in Washington (currently, all of them are anti-Russia and anti-Putin). The event does not pose any risk because no government officials from either country will attend; yet it creates a foundation for further talks on the level of goverment officials.”
Torshin responded to Butina’s proposal on November 12, 2016 and told her “they” won’t go for it. He said he count not reach a Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs contact and said “people are waiting for the formed decisions. I will try to clarify this subject Monday one more time.”
Maria Butina celebrated her birthday with a “Stars and Tsars”-themed costume party at Cafe Deluxe in Washington, DC on November 12, 2016. NRA Life Member/GOP operative Paul Erickson attended and dressed as Rasputin. Also present at the party were several of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign consultants. Two unnamed guests told the Daily Beast that Butina bragged about being part of the Trump campaign communications team. Erickson, for his part, was lobbying for a role in the Trump transition team but “ran into a problem with his security clearance.” The Washington Post reports:
Even without official credentials, [Paul Erickson] pressed Trump donors and former campaign officials, pushing for top positions for people he thought especially qualified. One person recalled his lobbying to get K.T. McFarland named as an adviser to Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.
In “late November 2016,” former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele wrote a memo after his contract with Fusion GPS ended and shared it with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team. In the memo, Steele relayed talk circulating in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the Kremlin intervening to block incoming U.S. President Donald Trump’s initial choice for Secretary of State, Mitt Romney. The source for this claim was “a senior Russian official.” As The New Yorker noted, “During Romney’s run for the White House in 2012, he was notably hawkish on Russia, calling it the single greatest threat to the U.S.” Steele reported that “the Kremlin, through unspecified channels, had asked Trump to appoint someone [as Secretary of State] who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related [U.S.] sanctions, and who would coöperate on security issues of interest to Russia, such as the conflict in Syria.”
K.T. McFarland was appointed Deputy National Security Adviser for the incoming Trump administration on November 25, 2016. The position does not require confirmation by the Senate. GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson had lobbied the Trump campaign to appoint McFarland to the position. She had no previous ties to Donald Trump. According to Wikipedia: “The selection surprised some people given McFarland’s length of time away from government and the fact that she had little experience with intense extra-hours positions and personnel and crisis management.”
On November 30, 2016, Russian agent Maria Butina emailed GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson regarding the Russian delegation that would be attending the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. She told Erickson the “people in the list are handpicked by [deputy governor of Russia’s central bank Alexander Torshin] and me. They are VERY influential in Russia. They are coming to establish a back-channel of communication…. Let’s think if our [conservative scion/Rockefeller heir George O’Neill, Jr] would like to meet with them.”
In December 2016, Paul Saunders, the executive director of the pro-Russia Center for National Interest urged then President-elect Donald Trump to ease tensions with Russia.
GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson responded to Russian agent Maria Butina on December 1, 2016 with instructions “for what is required to book the Russian delegation hotel rooms in the Washington Hilton — the actual venue of the National Prayer Breakfast.” The email listed rooms and prices and Erickson noted, “To be safe, I’d ask [Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin] to place US $3500 on one of your Russian charge cards in order to pay these deposits.”
On December 18, 2016, the Washington Times announced that Charles Hurt would replace NRA board member David Keene as opinion editor in March 2017. “Mr. Keene, a trusted adviser to presidents and high officials, a stalwart defender of Second Amendment rights and one of the conservative movement’s most venerated voices, will remain with the paper as an editor at large, contributing regular columns and representing the Times,” the paper noted.
The deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin, emailed assistant Maria Butina on December 26, 2016 and told her that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had no objection to his attending the upcoming National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC but “it does not mean that every is settled…. Officially, only ambassadors will be invited. There will be no state leaders and delegations.” Butina replied. “The response from the MFA is perfect. I am serious.”
On December 29, 2016, incoming Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland sent an email to a colleague on the Trump transition team regarding the Obama administration’s implementation of new sanctions against Russia for the illegal invasion of Ukraine. “If there is a tit-for-tat escalation Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote. McFarland also indicated that her boss, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, would be discussing the new sanctions with the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak. “Key will be Russia’s response over the next few days,” she added.
In late 2016, The Right to Bear Arms group run by Russian central banker Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina pulled down its webpage of 22 “honorary members,” many of whom are radical nationalists in Russia.
According to tax returns, the NRA’s spending surged to historical levels in 2016, increasing to $419 million from $312 million in 2015 (the NRA spent $261 million in the presidential election year of 2012, by comparison). The main drivers of this growth in spending were Capitol Hill lobbying and public affairs work. The amount of revenue the NRA took in grew modestly in 2016, to $375 million from $343 million in 2015, because of non-dues contributions. Dues paid by NRA members dropped by more than $2 million in 2016.
Wells Fargo’s anti–money laundering team began looking into the bank accounts (personal and business) of Russian spy Maria Butina and GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson in early 2017 after receiving a referral from the FBI. Wells Fargo officials were suspicious about the “significant control” Erickson had over Butina’s account. For example, he had access to her personal checking account, which she opened in 2014; he frequently made payments on her behalf; and he appeared to sometimes write checks that Butina signed.
In January 2017, Catharine O’Neill, the daughter of conservative scion/Rockefeller heir George D. O’Neill, Jr. was hired as a Staff Assistant and Special Assistant in the State Department. O’Neill works in the Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights.
On January 2, 2017, NRA board member (and former NRA pres.) David Keene published an op-ed in the Washington Times in which he reversed his longstanding position on the government of Vladimir Putin. Keene titled his piece “Confusing Putin with the Old Soviet Threat” and wrote:
We seem prepared to believe any evil of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which has with its second-rate military establishment and failing economy somehow morphed in the minds of many Americans into a greater threat than the old Soviet Union. Hillary Clinton and [Clinton campaign chair] John Podesta are convinced Mr. Putin cost her the White House and that President-elect Donald Trump might as well be working for the Kremlin … [Putin] is an internally popular Russian nationalist who runs what is, by U.S. standards, a crony capitalist autocracy and has acted internationally in ways that deserve condemnation, but he is neither Hitler nor Stalin … It would be a mistake to conclude that Moscow’s historically typical meddling in its own neighborhood makes it as great a threat to us and our interests as the old Soviet Union.
Keene is the opinion editor at the Washington Times.
On January 5, 2017, Russian agent Maria Butina was forwarded an email that GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson sent to conservative scion/Rockefeller heir George O’Neill, Jr. regarding the upcoming National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC on February 2, 2017. Erickson sent O’Neill a list of Russian officials that would be attending the breakfast and noted, “In addition to delegation leader [and Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin], the list is populated by important political advisors to Russian President Putin, university presidents, mayors, and substantial private businessmen.”
The U.S. intelligence community declassified a report on January 6, 2017 which concluded that “[Russian president] Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” with the specific goal of harming Hillary Clinton’s “electability and potential presidency.” “We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” the report stated.
On January 17, 2017, NRA lobbyist and attorney Mark Barnes emailed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) associate deputy director Ronald Turk suggested edits that Barnes had made to a draft white paper sent to him by Turk. In the attached edit of the paper, titled “Options for a New Administration to Reduce or Mollify Firearms Regulations” by Turk, Barnes added the following recommendation:
Remove the Voluntary Restraint Agreement (VRA) with Russia: In 1996, the Clinton Administration, through the State Department and ATF, negotiated the VRA with the Russian Federation to restrict the import of firearms and ammunition manufactured in the Russian Federation and former Soviet States, only allowing the U.S. industry to important specific models designated in the VRA. The intent of this agreement was to restrict the import of SKS and Makarov pistols, which the Clinton Administration believed, without evidence, were likely to be used in crimes. Since then, these firearms have been abundantly imported in the United States from other countries, and there is no empirical evidence to indicate their widespread use in crimes. Much like the prohibition on the importation of U.S.-origin [Curios & Relics] firearms, the VA unnecessarily restricts the import of many C&R firearms, highly desired by U.S. collectors, which remain in Russia and the former Soviet States. Again, no public safety nexus has been shown, thus creating an additional unnecessary burden on the imports branch.
Turk did not end up accepting this recommendation from Barnes in the final version of the white paper he distributed to ATF leadership (although he accepted many other edits from the NRA lobbyist).
On January 15, 2017, the deputy governor or the central bank of Russia, Alexander Torshin, tweeted a photo of a book (in Russian, about tanks) with the following caption: “Bought a gift for NRA President Allan Cors. Tanks are his favorite topic!”
During the transition for Republican President-elect Donald Trump (November 9, 2016-January 19, 2017), former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with Trump transition officials during a series of private meetings to recommend the U.S. “work with Russia to contain a rising China.” Those officials included White House adviser Jared Kushner. Kissinger has met with Russian president Vladimir Putin 17 times over the years and repeatedly advocated for a better working relationship between Washington and Moscow. Kissinger sits on the board of directors of the Center for National Interest (founded during his time as Secretary of State with the Nixon administration) with NRA board member David Keene, Russian-born Dmitri Simes, and former AIG CEO “Hank” Greenberg.
On Inauguration Day — January 20, 2017 — Maria Butina and NRA Life Member/GOP operative Paul Erickson attended the invitation-only Freedom Ball to celebrate Republican Donald Trump’s swearing in as President of the United States.
On January 22, 2017, GOP operative/NRA life member emailed conservative scion/Rockefeller heir George O’Neill, Jr. and copied Russian spy Maria Butina. Erickson said he was writing “[i]n anticipation of [O’Neill’s] U.S./Russian Friendship Dinner [on] January 31.” He attached a “summary chart” of the 15-member Russian delegation to the upcoming National Prayer Breakfast. Erickson also gave O’Neill some language he could use to “pitch the dinner/delegation to Members of Congress or people of importance”:
The Russian Federation is sending a full contingent to this year’s
National Prayer Breakfast . . . The delegation is being led by [deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin]. It is populated by key mayors, university presidents and personal advisors to [Russsian] President [Vladimir] Putin. Reaction to the delegation’s presence in America will be relayed DIRECTLY to President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (who both had to personally approve the delegation’s travel to this event).
Russian agent Maria Butina communicated with the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin, on January 26, 2017 regarding a speech he was going to deliver the night before the National Prayer Breakfast on February 2, 2017. “The only thing I ask is to somehow mention me,” she told him. “This is very important for me for negotiations with the breakfast committee. They need to see me not as the delegation ‘organization committee’ but as your partner and colleague.” Torshin agreed, telling her, “we need to stress your status as a key figure.”
