From Russia with Love for the NRA
A (constantly updated) timeline of the NRA’s ties to the Putin government and efforts to abet collusion between the Trump campaign/administration and Russia.
On February 23, 2010, the National Rifle Association and 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 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 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 Kalashnikov and manufactured by Izhmash in the Soviet Union.
In early 2011, conservative Nashville lawyer G. Kline Preston IV introduced NRA board member (and former American Conservative Union chair) David Keene to one of his clients, Alexander Torshin, a senator in Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party (Preston says he “provided legal advice on Russian law to Torshin”). “He was interested in the NRA so I hooked him up” recalled Preston, who keeps a porcelain bust of Putin in his office. “He wanted to learn from the best and that’s the NRA when it comes to gun rights.”
Torshin is known to have ties to the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian intelligence agency formerly known as the KGB, and was instrumental in helping Putin whitewash the botched siege of a school in Beslan by Russian security forces in September 2004 in which 334 people, including 186 children, were killed.
The NRA conducted its annual meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from April 29-May 1, 2011. Alexander Torshin attended and met personally with newly-elected NRA president David Keene. Keene followed up with a letter to Torshin dated May 7, 2011 to let him know “just how much I enjoyed our meeting in Pittsburgh.”
In a “President’s Column” in the September 2011 issue of the NRA’s America’s 1st Freedom magazine, NRA president 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 and has gained notoriety as a war hawk.
Keene explained his decision as follows: “[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 this newly dangerous forum.” The “forum” Keene was referencing is the United Nations. His dim view of the UN is shared by John Bolton. In 2009, Bolton told NRATV host Cam Edwards: “[The Obama administration] will use [the small arms treaty] as an excuse to get domestically what they couldn’t otherwise.”
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.
In late 2011, an enigmatic young Russian national Muria Butina founded a gun rights group called The Right to Bear Arms with assistance from 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. At various times, she has portrayed herself as a Siberian furniture store owner, a representative of the Russian Federation, a graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C., a journalist, and a Trump campaign communications staffer. The source of Butina’s funding for The Right to Bear Arms is unknown.
The Right to Bear Arms listed more than 20 “honorary members” on its website, most of them hardliner nationalists with the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and Rodina parties. 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. Some are radical, like Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the LDPR leader who blames Jews for WWII and the Holocaust, and Ilya Drozdov, another LDPR leader who called for Ukraine to be “wiped off the map.” Also on the list: 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.
Russia continues to have very restrictive gun laws. Citizens are unable to own handguns and must license and register long guns. The NRA has voiced no criticism of these laws at any time.
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 because of alleged ballot-rigging.
In January 2012, the Russian Weapons Company (RWC) began operations as the exclusive U.S. importer of Izhmash Saiga rifles and shotguns manufactured by Kalashnikov Concern in Russia (based on the original AK-47 designs by Mikhail Kalashnikov).
On February 29, 2012, Torshin tweeted, “We will start organizing our own Russian NRA [after Russia’s presidential election on March 4, 2012].”
From April 12–15, 2012, the NRA’s annual meeting was conducted in St. Louis, Missouri under the theme “A Celebration of American Values.” Alexander Torshin attended the meeting again, this time as a VIP Guest of then-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 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?”
Alexander Torshin and 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 two minutes — and advocated for more permissive gun laws in Russia, including civilian access to handguns. Their proposal was rejected.
On November 6, 2012, G. Kline Preston invited Alexander Torshin to observe voting at the polls in Nashville, Tennessee with him during the U.S. presidential election. Torshin was allowed to inspect electronic voting machines and election queues. Both men claimed they witnessed violations of U.S. law.
Torshin tweeted a photo of himself standing outside the headquarters of the NRA in Fairfax, Virginia on November 8, 2012.
On November 16, 2012, Torshin spoke to journalist Julia Ioffe Torshin at the New Republic and told her he was attracted to the NRA because it represents “stability,” which Ioffe described as “the credo of Putin’s reign.”
About 80 people gathered in a Moscow square on December 1, 2012 for a gun rights rally hosted by The Right to Bear Arms. 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, Maria Butina addressed the recent mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in the United States. Echoing the NRA’s talking points, she said, “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.”