On January 26, 2017, GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson asked an acquaintance for tickets to the National Prayer Breakfast, stating it could help “advance the cause of US/Russian reset (on our terms).” Erickson added, “I was ahead of this in December, but last weekend [Russian president Vladimir] Putin decided to up his official delegation — if we can accommodate them, we can empower rational insiders that have been cultivated for three years.”
On January 31, 2017, conservative activist and Rockefeller scion George D. O’Neill, Jr. hosted a private “friendship and dialogue” dinner for Russian and American officials at the George Hotel in Washington, D.C. The event was conducted as part of the festivities surrounding the National Prayer Breakfast. Present at the dinner were O’Neill and his wife (a “Russian-speaking congressional aide”), Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin, Republican Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher of California and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson, Hollywood director Ronald Maxwell and a “conservative magazine publisher,” among others.
A meeting between the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin, his assistant Maria Butina, and newly-elected President Donald Trump was canceled at the last minute at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 2, 2017. The three were scheduled to meet in a waiting room at the Washington Hilton just before the event started. “Late the night before, we were told that all meet and greets were off,” Butina told Yahoo News. A Trump administration official flagged Torshin at the last minute as a figure with “baggage,” meaning ties to organized crime in Russia. The Spanish national police connected Torshin and Taganskaya (Moscow) mafia boss Alexander Romanov to money laundering activities inside their country in 2016. Romanov called Torshin “Godfather” in multiple phone conversations taped by Guardia Civil. Despite this evidence, during the National Prayer Breakfast Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) told Yahoo News that Alexander Torshin is “sort of the [American] conservatives’ favorite Russian.”
Maria Butina posted the following to Facebook on February 2, 2017:
The US has lifted the sanctions with the FSB [Russian Federal Security Service] the ice is broken, gentlemen of the jury!
Russian agent Maria Butina emailed a National Prayer Breakfast organizer on February 6, 2017 to thank him for “the gift of [your] precious time during the National Prayer Breakfast week — and for the very private meeting that followed. A new relationship between two countries always begins better when it begins in faith. Once you have a chance to rest after last week’s events, I have important information for you to further this new relationship. I would appreciate one brief additional meeting with you to explain these new developments. I remain in Washington, D.C. pursuing my Master’s Degree at American University. My schedule is your schedule!”
On February 8, 2017, Russian agent Maria Butina emailed conservative scion/Rockefeller heir George O’Neill, Jr. and told him, “Our delegation cannot stop chatting about your wonderful dinner. My dearest President has received ‘the message’ about your group initiatives and your constructive and kind attention to the Russian.
American businessman Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the chairman emeritus of the Center for National Interest, reached a settlement to pay $9.9 million to the New York Attorney General’s Office on February 10, 2017 to settle fraud charges. As part of the settlement, Hank Greenberg acknowledged that he participated in and approved two transactions that misled investors about A.I.G.’s financial results over a period of four years.
During the weekend of February 11–12, 2017, Russian agent Maria Butina was part of a group of ten American University students from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Azerbaijan who traveled to The Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania for a weekend of seminars and cultural immersion. The trip was organized by Susan Eisenhower, the institute’s chairman emeritus. She recalled that Butina “was clearly older than the rest of the students and more confident. She seemed like a networker.”
Shortly after Butina met Eisenhower, GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson emailed conservative scion/Rockefeller heir George D. O’Neill, Jr. to propose another “U.S./Russia friendship” dinner. He noted that Butina was making an “ever-expanding circle of influential friends.” Erickson added that Butina had “gotten to know the ex-wife of a supermarket heir, who had endowed an institute dedicated to furthering American-Russian relations, and the ‘silky smooth’ former Russian diplomat who ran it.”
Ms. Butina, he wrote in the email, had just met Susan Eisenhower, the granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, during a visit to Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. The Russian woman had also gotten to know the ex-wife of a supermarket heir, who had endowed an institute dedicated to furthering American-Russian relations, and the “silky smooth” former Russian diplomat who ran it.
On February 13, 2017, Trump administration National Security Adviser and retired Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn resigned following reports about his potentially illegal contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The media also reported Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Kislyak. Flynn’s 24-day tenure as National Security Adviser was the shortest in the history of the office.
During the February 15, 2017 edition of NRA-TV’s Live Updates, host Grant Stinchfield and Louisiana Congressman Clay Higgins discussed a New York Times article that had appeared a day earlier. The article stated, “American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted [communications between members of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and senior Russian intelligence officials] around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee.” Stinchfield responded:
You know there’s a big issue in Washington now, all this discussion over what’s been going on with Russia, the Trump administration, Michael Flynn, the national security adviser [who resigned on February 13, 2017 after it became known he was under investigation for communications with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak] … I believe what is going on in Washington is you have a concerted effort with [former President Barack] Obama loyalists inside these bureaucratic agencies, from the Justice Department to the intelligence community, trying to undermine [President Donald Trump] every step of the way. Is there anything Congress can do to root out those loyalists who are really, I believe, trying to destroy America from the inside?
On February 24, 2017, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). In reference to reporters and average Americans concerned about the Trump administration’s ties to Vladimir Putin and Russia, LaPierre mocked, “They’re horrified. They’re all afret over the Russian-American equation.” He added, “Even more alarming is they’ve apparently found willing co-conspirators among some in the U.S. intelligence community.” [At least six different U.S. intelligence agencies had investigated the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia by this time]. In the past, LaPierre told CPAC attendees, these U.S. intelligence officials would have been “hanged for treason.”
In February 2017, a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin, Igor Rotenberg, bought a 46% share in the Tula Cartridge Works, an ammo manufacturer in Russia that is partially owned by the state company Rostec. The Russian newspaper Vedomosti suggested that Rotenberg may have had insider information about the Russian military preparing to replenish its ammunition stocks. Rotenberg is the son of Arkady Rotenberg, Putin’s former judo partner. A construction company owned by the Rotenberg family was awarded lavish contracts to build pipelines for Gazprom, the state-controlled energy giant, and a bridge to Crimea, the Ukranian territory that Russian illegally annexed in 2014.
Russian spy Maria Butina and her lover, GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson met a man in Virginia in March 2017 who said he was seeking five million barrels of jet fuel. He offered to pay a finder’s fee of $1 million if they connected him with a Russian refinery. Butina and Erickson met the man at the behest of NRA board member David Keene and his wife, Donna Keene, a well-connected Washington lobbyist.
In March 2017, former Secretary of State and Center for the National Interest honory chairman Henry Kissinger wrote an endorsement for Republican President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, for Time’s list of the 100 most influential people. Kissinger had only known Kushner for a year but said the young man’s education, business acumen, and high-ranking position “should help him make a success of his daunting role flying close to the sun.”
NRA board member (and former NRA pres.) David Keene spoke to the Daily Beast for a March 7, 2017 story written by Tim Mak titled, “Top Trump Ally Met With Putin’s Deputy in Moscow.” In the interview, Keene discussed his participation in an NRA delegation trip to Moscow, Russia during the week of December 8–13, 2015. Keene gave Daily Beast the following explanation for the trip: “[Deputy prime minister for Russia’s defense industry and social networks unit head Dmitry] Rogozin is chairman of the Russian Shooting Federation and his board hosted a tour of Federation HQ for us while we were there,” Keene said. “It was non-political. There were at least 30 in attendance and our interaction consisted of thanking him and his board for the tour.”
Keene omitted information about several known elements of the the NRA delegation’s trip to Moscow. The delegation toured the offices and facilities of the private Russian arms manufacturer ORSIS, which is closely tied to Rogozin. A meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was cited by radical sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr., who was part of the NRA delegation. The delegation also attended dinners/parties hosted by the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin, and pro-Putin journalist Pavel Gusev.
The deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin, tweeted “Tennessee is my favorite state in the United States” on March 16, 2017. He added, “Nashville is a wonderful city.” Nashville is where conservative laywer G. Kline Preston lives. Preston first introduced Torshin to NRA board member David Keene in 2011.
On March 29, 2017, the associate publisher of The National Interest, the magazine of the Center for The National Interest, conducted an extended interview with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow. Lavrov told publisher Paul Saunders that he wanted to restore “normalcy” to U.S.-Russia relations, explanining, “‘Normal’ is to treat your partners with respect, not to try to impose some of your ideas on others without taking into account their own views and their concerns, always to try to listen and to hear, and hopefully not to rely on a superiority complex, which was obviously the case with the Obama administration. They were obsessed with their exceptionality, with their leadership.” Lavrov also promoted the idea that Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014 as the result of an internal “coup,” as opposed to an invasion by Russian military forces.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) terminated its tax incentives deal with Russian Weapons Company (RWC) in April 2017 because RWC was unable to deliver the number of jobs promised in its January 2015 application. RWC had proposed to manufacture AK-47s and other firearms in Pompano Beach under the holding Kalashnikov USA. “RWC, LLC did not complete the statutorily required process and the contract was terminated,” said Tiffany Vause, spokeswoman for DEO. Agency officials offered no comment as to whether the deal would have violated the July 2014 sanctions enacted by the U.S. against Kalashnikov Concern (KC) in Russia, RWC’s parent company. Under the Kalashnikov USA proposal to DEO, KC did the lion’s share of manufacturing, assembling and testing of firearms made at the plant in Pompano Beach, Florida.
The Trump administration asked Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland to resign on April 9, 2017, allowing her to stay on for just a couple more weeks. This followed the resignation of her boss, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, regarding revelations about potentially illegal contacts he made with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Lobbyist Donna Keene, the wife of NRA/CFTNI board member David Keene, emailed Russian spy Maria Butina on April 15, 2017. She urged Butina to secure a “soft corporate offer” from Russian energy giant Gazprom for the jet fuel requested by a contact in Virginia. “I will NOT reveal the source [of the fuel to the contact in Virginia] at this point,” Ms. Keene wrote.
Butina responded that she could get the required fuel from a number of smaller refineries. She asked Donna Keene for a payment of $25,000 as a “good faith gesture” to potential suppliers. The deal fell through when the Keenes refused to pay the fee.