From May 2–5, 2013, Alexander Torshin attended his third straight NRA annual meeting, this time in Houston, Texas. During the meeting, NRA leaders presented Torshin with a rifle as a gift. “Three thousand delegates of the NRA Congress greeted me with an ovation!” Torshin bragged on Twitter on May 2, 2015. He also shared pictures of a private “Golden Ring of Freedom” event for the NRA’s largest (multi-millionaire) donors. Jim Porter was elected as the new NRA president at the meeting, but outgoing president David Keene retained his seat on the NRA board of directors.
On June 14, 2013, Spain’s Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) reported that 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 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 stated.
From October 31 — November 1, 2013, The Right to Bear Arms conducted its annual meeting in Moscow. Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina were present. The lead-off speaker at the event was Alan Gottlieb, the president of the Seattle-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 the the UN’s 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 delegates.
Following Versnel at the podium was NRA board member (and former president) David Keene. Keene 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.”
The “cultural” program at the meeting 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 has achieved notoriety in American pro-gun circles by frequently posing women and babies with assault rifles for his memes.
On November 1, 2013, Maria Butina tweeted a photo of herself and NRA Life Member Paul Erickson, a longtime Republican operative who managed Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign in 1992. Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone has described some of Erickson’s other past exploits:
He has lobbied on behalf of Zairean strongman Mobutu Sese Seko, mounted the ‘Love Hurts’ media tour for celebrity penis amputee John Wayne Bobbitt and was credited as an executive producer on [Jack] Abramoff’s 1989 B-movie ‘Red Scorpion,’ starring Dolph Lundgren.
In the photo, Butina can be seen working over a table with Erickson during an event The Right to Bear Arms was hosting in Moscow. David Keene likely introduced Erickson to Butina (and Alexander Torshin). Erickson served on the board of the American Conservative Union (with Becky Norton Dunlop, a senior Trump transition team official) during Keene’s tenure as chair.
The Right to Bear Arms posted a video to YouTube on December 10, 2013 that featured the chair of the NRA’s international affairs subcommittee, lawyer John Bolton. In the video, Bolton speaks about the Second Amendment and what gun rights mean to him. Bolton claims he appeared in the video at the request of then-NRA president David Keene, who told him it was for Russian legislators.
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.
In January 2014, the Kalashnikov Concern announced plans to export 200,000 guns a year to the U.S. via the Russian Weapons Company (RWC).
On January 2, 2014, NRA board member (and former president) David Keene — who was hired as the opinion editor of the Washington Times in July 2013 — published an op-ed by 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, approved Alexey Krivoruchko as CEO of Kalashnikov Concern and allowed him to buy a 49 percent stake in the company with two oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin: Andrei Bokarev and Iskander Makhmudov. The other 51 percent is owned by the state company Rostec. Krivoruchko is a career executive in Russian state companies who has enjoyed support from Sergey Chemezov, head of Rostec.
In late February 2014, the Russian military invaded the sovereign nation of Ukraine, sparking an international crisis.
On February 27, 2014, 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 against Russian individuals and entities — including travel bans and the freezing of U.S. assets — on March 6, 2014 in response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
On March 18, 2014, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed legislation annexing the Ukranian territory of Crimea. Alexander Torshin was present at the ceremony.
From April 25–27 2014, Alexander Torshin attended his fourth straight NRA annual meeting, this time with Maria Butina in tow. At the meeting (in Indianapolis), Butina met NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, was given the “rare privilege” of ringing a Liberty Bell replica during a Ring of Freedom event for NRA donors, and presented then-NRA president Jim Porter with a special plaque from The Right to Bear Arms. Butina 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,” Butina told the media.
On April 28, 2014, the United States imposed a second round of sanctions on Russia for its illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. This round targeted seven Russian officials and 17 Russian companies
Despite its warm relationship with Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina, the NRA was not ready to embrace Russia’s authoritarian government publicly. On May 12, 2014, former NRA president David Keene published an editorial in the Washington Times in which he criticized President Barack Obama’s handling of the crisis in Ukraine, claiming the president was too soft on Vladimir Putin:
What Mr. Putin is discovering is that no one in the West these days is willing or able to do much either to check Russia’s aggression or to stand up for their friends. The United States under President Obama’s leadership is content to issue rhetorical denunciations, insult Mr. Putin by claiming he runs a second-rate country that doesn’t understand the times in which we live, and deny he and his friends visas to visit the United States.
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 entities on July 16, 2014. This action blocked American companies from negotiating new contracts for the purchase of firearms manufactured by Kalashnikov Concern. The U.S. government also blocked/froze certain property and financial interests of Kalashnikov Concern under its jurisdiction.
The Russians Weapon Company (RWC) was barred from importing Izhmash Saiga rifles and shotguns from Kalashnikov Concern by the July 16, 2014 sanctions, effectively ending the company’s line of business in the United States.
The National Rifle Association issued a statement on July 17, 2014 in response to the U.S. Treasury Department’s decision to sanction Kalashnikov Concern, 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 September 3, 2014, The Right to Bear Arms hosted an “open meeting” in Moscow featuring NRA Life Member/GOP operative Paul Erickson.
Russia amended its Federal Law on Weapons on November 26, 2014, extending the rights of individuals to use guns for-self defense, but also tightening the gun licensing process and safe storage requirements in the home.
In 2014, Kalashnikov Concern generated its first operating net profit in seven years (88 million rubles).
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 wage commitment of $51,266. RWC claimed it was not the subject of any pending criminal investigation “or governmental enforcement action.” The company said it would assemble, test fire, and ship 95 percent of its firearms and accessories outside Florida (suggesting a potential violation of the July 2014 sanctions enacted against Kalashnikov Concern by the United States). DEO designated RWC’s public application “Project 762” to keep it secret.
On January 20, 2015, Torshin tweeted, “I was there at 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 with G. Kline Preston (described above).
On January 21, 2015, Alexander Torshin left the Russian parliament and was appointed State Secretary — Deputy Governor of the Bank of Russia. He selected Maria Butina as his special assistant in his new position.
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.
Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on February 27, 2015, Wayne LaPierre 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 Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina.
On March 22, 2015, Maria Butina announced on Facebook that she would be attending the NRA’s upcoming annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.
In April 2015, the Russian Weapons Company (RWC)/Kalashnikov USA filed documents in connection with its January 2015 application to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for $162,000 in state, county, and local tax breaks. These documents made it clear Kalashnikov USA would be using parts imported from Kalashnikov Concern’s factory in Russia in violation of U.S. sanctions enacted in July 2014. RWC/Kalashnikov received approval to open a factory in Pompano Beach, Florida that would manufacture AK-47s and other firearms. Because of the nature of the confidentiality agreement between DEO and RWC, local Florida officials did not know the name of the arms company they had approved or the specific products that would be manufactured.
In April 2015, Maria Butina was given a private tour of the NRA’s headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. She and Alexander Torshin also attended the NRA’s annual meeting in Nashville with lawyer G. Kline Preston from April 10–12, 2015. There, Torshin ran into Donald Trump and the two had a “jovial exchange” (Torshin claims he originally met Trump in 2010). According to Torshin’s account, Trump said to him, “So, you’re from Russia. When are you going to invade Latvia? ” Torshin and Butina were also introduced to Wisconsin Governor and presidential candidate Scott Walker (a speaker at the NRA meeting) by former NRA president David Keene at a fundraiser for Walker hosted by the 527 organization Our American Revival in Nashville.
On April 16, 2015, Butina gave a talk about gun rights at the University of South Dakota in Paul Erickson’s hometown of Vermillion. In the talk, she claimed The Right to Bear Arms had more than 10,000 members and 76 offices across Russia.
On April 24, 2015, Butina blogged about meeting Republican governor Scott Walker earlier in the month. She claimed Walker greeted her in Russian. “We talked about Russia,” she wrote. “I did not hear any aggression towards our country, the president or my compatriots.”
In May 2015, the Pompano Beach Commission approved local tax incentives for Russian Weapons Company (RWC) to open a Kalashnikov USA plant in its community. Records indicate the commission acted at the behest of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, a public/private partnership that promotes economic development. The codenamed developed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), “Project 762,” was used to hide the identity of RWC/Kalashnikov USA.