The American Conservative published an op-ed by conservative scion/Rockeller heir George D. O’Neill on April 24, 2017 titled “Why Do We Want a Cooperative Relationship With Russia?” Referring to a dinner he hosted months earlier at the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast, O’Neill wrote:
Some months back I organized a dinner on Capitol Hill that brought together some former and current Russian officials [including Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin and his assistant Maria Butina, both of whom have ties to the FSB (KGB) in Russia] with a number of prominent U.S. Republicans and conservatives, including two congressmen, a conservative magazine publisher, some journalists, and others.
O’Neill then made his support for a strict, non-interventionist American foreign policy clear, accusing Democratic and Republican administrations alike of causing “unnecessary deaths” with “ill-considered foreign policy.” O’Neill suggested an alliance with Russian president Vladimir Putin as a way to “settle” the wars in Iraq and Syria; and to negotiate peace with Iran. He added, “An accommodation in Ukraine, based on a policy of regional autonomy within that tragically split country, could be fostered.”
O’Neill then offered a “partial list” of organizations and individuals with which he has had “first-hand involvement.” That list is:
The American Conservative, The Nation, AntiWar.com, The National Interest, Consortium News
Charles Koch Institute, The Committee for the Republic, The Committee for East-West Accord, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
World Russia Forum organizer Dr. Edward Lozansky, Herman Pirchner of the American Foreign Policy Institute, Susan Carmel of the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture & History at American University, Susan Eisenhower of The Eisenhower Institute, Gerard Janco of The Eurasia Center, John Lenczowski of the Institute of World Politics, Chas Freeman of Brown University, Ray McGovern (former intelligence officer), Andrew Bacevich of Boston University, Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute, Stephen Cohen of Princeton & New York University, Robert David English of the University of Southern California, Stephen Kinzer of Brown University, John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, Barry Posen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stephen Walt of Harvard University, Robert Parry, Gilbert Doctorow
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)
Former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley (Committee on Foreign Relations)
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
Former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack Matlock, Jr.
Former presidential candidate and senior adviser to Republican Presidents Pat Buchanan.
O’Neill wrote these above parties work “to seek better relations with Russia and the rest of the world [as] part of the noble American tradition of Washington, Adams, Eisenhower, and many others.”
Pat Buchanan co-founded The American Conservative magazine with former New York Post editorial page editor Scott McConnell. George D. O’Neill, Jr. is a member of the board of directors of the organization that publishes The American Conservative, the American Ideas Institute.
From April 27–30, 2017, the NRA conducted its annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. With the media on alert to look for them, Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin and his assistant Maria Butina missed their first NRA meeting in years.
TulAmmo USA, which distributes ammunition manufactured at the Tula Cartridge Works in Russia, was allowed to exhibit at the NRA’s 2017 annual meeting (for the seventh year in a row) despite sanctions enacted by the United States against the Russian state defense conglomerate Rostec in September 2014. Rostec owns part of Tula Cartridge Works. TulAmmo USA, TulAmmo, and Tula Cartridge Works all share the same name, address, logo and at least one former officer.
On April 30, 2017, G. Kline Preston IV (the conservative lawyer who introduced then-NRA president David Keene to Putin lieutenant Alexander Torshin in 2011) told the New York Times, “The value system of Southern Christians and the value system of Russians are very much in line.”
From May 2017 to August 2017, GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson and Russian spy Maria Butina transferred approximately $93,000 (wires, checks, transfers, and cash deposits) between their bank accounts. Butina’s account was at Alfa Bank in Russia.
The NRA board of directors elected gun manufacturer Pete Brownell — who was part of the NRA delegation that visited Moscow, Russia in December 2015 — as the organization’s new president on May 1, 2017.
On May 6, 2017, National Prayer Breakfast organizer Doug Burleigh spoke at a National Prayer Breakfast conducted in Moscow, Russia at the Ukraine Radisson Royal Hotel. The Russian Evangelical Alliance reported that more than 200 participants from 14 countries attended the event, called the “Youth Business Prayer Breakfast.” Burleigh spoke at the event and predicted that “a breakthrough in relations between Russia and the USA is about to occur.” “The greatest possible hope for Russia and the USA is friendship between our nations,” he added. “I believe that [Russian president] Vladimir Putin and [U.S. President] Donald Trump will yet become friends.”
FBI agents began active and ongoing surveillance of Russian agent Maria Butina in the United States beginning in June 2017.
During the summer of 2017, GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson sent two wires totaling $15,000 to Landfair Capital Consulting, a California company established by the son and brother of disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Abramoff is a longtime friend, political ally, and business partner of Erickson. Landfair Capital Consulting was incorporated in March 2017. Abramoff’s son, Alex, a recent college graduate, is the CEO and sole director. Abramoff’s brother, Robert, is the registered agent. The company was flagged by bank investigators as a possible shell company established by Jack Abramoff.
All told, Erickson and Russia spy Maria Butina “made about $93,000 in wires, checks, transfers, and cash transactions that were deemed suspicious [by Wells Fargo anti-money laundering investigators], including more deposits to Butina’s Russian account [with Alfa Bank].”
In late June 2017, Russian spy Maria Butina and her lover GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson met with a middle man who indicated he would be able to secure jet fuel for a proposed deal, Roger Pol. Erickson described Pol as a “tough, crotchety, sixty-ish divorcee who has spent his life in various energy transactions but now seems intent on using his small wealth to pursue age-appropriate women of a certain flair.” The meeting was arranged at the request of NRA board member David Keene and his wife Donna Keene. Butina’s reward for helping to broker the sale was to be $1 million.
Erickson and Butina met Pol at a restaurant outside Washington, D.C. Pol was joined by Yoni Wiss, an Israeli-American friend who owns a Virginia-based lawn care and sprinkler equipment company, and a Pakistani-American businessman. “After five minutes, I said, ‘I’m done, they don’t know what they’re talking about,’” recalled Wiss. “It just didn’t smell right … I knew they didn’t have any clue because there’s no port in the world that could hold the amount of oil they were saying they could sell.” Erickson was equally dissatisfied, saying Pol “seem[ed] to lack any operating history in his own name or that of a company he controls.”
In June and July 2017, GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson sent two checks totaling $45,000 to an unidentified law firm in Washington, D.C. on behalf of Russian spy Maria Butina (the checks were labeled “Butina retainer”). Butina’s attorney Robert Driscoll has indicated that these payments were not made to his firm.
On June 8, 2017, NRA-TV host Grant Stinchfield attacked former FBI Director James Comey on the same day Comey testified in open session before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Stinchfield told listeners:
As I look and listen to this hearing, what I see is James Comey being questioned. One, being led by the Democrats to try to sink Donald Trump, and two, by the Republicans trying to get to the heart of what this hearing is all about. Did Donald Trump try to obstruct justice when it came to this Russian investigation in any way? A direct quote when he was asked about this by the chairman of the committee, a Republican, “Did Donald Trump ever ask you to stop the Russian investigation?” James Comey’s answer, “No.” “Did he ever try to obstruct justice in any way?” James Comey’s answer, “No.”
In truth, Comey responded as follows to the question referenced by Stinchfield (asked by committee chair Senator Richard Burr (R-NC):
I don’t think it’s for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct. I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning, but that’s a conclusion I’m sure the special counsel [former FBI director Robert Mueller] will work towards to try and understand what the intention was there and whether that’s an offense.
In July 2017, U.S. Senator Cory Booker asked former Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland in writing, “Did you ever discuss any of [National Security Adviser] General [Michael] Flynn’s contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak directly with General Flynn?” McFarland lied in response, writing, “I am not aware of any of the issues or events as described above.” In fact, she had emailed Trump transition aides about Flynn meeting with Kislyak on December 29, 2016.
Alexander Alden was named special assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the office of the Secretary of Defense in July 2017. Alden had just completed seven months (January-July 2017) as a senior fellow at the pro-Russia Center for National Interest (CFTNI). CFTNI’s board members include NRA board member David Keene, American businessman Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, and Ambassador Richard Burt.
On July 12, 2017, the Center for the National Interest (CFTNI) presented their chairman emeritus, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, with a Lifetime Achievement Award just five months after he negotiated a $9.9 settlement with New York Attorney General’s Office for defrauding investors during his time as CEO of financial services giant AIG. Paying tribute to Greenberg that night as speakers were CFTNI board members Henry Kissinger (Secretary of State under Republican President Richard Nixon) and Russian-born CEO Dmitir Simes, a confidant of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The Wall Street Journal published a story on July 13, 2017 about the remarkable turn-around of Kalashnikov Concern after the company’s plan to open a production facility in the United States in its name was stymied by U.S. sanctions. By expanding its exports to countries in Asia, Africa and elsewhere, Kalashnikov more than doubled its revenues in 2016 to $300 million. Revenues were forecast to increase further in 2017.
In a segment on NRA-TV on July 18, 2017, host Grant Stinchfield attacked the Washington Post for reporting on NRA board member (and former NRA pres.) David Keene’s ties to Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin, stating, “The fake news outlet even went so far as to make the blatantly false claim that the NRA had illegal ties to Russia.”
On July 25, 2017, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted in favor of a new round of sanctions against Russia for their interference in the 2016 U.S. elections and illegal invasion of Ukraine. The vote was 419–3, with only U.S. Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Thomas Massie (R-KY) and John Duncan, Jr. (R-TN) voting NO.
The U.S. Senate gave final approval to a new round of sanctions against Russia on July 27, 2017. The vote was 98–2, with only Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Bernie Sanders (D-VT) voting NO.
Republican President Donald Trump signed legislation enacting a new round of sanctions against Russia on August 2, 2017. Trump signed the legislation under protest and opined that parts of the new law were “clearly unconstitutional.” “My Administration particularly expects the Congress to refrain from using this flawed bill to hinder our important work with European allies to resolve the conflict in Ukraine,” Trump added, “and from using it to hinder our efforts to address any unintended consequences it may have for American businesses, our friends, or our allies.”
GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson emailed Donna Keene, the wife of NRA board member David Keene, in early August 2017 regarding a deal they had arranged to sell a large amount of jet fuel to a contact in Virginia, Roger Pol. Erickson remarked of the deal, “It might be a novel someday.” Erickson then claimed his lover, Russian spy Maria Butina, had “created a Russian supply side juggernaut [for jet fuel] that is searching for a buyer,” whether Pol or someone else. Erickson assured Ms. Keene she and her husband would get a cut of any deal that moved forward.
In-mid August 2017, Erickson and Butina met with another set of potential partners to broker a deal on jet fuel. As before, the meeting was arranged through the contacts of Donna Keene, wife of NRA board member David Keene. This time, the potential partners feared Erickson and Butina were scamming would-be business partners, and they reported the pair to the FBI, which had already begun tracking Butina’s business activities in the United States.
Russian spy Maria Butina was photographed with Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak in October 2017.
In October 2017, Russians bots began to promote “Truther” conspiracy theories on social media after high-profile mass shootings in the United States (to include shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada; Sutherland Springs, Texas; and Parkland, Florida). This propaganda portrayed mass shootings as events staged by government to attract public support for gun control. Victims of the shootings were accused of being “crisis actors” when they spoke out for gun control.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to the British political consulting/voter data firm Cambridge Analytica on October 27, 2017 requesting information related to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections and the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. In the letter, the Senator asked Cambridge Analytica to share communications the firm had with the following individuals: Russia spy Maria Butina, Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin, GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson, conservative Christian activist Rick Clay and Christian activist/veterans advocate Johnny Yenason.
On November 13, 2017, the CEO of the Russian state corporation Rostec, Sergey Chemazov, announced plans to sell an additional 26 percent of the shares in Kalashnikov Concern to the CEO of the company, Alexey Krivoruchko. Under the arrangement, Putin-friendly oligarchs Andrey Bokarev and Iskandar Mahmudov would sell their shares to Krivoruchko as well, giving him control of 75 percent of the company. Rostec would retain the remaining 25 percent of shares. Krivoruchko is a career executive in Russian state companies who has enjoyed support from Chemezov throughout his career.
The House Intelligence Committee interviewed Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson on November 14, 2017 in conjunction with their investigation into potential collusion between the presidential campaign of Donald Trump and Russia. The committee sought testimony from Simpson because his firm paid for the “[former British intelligence agent Christopher] Steele Dossier” in order to learn more about Donald Trump’s business connections with Russia. Simpson had information about the NRA to share as well. “It appears the Russians, you know, infiltrated the NRA,” Simpson told the committee behind closed doors. “The Russian operation was designed to infiltrate conservative organizations,” he added. “They seem to have made a very concerted effort to get in with the NRA … The most absurd [thing] about this is that, you know, [Russian president] Vladimir Putin is not in favor of universal gun ownership for Russians. And so it’s all a big charade, basically.”
GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson and Russian spy Maria Butina attended a post-Thanksgiving barbeque at the country home of Republican Representative Mark Sanford of South Carolina’s 1st congressional district in late November 2017. The event was held at Coosaw Plantation in Beaufort County. Erickson and Sanford attended the University of Virginia together three decades prior.
On November 28, 2017, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, requested that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign co-chair Sam Clovis and campaign national security adviser J.D. Gordon provide the committee with any communications they have had with or concerning “the NRA, [GOP operative/NRA Life MEmber] Paul Erickson, [Russian central bank deputy governor] Alexander Torshin, [Torshin’s assistant] Maria Butina,” and others associated with Torshin’s outreach. The request was made in conjunction with the committee’s investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign/administration and Russia.
The Intercept reported on December 4, 2017 that the Trump administration was considering a proposal by disgraced Blackwater founder Erik Prince, former CIA officer John Maguire, and longtime NRA Board Member Oliver North to provide the White House and CIA Director Mike Pompeo with intelligence from a global, private spy network unrestrained by congressional oversight. Because of fears that “the deep state was going to kick the president out of office within a year,” the proposal called for circumventing official U.S. intelligence agencies. North was brought in by Prince and Maguire as an “ideological leader” who could lend credibility to the proposal, according to a former senior intelligence official.
Prince is known to have ties to the government of Vladimir Putin. On November 30, 2017 he testified in closed session before the House Intelligence Committee about a January 2017 trip he took to the Seychelles to meet with Mohammad bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabip; and a Russian fund manager close to Vladimir Putin, Kirill Dmitriev. At the meeting, Prince presented himself as an unofficial envoy of President-elect Trump. The purpose of the gathering was to set up back-channel communications between Trump and the Kremlin.
On December 5, 2017, the Putin government approved state company Rostec’s plan to sell an additional 26 percent of Kalashnikov Concern’s shares to the CEO of KC, Alexey Krivoruchko. Krivoruchko is a career executive in Russian state companies who has enjoyed support from Sergey Chemezov, head of Rostec, during his career.
Donald Trump, Jr., the son of the U.S. President, was interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee for approximately seven hours on December 6, 2017. Trump, Jr. told the committee he didn’t speak to Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin about the presidential election when the two men met at a dinner during the 2016 NRA annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky.
On December 12, 2017, The National Interest wrote that the T-5000 sniper rifle manufactured by the private small arms company ORSIS gives the Russian military “a formidable ability to defeat body armor at long ranges.” ORSIS has cloes ties to the deputy prime minister for Russia’s defense industry, Dmitry Rogozin, who also heads Russia’s “social networks” unit. Rogozin’s son ran ORSIS for a short time.
Wells Fargo closed the personal and business bank accounts of GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson and Russian spy Maria Butina in late 2017 after initiating an anti-money laundering investigation (at the behest of the FBI) earlier in the year.
NRA tax returns showed that the organization suffered a $55 million decline in income in 2017. The group also operated in the red, spending nearly $18 million more than it took in. The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action budget decreased rapidly from $412 million in 2016 to $330 in 2017. This financial woe was due in part to a “precipitous drop” in NRA membership dues. The group attempted to compensate with big-dollar contributions: one anonymous donor gave the NRA $18.8 million in 2017. NRA board member David Keene was paid $32,000 by the group during the year to work an average of one hour per week.
GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson received a letter in early January 2018 from the Senate Judiciary Committee requesting he submit documents and schedule an interview regarding the committee’s probe into Russian interference in 2016 U.S. election.
On January 12, 2018, pro-Putin journalist Pavel Gusev announced he had been appointed by Vladimir Putin as a “trustee” (or trusted confidant) for his 2018 presidential campaign (with the election to be held in March). Putin’s trustees are 500 “cultural figures and celebrities who meet [Putin] and get televised as his supporters,” according to Ilya Zaslavskiy, the Head of Research at the Free Russia Foundation, a U.S. non-profit.
Gusev co-hosted a party for an NRA delegation with the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin, at a hunting club in Moscow during the week of December 8–13, 2015.
McClatchy revealed on January 18, 2018 that the FBI is investigating whether the deputy governor of the central bank of Russia, Alexander Torshin, funneled money to the NRA to help Republican Donald Trump win the presidency in 2016. It is illegal in the United States to use foreign money to influence a federal election. Two sources close to the NRA told McClatchy that the organization’s total spending on the 2016 elections actually approached or exceeded $70 million, more than the record $55 million originally reported.
On January 18, 2018, a day after McClatchy revealed that the FBI was investigating the NRA to determine if Vladimir Putin’s government had illegally channeled money through the gun lobby to elect Donald Trump president, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch tweeted:
Such a huge effort to create a distraction from the proven FBI, Clinton, DNC, and Kremlin conspiracy to abuse gov’t power to target a private citizen running for office. Scary precedent they set.
The House Intelligence Committee released Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson’s testimony of November 14, 2017 to the public on January 18, 2018. In the testimony, Simpson made it clear that his investigations into the business connections between Donald Trump and agents of Vladimir Putin’s government convinced him the Russians had penetrated the NRA in order to further their mission to undermine democracy in America.
On January 18, 2018, the Russian state news agency TASS Tass reported that Investtorgbank chairman Vladimir Gudkov had been detained in Monaco over accusations from Russian law enforcement officials that he embezzled seven billion rubles. Monaco refused to extradite him.
Steven Hart, an attorney for the NRA, told McClatchy on January 23, 2018, “We have not been contacted by the FBI about anything related to Russia,” including the agency’s ongoing investigation into whether the NRA laundered Russian money to elect Donald Trump president in 2016.
On January 27, 2018, a “director of special projects” for Kalashnikov Concern, Russian national Evgeny Viktorovich Spiridonov, was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport after leaving a gun show in Las Vegas and attempting to board a flight to Moscow. He was carrying a restricted $2,400 advanced tactical rifle scope from a Pennsylvania gun dealer without the necessary export license, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. Spiridonov was also accused of failing to file or submitting false or misleading export information. In initial court filings, Spiridonov identified as a member of Safari Club International (since 2012) and the National Rifle Association (since 2015).
On January 29, 2018, the Department of Treasury imposed new sanctions against Russian companies in connection with the illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. The sanctions stated that firms or countries that do business with sanctioned companies, including Kalashnikov Concern, could face American sanctions themselves. The new sanctions were issued as part of the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which ordered the Trump administration to enact at least five of 12 sanctions measures laid out by Congress. The Trump administration failed to do so.
The group American Legal Democracy Fund filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission on January 29, 2018 to demand an investigation into whether the National Rifle Association took contributions from Russian nationals to help elect Donald Trump president. ALDF has ties to liberal Super PAC American Bridge and is headed by former Democratic National Committee (DNC) spokesman Brad Woodhouse.
In February 2018, energy investor Roger Pol of Virginia died of heart failure. Pol had been discussing a deal to purchase a large amount of jet fuel from GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson and his lover, Russian spy Maria Butina. The deal fell through when Pol “could not prove that he had ever successfully brokered a fuel deal.”
Former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg was interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office in February 2018. According to CNN reporter Sara Murray, “The special counsel’s team was curious to learn more about how Donald Trump and his operatives first formed a relationship with the NRA and how Trump wound up speaking at the group’s annual meeting in 2015, just months before announcing his presidential bid.”
Senate Intelligence Committee member Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) requested documents from the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Treasury Department on February 2, 2018. Letters were sent to Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and NRA treasurer Wilson Phillips, Jr. Wyden specifically asked for documents showing financial ties between Russia and the NRA, writing, “I am specifically troubled by the possibility that Russian-backed shell companies or intermediaries may have circumvented laws designed to prohibit foreign meddling in our elections.” He added, “The national security as well as legal implications of these reports make it imperative that Congress conduct a thorough investigation.”