Maria Butina published an op-ed titled “The Bear and The Elephant” in the bi-monthly international affairs magazine The National Interest on June 12, 2015 in which she questioned the value of U.S. sanctions against Russia. “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.
At the urging of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, the Broward County Commission unanimously approved a resolution on June 23, 2015 promising Kalashnikov USA a package of local tax incentives to manufacture AK-47 rifles in Pompano Beach. County officials used the codename created by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), “Project 762,” to conceal the identity of Kalashnikov USA and its parent company, Russian Weapons Company (RWC). “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, Kalashnikov USA told CNN Money, fraudulently, that the company was now selling semi-automatic AK-47 assault rifles manufactured at a plant in Florida. It did not name the location of the factory. In truth, Kalashnikov USA’s parent company, Russian Weapons Company (RWC), had not yet received a response on their January 2015 application with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to manufacture firearms in Pompano Beach. They had no factory in Florida yet.
On July 11, 2015, Maria Butina attended FreedomFest, a gathering of libertarians in Las Vegas, Nevada where Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Senator Marco Rubio were speaking. Butina presented herself as a reporter and asked Trump a question after his speech. “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.”
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 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.
On July 13, 2015, Maria Butina attended Republican Scott Walker’s presidential campaign launch event in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Maria Butina and Paul Erickson were interviewed on an The Eric Mataxas Show (podcast) in Manhattan on July 15, 2015. During the podcast, Erickson said the following: “Maria is very humble. 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.”
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 that DEO was aware that RWC was doing business with a Russian firm subject to U.S. sanctions, Kalashnikov Concern. “[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 22, 2015. NRA Life Member/GOP operative Paul Erickson was present.
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.”
On August 29, 2015, G. Kline Preston IV (who introduced Alexander Torshin to former NRA president David Keene) tweeted a photo of Donald Trump speaking at the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, writing (in Russian), “Donald Trump today in Nashville. He is a friend of Russia.”
The Russian Weapons Company (RWC) moved into a 40,000-square-foot facility inside the Pompano Distribution Center in Pompano Beach, Florida in September 2015, for the purpose of manufacturing AK-47 assault rifles.
On September 25, 2015, The Right to Bear Arms posted a meme of 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.
Responding to a tweet about comedian Larry David accusing Trump of being a racist, 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.”
During the week of December 8–13, 2015, a large NRA delegation traveled to Moscow to meet with Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister in charge of Russia’s defense industry, and “wealthy Russians.” One member of the delegation, radical right wing Milwaukee County, Wisconsin sheriff David A. Clarke, also tweeted a photo that indicated the delegation met with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lazrov. During this same week, Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Michael Flynn was paid to appear at Russia Today’s 10th anniversary gala dinner in Moscow beside Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The NRA delegation included Sheriff Clarke, former NRA president (and current NRA board member) David Keene; gun manufacturer and NRA board member Pete Brownell; high-dollar NRA donor Arnold Goldschlager; and multi-millionaire pharma king Joe Gregory, who runs the NRA’s “Ring of Freedom” program for donors who contribute $1,000 or more to the organization per year. The Right to Bear Arms paid $6,000 for Clarke’s meals, hotel, transportation, and entertainment. Brownell covered the rest of Clarke’s expenses, including his airfare and visas. It’s unknown who paid for the rest of the delegates, but major NRA donor Arnold Goldschlager told McClatchy the Russians were “killing” the delegation with “vodka and the best Russian food.” Alexander Torshin was present for the meetings and hosted two dinners for the NRA delegation.
The trip generated immediate controversy because Dmitry Rogozin is an individual subject of U.S. sanctions due to his prominent role in Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Under the terms of U.S. sanctions, the NRA delegation’s visit with the defense minister would have been illegal if the two sides did any business together.
“Rogozin is chairman of the Russian Shooting Federation and his board hosted a tour of Federation HQ for us while we were there,” Keene explained to the Daily Beast. “It was non-political. There were at least 30 in attendance and our interaction consisted of thanking him and his board for the tour.” For his part, Rogozin tweeted that the two sides discussed an upcoming rifle competition in Russia.