NRA secretary and general counsel John C. Frazer responded to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden in a brief letter dated February 15, 2018. Frazer denied the NRA was under investigation by the FBI as reported by McClatchy and declared, “as a longstanding policy to comply with federal election law, the NRA and its related entities do not accept funds from foreign persons or entities in connection with United States elections.” Frazer then informed Sen. Wyden the National Rifle Association was under investigation by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which was asking “questions about possible Russian donations” to the organization.
Speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC on February 16, 2018, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the following about the NRA-Russia relationship:
It is really interesting when you look at the social media campaign that the Russians undertook during the 2016 election that one of the wedges they chose…were ads focused on the Second Amendment. The Russians are very big fans of our Second Amendment. They don’t particularly want one of their own, they don’t necessarily want lots of Russians running around with lots of guns, but they’re really happy we do. They would like nothing better than if we were shooting each other every day, which sadly, we are.
On February 20, 2018, the watchdog website Florida Bulldog revealed that the administration of Florida Governor Rick Scott had offered $162,000 in state and local tax breaks to the Russian Weapons Company (RWC) in 2015, before revoking the incentives in 2017. RWC is the parent company of Kalashnikov USA. The company applied with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) in January 2015 to manufacture AK-47s in Pompano Beach, Florida. In doing so, it explained it would be receiving parts from Kalashnikov Concern in Russia, a company sanctioned by the United States in 2014 for its role in the illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.
On February 24, 2018, a group of protesters gathered outside the Russian Kalashnikov USA factory in Pompano Beach, Florida to protest the company distributing assault rifles from their community. The factory is located just miles away from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the sight of a mass shooting a month earlier. Shooting survivor Cameron Kasky said the following, speaking to the plant’s owners: “I could discuss the morals of it, I could tell you I’m disgusted, but you know you’re disgusting.” The parent company of Kalashnkov USA is the Russian Weapons Company (RWC), which has multiple ties to the sanctioned Russian arms giant Kalashnikov Concern.
In an op-ed titled “The Coming Socialist Wave that Will Drown your Guns” in the March 2018 edition of the NRA’s America’s 1st Freedom magazine, NRA CEO Wayne Lapierre decried the fact that “the bogus Russia investigation” took up one-fifth of the airtime on network evening news programs, according to a study by the Media Research Center, a politically conservative media watchdog group.
In a letter to the Federal Electoral Commission (FEC) in March 2018, Robert Driscoll, the attorney for Russian spy Maria Butina, said that her client and GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson “set up [the Bridges LLC in South Dakota] to pay for certain educational expenses of Ms. Butina,” echoing an argument Erickson had previously made.
Russian spy Maria Butina’s pro-gun front group, The Right to Bear Arms, was liquidated by court order in March 2018 because none of the group’s officers had filed the required paperwork with the Russian government for some time.
The executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, Chris Cox, tweeted the following on March 1, 2018: “I had a great meeting tonight with @realDonaldTrump & @VP. We all want safe schools, mental health reform and to keep guns away from dangerous people. POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control. #NRA #MAGA.”
On March 6, 2018, Kalashnikov USA, a holding of the Russians Weapons Company (RWC), released a statement which read, “Kalashnikov USA does not conduct business with the Russian company Kalashnikov Concern.” Kalashnikov USA manufactures AK-47s and other firearms at a factory in Pompano Beach, Florida. Kalashnikov Concern (KC) was sanctioned by the U.S. for its role in the illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea in 2014. In 2015 filings with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), RWC made it clear that KC would be be heavily involved in testing, manufacturing and asssembling the AK-47s and other firearms made by Kalashnikov USA.
On March 8, 2018, Michael Smith and Stephanie Baker of Bloomberg Businessweek did a deep dive on the Russian Weapons Company (RWC) and its Kalashnikov USA factory in Pompano Beach, Florida. The two concluded that “a complicated web of shell companies connects Kalashnikov USA to allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin and appears designed to avoid U.S. sanctions.” Michael Tiraturian is the manager of RWC and the senior VP of Kalashnikov USA. He’s also a longtime business associate and friend of Alexey Krivoruchko, the CEO and majority shareholder of Kalashnikov Concern.
A second RWC manager, Peter Viskovatykh, had business ties in Florida to an associate of oligarchs Andrei Bokarev and Iskander Makhmudov, who are close to Putin. Both men invested in Kalashnikov Concern when Putin’s government started privatizing it in 2014.
Smith and Baker reported that Kalashnikov USA was only manufacturing one weapon: a semi-automatic shotgun, the KS-12, that mimics the design of the AK-47 rifle.
Russian small arms manufacturer Kalashnikov Concern responded by stating it “does not have any business and does not cooperate either with Kalashnikov USA, or with any other U.S. or Israeli companies.”
The Russian courts liquidated spy Maria Butina’s pro-gun front operation, The Right to Bear Arms, on March 12, 2018, after the NGO failed to report on its financial activity for a sustained period of time.
On March 15, 2018, McClatchy revealed that congressional investigators with the House Intelligence Committee learned that a lawyer and former board member of the National Rifle Association, Cleta Mitchell, expressed concerns about “the [NRA’s] ties to Russia and possible involvement in channeling Russian money into the 2016 elections to help [presidential candidate] Donald Trump.” The investigators added Mitchell to a list of people that Democrats on the committee wish to interview.
NRA Life Member/GOP operative Paul Erickson was interviewed for the McClatchy article and claimed he formed the Bridges LLC with Maria Butina in February 2016 “in case [she] needed any monetary assistance for her graduate studies [at American University].”
American Legal Defense Fund treasurer Brad Woodhouse told Politico on March 16, 2018 that he had received confirmation from the Federal Election Commission that the agency was conducting a preliminary investigation into the NRA’s financial ties with Russian central banker Alexander Torshin per ALDF’s January complaint.
NRA secretary and general counsel John C. Frazer sent Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) a letter on March 19, 2018 in which he disclosed that the NRA receives funding from “foreign individuals.” Frazer insisted, however, that these funds are received “only for purposes not connected to elections, as permitted by federal law.” A month earlier, Wyden had requested documents from Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and the NRA that demonstrate financial ties between Russia and the NRA.
During a conversation with the Tennessean on March 20, 2018, conservative lawyer G. Kline Preston (who introduced then-NRA president David Keene to Putin lieutenant Alexander Torshin in 2011) described investigations into collusion between Donald Trump and Russia as “a witch hunt.”
In a story published on March 22, 2018, Bloomberg revealed that the U.S. Attorney’s office in Miami had launched an investigation into the activities of Russian Weapons Company (RWC) and their Kalashnikov USA plant in Pompano Beach, Florida. Specifically, federal prosecutors were looking to obtain records concerning Kalashnikov USA’s January 2015 application for state and local tax incentives with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). DEO approved the incentives package in October 2015, only to revoke it in April 2017.
A “source close to [former ambassador and lawyer John] Bolton” spoke to NPR for a March 22, 2018 article titled “John Bolton’s Curious Appearance in a Russian Gun Rights Video.” The source claimed that Bolton appeared in a 2013 video address for the Russian gun rights group headed by Maria Butina, The Right to Bear Arms, at the request of then-NRA president David Keene, who told him it was “for the Russian legislature.” Bolton had never even heard of The Right to Bear Arms until his video address became public knowledge, the source claimed.
Vadim Soloviev, a Russian historian, was interviewed by Sputnik for a March 24, 2018 story. According to Sputnik:
[Vadim Soloviev] also notes that the RWC Group LLC, which produces guns modeled after the iconic AK-47 assault rifle, was most likely targeted for the competitive characteristics of its guns and this probe [of Kalashnikov USA by the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami] is just another act of a trade war by the US against Russia. He adds that no gun has so far surpassed the effectiveness and popularity of the AK-47 and since the Kalashnikov plant also produces rifles for hunters, it was a dangerous rival for other gun-producing companies in the US.
The Democrats on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released a report on March 26, 2018 about potential collusion between the Trump campaign/administration and Russia that highlighted central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin’s attempt to connect with GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump at the 2016 NRA annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. Torshin and his deputy Maria Butina “have used their affiliation with the NRA to cultivate relationships with Russia-friendly politicians in the United States,” the report concluded. Democrats criticized the Republican majority for limiting their investigation into the NRA-Russia relationship to Torshin’s meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. at a restaurant in Louisville during the NRA’s 2016 meeting. “As with many findings in the [Republican majority’s] report, this relies solely on the voluntary and self-interested testimony of the individual in question, in this case Trump Jr.,” wrote the committee’s Democrats. The report makes it clear the committee’s majority had ignored multiple requests from Democrats to interview Torshin, Butina and NRA Life Member/GOP operative Paul Erickson.
On March 27, 2018, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden responded to NRA Secretary and General Counsel John C. Frazer’s letter of March 19, 2018, asking more questions about the NRA’s use of foreign funds and contributions from Russian nationals.
NRA attorney Steven Hart was interviewed by ABC News on March 28, 2018. During the interview, Hart claimed the NRA had received just one donation (for less than $1,000) from a Russian national during the 2012–2018 election cycles, an NRA lifetime membership payment from Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin. Hart did not mention two other Russian nationals, Torshin deputy Maria Butina and Evgeny Spiridonov of Kalashnikov Concern, who stated they became NRA Life Members during the 2012–2018 timeframe.
In April 2018, Russian agent Maria Butina testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in closed session. She told the committee that she “began a romantic relationship” with GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson. She also indicated she received a $5,000-a-month consulting deal with the Outdoor Channel television network in 2016 to provide advice on a planned program on hunting in Russia. [Outdoor Channel CEO Jim Liberatore was part of the NRA delegation that traveled to Moscow in December 2015.] Finally, Butina “claimed she never actually worked for the [Russian central] bank [as an assistant to Alexander Torshin], but rather distributed the [bank’s business] cards to enhance her status.”
Steven Hall, a former chief of Russian operations for the CIA who retired in 2015 after 30 years at the agency, told Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone the following while discussing Russia’s penetration of the NRA for an April 2, 2018 article:
[The Russians were seeking a] mechanism by which they can, sort of, control the NRA. [They might start with the] friendly route, pulling the wool over the organization’s eyes, getting them to buy into: ‘Hey, we’re both real conservatives at heart. Russia is actually a friend of the United States. Why can’t we get past all of this ugliness?’ Do they end up with a senior NRA guy who they formally recruited, who can now work clandestinely for them? They’ll start it off with something seemingly innocuous. And then they’ll move it as far as they possibly can. If they start hitting resistance, they might very well say, ‘Let’s not forget that trip to Moscow you took six months ago, where you had a few too many drinks and got a little too friendly with somebody.’ That’s there as well … A lot of it involves establishing personal relationships that then could be leveraged into something different. That’s where a lot of the dinners, and the toasting, and the private meetings start. This is something the Russians have done for decades.
On April 6, 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced it had added the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin, to a list of individuals sanctioned in connection with Russia’s illegal military intervention in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. The primary shareholder of Tula Cartridge Works, Igor Rotenberg, was also sanctioned. Tula Cartridge Works manufactures ammunition which is distributed by subsidiary TulAmmo USA in the United States.
Igor Rotenberg is the son of Arkady Rotenberg, Vladimir Putin’s former judo partner and close ally. A construction company owned by the Rotenberg family was awarded lavish contracts to build pipelines for Gazprom, the state-controlled energy giant, and a bridge to Crimea, the Ukranian territory that Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
In a letter to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) dated April 10, 2018, the NRA changed its story regarding the number of Russian nationals that have contributed to the organization since 2015, citing a new figure of 23. Senator Wyden had sought additional information about the NRA’s contributions from Russian nationals in an earlier letter. According to NRA Secretary and General Counsel John C. Frazer, the 23 (unnamed) Russian nationals gave the NRA just over $2,500 between 2015 and 2018, most of that “routine payments” for membership dues or magazine subscriptions.
On April 11, 2018, Russian national Evgeny Viktorovich Spiridonov, a “director of special projects” for Kalashnikov Concern, was sentenced to time-served (two and half months) for attempting to illegally smuggle an advanced tactical rifle scope from LA International Airport to Moscow. In filings, Spiridonov told the court he has been a member of the NRA since 2015. His crime (no export license, lying to custom officials) was punishable by up to five years in prison.
Florida Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL) sent a letter to John E. Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Treasury Department, on April 11, 2018. The congressman asked the office to investigate whether the Russian Weapons Company (RWC) and its holding, Kalashnikov USA, imported parts to manufacture AK-47s and other firearms from Kalashnikov Concern, which was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2014 for its role in the illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. The Kalashnikov USA plant is located in Pompano Beach in Deutsch’s congressional distrist. Rep. Deutch also asked Smith’s office to investigate business ties between the employees of Kalashnikov Concern, the Russian Weapons Company, and Kalashnikov USA.
Laura Burgess, a spokeswoman for Kalashnikov USA, responded to Congressman Ted Deutsch’s request for information about the company on April 12, 2018. Burgess shared a statement from the company’s CEO Brian Skinner, who wrote, “Kalashnikov USA is a privately held U.S. company that operates in accordance with all applicable U.S. laws, including but not limited to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations and U.S. economic sanctions programs. As a ‘U.S. Person’ under such laws, Kalashnikov USA does not conduct business with the Russian company, Kalashnikov Concern.”
On April 20, 2018, Congressman Ted Deutsch (D-FL) sent a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House Ways and Means and Oversight and Government Reform committees, urging them to conduct hearings to examine “whether the NRA’s political activity is inappropriately funded by foreign donations.” “The NRA’s responses to Senator [Ron] Wyden [of Oregon] have shifted over the past three months,” wrote Deutsch, “revealing multiple donations from Russian nationals and residents, including contributions from [the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank] Alexander Torshin, who was recently sanctioned by the United States.”
Reporter Sara Murray published a story for CNN on April 27, 2018 titled “NRA Gathers Documents Amid Scrutiny Over Ties to Kremlin-linked Banker” in which she interviewed sources inside the National Rifle Association. Despite the NRA’s previous denials about having been contacted by the FBI about an investigation into the group’s relationship with the government of Vladimir Putin, these sources told Murray that NRA employees had already been tasked with preserving documents about Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina. “True believers to the cause are getting very antsy,” one NRA source told Murray. “They [are] definitely preparing, they were bracing themselves.”
On April 28, 2018, just 22 days after being sanctioned by the United States for his role in the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, Igor Rotenberg reduced his ownership stake in ammo manufacturer Tula Cartridge Works from 46 percent to 20 percent. A manager at the Tula Cartridge Works told a Russian newspaper the move was intended to get around U.S. sanctions and allow the company to keep exporting ammunition to the states via TulAmmo USA, which operates out of Round Rock, Texas.
In May 2018, Alexander Alden moved from the office of the Secretary of Defense to a new position in the Trump administration, director of defense policy and strategy on the National Security Council. Alden worked for seven months in 2017 as a senior fellow at the pro-Russia Center for National Interest (CFTNI). CFTNI’s board members include NRA board member David Keene, American businessman Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, and Ambassador Richard Burt.
A federal grand jury was sworn in on May 3, 2018 to consider charges against Russian agent Maria Butina regarding her unregistered political lobbying in the United States.
The NRA conducted its 2018 annual meeting in Dallas, Texas from May 4–6, 2018.
TulAmmo USA, which distributes ammunition manufactured at the Tula Cartridge Works in Russia, was allowed to exhibit at the NRA’s 2018 annual meeting (for the eighth year in a row) despite sanctions enacted by the United States against the Russian state defense conglomerate Rostec in September 2014 and Russian oligarch Igor Rotenberg on April 28, 2018. Rotenberg and Rostec own a significant percentage of shares in Tula Cartridge Works. TulAmmo USA, TulAmmo, and Tula Cartridge Works all share the same name, address, logo and at least one former officer.
Former senior State Department sanctions official Peter Harrell spoke to ABC News on May 5, 2018 about Russian ammo manufacturer TulAmmo, whose products are made at the Tula Cartridge Works. “There is something deeply troubling about a Russian arms maker — one that makes Russian military assault rifles and anti-tank missiles — profiting by selling ammunition in the U.S.,” Harrell told ABC News. “The fact that a portion of those profits flow to some of [Russian president Vladimir Putin’s closest cronies makes the situation even more problematic.”
In a blockbuster article on May 7, 2018, reporter David Corn of Mother Jones uncovered video of the NRA delegation promoting the T-5000 sniper rifle on camera during a tour of the private Russian defense firm ORSIS in Moscow in December 2015. Corn quoted Olga Oliker, the director of Russia and Eurasia programs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, describing the T-5000 rifle manufactured by ORSIS and frequently pointed at NATO troops. “[The T-5000] rifle has more range,” Oliker told Corn. [2,000 yards] “The idea is a sniper at a tremendous distance can take out a few soldiers, cause great confusion, and a unit can then be hit with rocket strikes. But will small, non-governmental forces, which won’t have rocket strikes, get these rifles, and can they do other things at a distance? Possibly.”
On May 7, 2018, the NRA announced that Oliver North would become the organization’s new president “within a few weeks.” North has long served on the NRA board of directors. Over the years, the organization has repeatedly used North for membership outreach to active-duty military servicemembers and veterans.
North had been in the news a year earlier when The Intercept revealed he helped disgraced Blackwater founder Erik Prince and former CIA officer John Maguire pitch a proposal to the Trump White House that called for the establishment of a private intelligence network outside of the CIA, FBI, NSA, etc. North was used as a confidence man in the proposal, an “idelogical leader.”
Stepping down before his two-year term was over was NRA president and gun manufacturer Pete Brownell. Brownell concluded his term a year early and decided to forego a potential second term. Brownell was part of the NRA delegation that visited Moscow, Russia in December 2015 to meet with defense minister Dmitry Rogozin, central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin and other representatives of the Putin government. On the same day Brownell stepped down, he turned up in a blockbuster story by David Corn of Mother Jones. Corn revealed that Brownell and other members of the NRA delegation had been used to promote the T-5000 sniper rifle manufactured by ORSIS, a private arms manufacturer with close ties to Rogozin.
On May 16, 2018, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee released a report titled, “Preliminary Findings About Trump Campaign’s Effort to Obtain Incriminating Information on Secretary Clinton from Russia at Trump Tower Meeting.” The report stated the following:
The Committee has obtained a number of documents that suggest the Kremlin used the National Rifle Association as a means of accessing and assisting Mr. Trump and his campaign. Two individuals involved in this effort appear to be Russian nationals Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina. Mr. Torshin is a Putin ally and the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia, and Ms. Butina served as his assistant. She also founded Right to Bear Arms, the Russian equivalent of the NRA, and started a business with former Trump supporter and adviser Paul Erickson. Both Mr. Torshin and Ms. Butina have longstanding ties to ex-NRA president, David Keene, and in 2013, hosted him in Russia for a pro-gun conference. During the campaign, Mr. Torshin, Ms. Butina, and their intermediaries repeatedly offered the campaign back channels to Russia and relayed requests from President Putin to meet with Mr. Trump. The Kremlin may also have used the NRA to secretly fund Mr. Trump’s campaign. The extent of Russia’s use of the NRA as an avenue for connecting with and potentially supporting the Trump campaign needs examination.
The report also revealed that Maria Butina has testified before other congressional committees, but it didn’t name them.
Faith Whittlesey, the two-time ambassador to Switzerland and ex-mother-in-law to Rockefeller heir and conservative scion George D. O’Neill, Jr. died in her home at the age of 79 on May 21, 2018. Whittlesey had served in the Reagan administration as its highest-ranking woman. She worked closely with Lt. Col. Oliver L. North on the White House staff. Many gave her credit for helping to build the Reagan Coalition by “enlist[ing] the support of evangelicals and other religious conservatives, disaffected blue-collar Democrats, the National Rifle Association and an array of other groups.”
Whittlesey was totally against Communism during the Cold War, but after the Soviet Union fell she “often invoked President John Quincy Adams’s admonition that ‘We do not go abroad for monsters to destroy.’” She is survived by her daughter Amy Whittlesey, who was abused during a lurid marriage with George O’Neill. The couple had five children before divorcing in 2000.