Prior to becoming defense minister, Rogozin was a leader of the ultra-right party Rodina (Motherland). He has advocated for the restoration of the Russian Empire, to include Alaska, which he calls “Russian America.” From 2008 to 2011, Rogozin served as Russian ambassador to NATO, where he focused on preventing Ukraine and Georgia from joining the alliance. Lastly, Rogozin has bragged about Russia’s “first strike” cyberwarfare capability.
On February 10, 2016, Paul Erickson and Maria Butina established a limited liability corporation called “Bridges.” It is unclear what Bridges, based out of South Dakota (Erickson’s home state), actually does. Public records don’t reveal any financial transactions by the LLC.
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.”
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. 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.
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, 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 20, 2016, the NRA endorsed Donald Trump for president of the United States at their annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. The endorsement came far earlier in the election cycle than is typical for the organization. The NRA would ultimately spend 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.]
Trump was the NRA’s featured speaker in Louisville. The Putin government used several intermediaries to make contact with him during the meeting. Alexander Torshin, who was attending his sixth straight NRA annual meeting, requested to meet with Trump and indicated he would be speaking on behalf of Vladimir Putin. This request was routed to the Trump campaign through Johnny Yenason of the Military Warriors Support Foundation and conservative activist Rick Clay. Campaign adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner rebuffed the request, but Torshin was allowed to speak with Donald Trump, Jr. at a private dinner hosted by the NRA that weekend.
The second request was made by NRA Life Member/GOP operative Paul Erickson. Erickson sent Trump campaign adviser Rick Dearborn an email with the subject “Kremlin Connection” in which he offered to arrange a back-channel meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Erickson solicited the advice of Dearborn and then-Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, about how to make that “first contact” happen. “Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump,” Erickson wrote. “He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election. Let’s talk through what has transpired and Senator Sessions’s advice on how to proceed … The Kremlin believes that the only possibility of a true reset in this relationship would be with a new Republican White House. Ever since Hillary compared Putin to Hitler, all senior Russian leaders consider her beyond redemption.” It is unclear how Dearborn and Sessions responded to Erickson’s request.
The NRA was still publicly maintaining an anti-Putin posture, however. On the same day the organization endorsed Trump for president, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre declared that “a brazenly emboldened Russia” was a foreign policy disaster of the Obama administration.
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. RWC officials moved into a 40,000-square-foot facility inside the Pompano Distribution Center in Pompano Beach in September 2015 with the intent to manufacture AK-47s.
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.
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.
On July 28, 2016, 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 to defend Donald Trump after the Republican presidential candidate urged Russia to continue engaging in 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.”
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.
On September 17, 2016, 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.
On October 7, 2016, the U.S. intelligence community released a report indicating the Russian government was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee emails released by WikiLeaks on July 22, 2016.
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 these 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].”
To the surprise of pundits nationwide, Donald Trump was elected 45th President of the United States on November 8, 2016.
On November 9, 2016, 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.”
Maria Butina celebrated her birthday with a costume party 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.
In late 2016, The Right to Bear Arms group run by Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina pulled down its webpage of 22 “honorary members.”
On January 2, 2017, former NRA president 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.
The U.S. intelligence community declassified a report on January 6, 2017 which concluded that “Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US 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 of Mark Barnes & Associates emailed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) associate deputy director Ronald Turk edits that Barnes had made to a draft white paper sent to him by Turk for feedback. In the attached edit of the white paper, titled “Options for a New Administration to Reduce or Mollify Firearms Regulations” by Turk, Barnes added the following new 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, Alexander Torshin tweeted a photo of a book (in Russian, about tanks) with the following caption: “Bought a gift for [then-] NRA President Allan Cors. Tanks are his favorite topic!”
On Inauguration Day — January 20, 2017 — Maria Butina and NRA Life Member/GOP operative Paul Erickson attended the invitation-only Freedom Ball to celebrate Donald Trump’s swearing in as President of the United States.
NRA Life Member/GOP operative Paul Erickson attended a private dinner hosted by conservative activist and Rockefeller scion George O’Neill Jr. at the George Hotel on February 1, 2017 as part of the festivities surrounding the National Prayer Breakfast. Also present at the dinner were Alexander Torshin, Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a conservative magazine publisher, and a close friend of top White House strategist Steve Bannon.