The deputy prime minister in charge of Russia’s defense industry, Dmitry Rogozin, left that position and became the head of the Roscosmos space corporation on May 24, 2018. Following Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for a fourth term as Russia’s president, Rogozin was left off a proposed cabinet submitted to Putin by prime minister Dmitry Medvedev. The move to Roscosmos was seen as a demotion for Rogozin. “I will do everything possible and necessary to earn your trust,” he told Putin, according to Russia’s TASS news service.
Congressman Ted Lieu (D-HI) and Congresswoman Kathleen Rice (D-NY) sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray on May 25, 2018 calling for the agency to evaluate whether Russia used the NRA to illegally support or interfere with Senate and Congressional campaigns during the 2016 election cycle. Describing the NRA’s connections to the Putin government, the letter stated, “In particular, we understand that the organization has ties to Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank; Maria Butina, Torshin’s assistant and the founder of Right to Bear Arms; Sergei Rudov, the general director of St. Basil the Great Charitable Foundation, which has been reportedly used for money laundering; and Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister of Defense.”
Spanish prosecutor José Grinda González spoke at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., on May 26, 2018. In response to a question from Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News, Grinda shared that Civil Guardia, Spain’s National Police, had given transcripts of wiretapped conversations to the FBI “a few months ago” at the U.S. agency’s request. The conversations were between Russian central banker Alexander Torshin and Alexander Romanov, the Taganskaya mafia (Moscow) boss who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison in 2016 after laundering money in Spain with Torshin. According to Isikoff, the conversations between Torshin and Romanov “led to a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. during the [NRA’s] annual convention in Louisville, Kentucky in May 2016.” That meeting had been previously reported and confirmed.
When Isikoff asked Grinda if he was concerned about Torshin’s meetings with Donald Trump, Jr. and other American political figures, Grinda replied, “Mr. Trump’s son should be concerned.”
On June 2, 2018, British blogger (and former Conservative member of Parliament) Louise Mensch had an exchange with NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch on Twitter in which Loesch denied that the NRA had used laundered Russian money to help elect Republican Donald Trump president in 2016. Loesch also denied the NRA’s December 2015 trip to Moscow to meet with Russian central banker Alexander Torshin, defense minister Dmitry Rogozin and other officials was “official.”
The American Conservative published an op-ed by conservative scion/Rockefeller heir George D. O’Neill, Jr. on July 9, 2018 titled “For Peace With Putin, End America’s Pointless Wars,” just ten days before President Donald Trump was scheduled to meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. “It is time for the U.S. to stop its wasteful wars,” O’Neill wrote, “and Russia can be a constructive partner to this end.” O’Neill elaborated, “Trump need not ‘recognize’ the Russian annexation of Crimea but he should assert that a resolution to the situation on the ground in Ukraine is a European matter — to be settled by bilateral negotiations between Russia and Europe.” He also asserted: “the failing ‘Trump-Russia collusion’ hysteria is proving baseless (and distracting from concerns over economic growth and jobs).” Finally, O’Neill warned, “Washington and its clients are terrified that the war gravy train will be slowed or stopped. Our NATO clients are afraid of carrying their own national defense burdens.”
On July 12, 2018, FBI agents watched GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson and Russian spy Maria Butina enter a bank in Washington, DC and send an international wire transfer in the amount of $3,500 to an account in Russia.
Russian spy Maria Butina was arrested by FBI agents on July 15, 2018 at her apartment. Butina had been packing boxes to move. She was charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with “conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior notification to the [U.S.] Attorney General.” Authorities arrested Butina after they were “alerted that she was preparing to leave Washington for South Dakota [to live at the home of GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson].” A judge ordered Butina be held without bail pending a hearing on July 18. The charging affadivit in the name of FBI special agent Kevin Helson (Washington D.C. field office, counterintelligence division, Russia focus) stated that Butina had worked with the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin, “as early as 2015 and continuing through at least February 2017” in order to “[develop] relationships with U.S. persons and [infiltrate] organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation.” The FBI obtained a search warrant for two premises and obtained Butina’s laptop and iPhone.
On July 17, 2018, a federal grand jury indicted Maria Butina on a charge of conspiracy to act as a foreign agent and a second, new charge of acting as a foreign agent. The first charge has a statuatory maximum of five years in prison. The second charge carries a maximum prison sentence of ten years.
In an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon on July 17, 2018, Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL-5th) said that Russian agent Maria Butina was one of 30 key witnesses that Democrats on the House Select Committee Intelligence sought to interview in conjunction with the committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. elections in 2016. They were blocked from interviewing these witnesses by committee chair Devin Nunes (R-CA-22nd), who closed the investigation.
In an article in the Washington Post on July 17, 2018, American Conservative Union (ACU) executive director Daniel Schneider, was quoted saying that Russian spy Maria Butina “was never authorized to enter any greenroom or VIP reception [at the ACU’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)]. If she got in, she was snuck in, in violation of our rules and security protocols.” Schneider added that GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul “was removed from the ACU Board for cause and has not been allowed to attend CPAC in recent years.”
On July 18, 2018, the U.S. Justice Department filed a Government Memorandum in Support of Pretrial Detention for Russian agent Maria Butina. In court documents, DOJ argued that Butina was a flight risk, noting her lease in Washington, DC was expiring at the end of the month and she had packed boxes for a move with the help of GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson. According to the memo, Butina had “access to funds and an intention to move money outside the United States.” She had been in contact with Russia’s intelligence service, the FSB, “throughout her entire time” in the United States. Additionally: “There is evidence Butina is well-connected to wealthy businessmen in the Russian oligarchy.” Two such oligarchs were described as “funders” of her work in the U.S.
The memo alleged that Erickson, 56, and Butina, 29, were engaging in a “covert influence operation” together. Erickson knew Butina was working with Russian central bank deputy governor/Moscow mafia “godfather” Alexander Torshin, but helped her repeatedly. He advised Butina on getting a a student visa to enter the United States. He did her homework assignments from American University, where she built a cover as a graduate student. DOJ said the two were “romantically involved” and are “believed to have cohabitated.” Butina had “complained about living” with Erickson. The court documents also stated Butina “offered an individual other than [Paul Erickson] sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization.”
Finally, during a court hearing on the case that day, federal prosecutor Erik Kenerson revealed a “fraud investigation” was underway in South Dakota to examine the activities of Paul Erickson.
On July 20, 2018, the Financial Times published an interview with former Nixon Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Of President Donald Trump’s disastrous Helsinki summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin that took place just four days earlier, Kissinger said:
It was a meeting that had to take place. I have advocated it for several years. It has been submerged by American domestic issues. It is certainly a missed opportunity. But I think one has to come back to something. Look at Syria and Ukraine. It’s a unique characteristic of Russia that upheaval in almost any part of the world affects it, gives it an opportunity and is also perceived by it as a threat. Those upheavals will continue. I fear they will accelerate … The mistake NATO has made is to think that there is a sort of historic evolution that will march across Eurasia and not to understand that somewhere on that march it will encounter something very different to a Westphalian [western idea of a state] entity. And for Russia this is a challenge to its identity … I do not think Putin is a character like [German dictator Adolf] Hitler. He comes out of [Russian author Fyodor] Dostoyevsky.
On July 21, 2018, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov telephoned U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and called for Russian spy Maria Butina to be released, saying she was being held on “fabricated charges.”
The Washington Post interviewed a source familiar with Russian agent Maria Butina’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in April 2018. On July 22, 2018, the Post linked Butina to Russian oligarch Konstantin Nikolaev, net worth $1.2 billion:
Nikolaev’s fortune has been built largely through port and railroad investments in Russia. He also sits on the board of American Ethane, a Houston ethane company that was showcased by President Trump at an event in China last year, and is an investor in a Silicon Valley start-up ... Nikolaev’s son Andrey, who is studying in the United States, volunteered in the 2016 campaign in support of Trump’s candidacy, according a person familiar with his activities. Konstantin Nikolaev was spotted at the Trump International Hotel in Washington during Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.
Nikolaev provided funding to Butina through her pro-gun front operation The Right to Bear Arms from at least 2012–2014. The middle man that Butina went to for this funding was Igor Pisarsky, “one of the most prominent and influential figures in the Russian public relations industry.” His firm represents Alfa Bank/Alfa Capital and many government clients.
On July 26, 2018, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sent letters to five members of the NRA delegation that visited Moscow in December 2015: former Milwaukee County sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr.; NRA board members (and former NRA presidents) David Keene and Pete Brownell; high-dollar donor Arnold Goldschlager; and Joe Gregory, who runs the NRA’s Ring of Freedom program. In the letters, the Senators requested detailed information about the trip, including who paid the delegates’ expenses and the nature of their interactions with Russian officials including (then) deputy defense minister Dmitry Rogozin, central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin, and Torshin’s assistant Maria Butina.
McClatchy confirmed that the NRA received money for Russia in conjunctions with the “covert influence operation” run by GOP operative/NRA Live Member Paul Erickson and Russian spy Maria Butina in a bombshell article on July 30, 2018. “The inquiry into possible Russian attempts to infiltrate and influence the NRA began before Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and even before Trump’s inauguration,” McClatchy reported, citing two confidential sources inside the investigations. The two sources cited transfers of money exceeding $10,000 to two LLCs created in Erickson’s home state of South Dakota. Reporters Peter Stone and Greg Gordon wrote:
Investigators at the Treasury Department received a number of Suspicious Activity Reports “relating to entities tied to Butina and Erickson and funds that were transferred to them,” including some that appear to have come from Russia … Butina’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, told McClatchy that about $20,000 passed through one of the South Dakota firms, Bridges LLC, which Butina formed in early 2016, with Erickson serving as the firm’s registered agent. Driscoll said Butina received four $5,000 payments through that firm for consulting work for the Outdoor Channel, where she assisted in the production of a segment featuring bear hunting in Russia.
Buzzfeed News released additional details about the financial transactions involved in the “covert influence operation” run by GOP operative/NRA Life Member Paul Erickson and Russian spy Maria Butina in an article on July 31, 2018. As reported by Buzzfeed:
Investigators from Wells Fargo flagged dozens of…suspicious transactions involving Butina and Erickson for FBI agents and the Treasury Department’s financial crimes division. Bank investigators told Treasury officials they were suspicious about where the money came from and that they could find no “apparent economic, business, or lawful purpose” for the transactions. The cash withdrawals are of particular interest to federal agents.
Buzzfeed also said of Erickson:
Bank officials found that he paid her rent, her tuition at American University, and even a monthly furniture bill, and that he received money from individuals described as personal connections. Some of the funds were characterized as “family support. But bankers also saw that Erickson was often in dire financial straits. His personal and business accounts were overdrawn by a total of $2,300. He was hit with 77 overdraft fees. He took out payday loans of about $3,000 and had a balance of just $9 in one of his accounts.
Finally, Buzzfeed provided new information about the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin, Butina’s handler:
Law enforcement sources told BuzzFeed News that tens of millions of dollars in his suspicious financial transactions were flagged by Treasury officials working on the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Russian influence. These transactions included large, round-number wire transfers — a hallmark of money laundering — from Istanbul and Dubai.
On August 1, 2018, The Trace interviewed a former employee of Ackerman McQueen, who did not want to be named for fear of retribution. Ackerman McQueen is the in-house PR firm the NRA has used for decades. The former employee told reporter Mike Spies: “In the run up to the election, executives at Ackerman were talking about how the NRA backed and supported [Republican presidential candidate Donald] Trump, but they never wanted him to win, because it would cause a large reduction in their revenue.”
A story in the New York Times on August 4, 2018 revealed that conservative scion/Rockefeller heir George D. O’Neill, Jr. was helping to pay Russian spy Maria Butina’s bills during her time in the United States. He “hoped to make her the centerpiece of his own project to improve America’s ties to Russia.”
The Times also spoke with NRA board member David Keene about his many meetings with Maria Butina and he told them, “I’m just amazed that in today’s world, if you shake hands with a Russian, you must be an agent of the Kremlin.” Keene claimed he found “nothing unusual” about Butina, but admitted, “She did say that they pressured her occasionally to get information when she went home.”
Finally, the article noted that Butina befriended then-NRA board member and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, “winning an invitation to his weekly gathering of influential conservatives in Washington.”
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) traveled to Moscow on August 6, 2018 to meet with high-level Russian officials on a mission of “engagement” and “diplomacy.” Among those officials was Konstantin Kosachyov, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of Russia’s Senate. Kosachyov was sanctioned by the United States in April 2018 for his role in Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine an annexation of Crimea. Paul also met with Sergey Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador to the United States. He was told by Russian lawmaker Leonid Slutsky: “If you, Senator Paul, stand up in defense of [Russian spy] Maria Butina, even in order to get her restrictive measure changed, even to get her released from custody — and we are seeking her release and the opportunity for her to return to her homeland — you will really show yourself to be a real human being.” The trip was financed by the Cato Institute. Cato’s president and CEO Peter Goettler and Texas state Senator Don Huffines accompanied Senator Paul on the trip.
Senator Paul also invited Russian lawmakers to travel to the United States for another meeting.
In a letter dated August 20, 2018, Democratic Congressmen Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts asked White House chief of staff John Kelly to “produce documents related to whether [national security adviser John] Bolton reported his previous work with..alleged Russian spy [Maria Butina] on his security clearance forms or other White House vetting materials prior to President Trump appointing him to his current position.” Referenced in the letter was the December 13, 2013 video address recorded by Bolton for The Right to Bear Arms, Butina’s pro-gun front group. Bolton said he recorded the video at the behest of NRA board member David Keene.
On September 4, 2018, Center for The National Interest (CFTNI) CEO Dmitri Simes and Chairman of the Board Charles Boyd co-authored an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Media Guilt by Russian Association.” In it, the two accused the American media and Democratic politicians of “McCarthyism” for documenting CFTNI’s myriad connections to the Putin government and Trump campaign/transition/administration and warned, “[This] trend is a threat to America’s democracy and national security.” Simes and Boyd also claimed CFTNI does not take any money from Russia. They concluded by suggesting U.S. journalists tread carefully with Russia because they are “America’s greatest nuclear rival.”
ABC News released a series of email communications between Russian spy Maria Butina and executives with the Outdoor Channel on September 10, 2018. The Outdoor Channel explained that after their president and CEO Jim Liberatore traveled with an NRA delegation to Moscow in December 2015, Butina was “retained…based on personal representations she made that she could be helpful as an in-country consultant.” Butina was paid $20,000 over four months. The Outdoor Channel added:
In 2015, at the time of the NRA trip, one country of interest for both potential foreign content and audience market was Russia, as President [Vladimir] Putin was outspoken on wildlife conservation and outdoor pursuits, and Russia has a sizable outdoor lifestyle culture. To explore the feasibility of expanding [its mobile streaming app] into the Russian market and developing Russia-origin content that included Mr. Putin, Mr. Liberatore joined the NRA trip to Russia. His involvement was purely commercial.
NRA board member David Keene, under investigation by the FBI for his role in a money laundering scheme with agents of the Russian government, was employed by the goverment of Algeria to lobby on the nation’s behalf on November 8, 2018. Algeria retained Keene Consulting Services for $360,000 over the course of one year to strengthen the African nation’s relationship with the United States and attract trade/investment.
On December 5, 2018, Betsy Woodruff at The Daily Beast revealed that GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson had received a “target letter” from federal investigators which stated they were considering bringing charges against him under Section 951 of the U.S. code — which bars Americans from secretly acting as agents of foreign governments.
Woodruff also reported that Erickson would plead the Fifth Amendment if the Senate Intelligence Committee went ahead with plans to subpoena him to testify.
CBS News reported that federal Judge Tanya Chutkan held an unscheduled, sealed hearing by teleconference in Washington, D.C. on December 6, 2018 at the request of federal prosecutors and attorneys for Russian agent Maria Butina. Butina was in solitary confinement at a Virginia jail on federal charges of conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Shortly after the hearing, the court appointed a public defender to serve as an advisory counsel to her.
Russian spy Maria Butina appeared in federal court on December 13, 2018 and changed her plea to guilty on charges of engaging in conspiracy against the United States as an unregistered foreign agent. According to federal prosecutors’ “Statement of Offense”: “Beginning no later than March of 2015, Butina and [GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson] agreed and conspired, with [then-Russian central bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin]and at least one other person…to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics. Butina sought to use those unofficial lines of communication for the benefit of the Russian Federation … Butina opined that the circumstances were favorable for building for building relations with [the Republican Party]. Butina predicted that [Donald Trump] would likely win the upcoming presidential election.”
A U.S. intelligence report published in 2018 examined a series of communications between Russian agent Maria Butina, deputy secretary of the Russian Central Bank Alexander Torshin, and Kremlin officials that took place in 2015. The conversations dealt with Torshin’s efforts to penetrate the NRA in an attempt to ingratiate himself with Republicans at the highest level in the United States. According to The Daily Beast, the report found:
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was fine with Torshin’s courtship of the NRA because the relationships would be valuable if a Republican won the White House in 2016 … Torshin suggested that Russian officials use the NRA to reach out to politically active Americans. Torshin, then a deputy governor at Russia’s central bank, noted the…group’s influence in U.S. politics. He told the Kremlin about his contacts in the NRA, including conversations and meetings in the United States, and suggested that Kremlin officials scrutinize how some people affiliated with the group viewed relations between the U.S. and Russia … Russian officials discussed having their embassy in Washington participate in the work of courting the NRA.
An outside counsel to the NRA, William A. Brewer III, spoke to reporter Danny Hakim for an article in the New York Times on January 29, 2019. Brewer told Hakim that NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre was opposed to the NRA delegation’s trip to Moscow in December 2015 and forbade staff members to join the delegation. Allan Cors, who was president of the NRA at the time, also released a statement to the Times through the NRA. “Wayne expressed concerns about this trip and suggested that I not participate,” he wrote. “Wayne did not want any misconception that this was an official trip. Frankly, I had similar concerns.” These denials led Hakim to wryly observe, “Given Mr. LaPierre’s power within the organization, it is unclear how such a trip would have proceeded at all despite his opposition to it.”
Hakim also reported that GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson had emailed a member of the NRA delegation before the December 2015 Moscow trip and mentioned that delegation leader/NRA board member David Keene hoped to secure a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin himself.
On January 29, 2019, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden told ABC News, “It’s not credible for the NRA to claim that they played no official role in the [December] 2015 Moscow trip [by a delegation of top NRA leaders].”
GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson was arrested on February 6, 2019 and indicted on charges of wire fraud and money laundering by the U.S. Attorney for the district of South Dakota. Erickson pleaded not guilty. According to the indictment, Erickson ran a criminal scheme from 1996 to 2018 using a chain of assisted living homes called Compass Care. He also defrauded investors through a company called Investing with Dignity that claimed to be “in the business of developing a wheelchair that allowed people to go to the bathroom without being lifted out of the wheelchair.” Finally, the indictment details a fraudulent investment scheme in which Erickson claimed to be building homes in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.
A spokesperson for gun manufacturer and NRA board member Pete Brownell talked to Daily Beast reporters Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman for a February 14, 2019 article. The reporters were seeking comment on an email that GOP operative/NRA life member Paul Erickson had sent Brownell on November 21, 2015 regarding an upcoming NRA delegation trip to Moscow. Brownell’s spokesperson told them:
Pete accepted the invitation to join this trip with the understanding that it was an NRA-related event organized with the support of the organization. He welcomed the opportunity to meet with folks who share his passion for hunting, and to further understand how Brownells can continue to be successful in overseas markets. He had his company’s compliance team review the itinerary with the State Department ahead of time and carefully followed their guidance before, during and after the trip. He has made clear that he stands ready to assist with any bipartisan inquiries.
Reps. Ted Lieu of the House Judiciary Committee and Kathleen Rice of the Homeland Security Committee sent the NRA a letter on February 15, 2019 requesting a full accounting of any communications, meetings and monetary transactions between NRA officials and Russia-linked individuals. “We are disturbed by the lack of transparency the NRA has demonstrated surrounding the December 2015 trip to Moscow,” wrote Reps. Lieu and Rice. “Furthermore, we are concerned that this extends to other allegations that have been made against the organization as it relates to Russia.”
[This document was formerly titled “From Russia with Love for the NRA.”]