A meeting between Alexander Torshin, 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 had been 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” (ties to organized crime in Russia). Nonetheless, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who attended the prayer breakfast, commented that Torshin is “sort of the [American] conservatives’ favorite Russian.”
During the February 15, 2017 edition of NRA-TV’s Live Updates, host Grant Stinchfield discussed a New York Times article that had appeared a day earlier with Louisiana Congressman Clay Higgins. The article stated that “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 commented:
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 [has now resigned because of unreported contacts with the Russian Ambassador to the United States] … I believe what is going on in Washington is you have a concerted effort with 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 (again) 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.”
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) terminated its tax incentives deal with Russian Weapons Company (RWC)/Kalashnikov USA in April 2017 because RWC was unable to provide Pompano Beach with the number of jobs promised in its January 2015 application. “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. RWC had indicated on its January 2015 application that it would be manufacturing AK-47s in Pompano Beach with parts imported from Kalashnikov Concern in Russia.
From April 27–30, 2017, the NRA conducted its annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. With the media on alert to look for them, Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina (apparently) missed their first NRA meeting in years.
On April 30, 2017, G. Kline Preston IV (the 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.”
The NRA board of directors elected gun manufacturer Pete Brownell — who was part of the NRA delegation that visited Moscow in December 2015 — as the organization’s new president on May 1, 2017.
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.
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 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 David Keene’s ties to 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.”
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 Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs and Parkland). 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.”
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.
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 Trump campaign and Russia. The committee sought testimony from Simpson because his firm paid for the “Steele Dossier” in order to learn more about Donald Trump’s business connections in Russia. Simpson, however, 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, Vladimir Putin is not in favor of universal gun ownership for Russians. And so it’s all a big charade, basically.”
On November 28, 2017, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, requested that Trump campaign national 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, Paul Erickson, Alexander Torshin, 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 is 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 Putin government. 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 Rostec’s plan to sell an additional 26 percent of Kalashnikov Concern’s shares to the CEO of the company, Alexey Krivoruchko.
McClatchy revealed on January 18, 2018 that the FBI is investigating whether Alexander Torshin funneled money to the NRA to help 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 approached or exceeded $70 million, more than the record $55 million originally reported.
After the release of the McClatchy story on January 18, 2018, 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.
Also on January 18, 2018, the House Intelligence Committee released Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson’s testimony of November 14, 2017 (detailed above) to the public.
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.”
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 group American Legal Democracy Fund filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission to demand an investigation into whether the National Rifle Association took contributions from Russian nationals to benefit the election of Donald Trump. ALDF has ties to liberal Super PAC American Bridge and is headed by former Democratic National Committee (DNC) spokesman Brad Woodhouse.
Following a blockbuster McClatchy story on January 18,k 2018 about an ongoing FBI investigation into the NRA, 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. The letters were sent to Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and NRA treasurer Wilson Phillips, Jr.
Wyden specifically asked for documents that show 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 Counsel John C. Frazer responded to Senator Wyden in a brief letter dated February 15, 2018. Frazer denied the organization 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 of 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.
The watchdog website Florida Bulldog revealed to the public that the administration of Florida Governor Rick Scott had offered $162,000 in state tax breaks to the Russian Weapons Company (RWC) on February 20, 2018. 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.
On February 24, 2018, a group of protesters gathered outside the Russian Weapons Company (RWC)/Kalashnikov USA factory in Pompano Beach, Florida to protest the corporation manufacturing assault rifles in their community. The factory is located just miles away from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the sight of a mass shooting a month earlier. Parkland 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.”
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.
On March 6, 2018, Kalashnikov USA released a statement which stated, “Kalashnikov USA does not conduct business with the Russian company Kalashnikov Concern.”
On March 8, 2018, Michael Smith and Stephanie Baker of Bloomberg Businessweek did a deep dive on Russian Weapons Company (RWC) and its Kalashnikov USA factory in Pompano Beach, Florida, concluding, “A complicated web of shell companies connects Kalashnikov USA to allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin and appears designed to avoid U.S. sanctions.” Russian small arms manufacturer Kalashnikov Concern told the reporters it “does not have any business and does not cooperate either with Kalashnikov USA, or with any other U.S. or Israeli companies.”
On March 15, 2018, McClatchy revealed that congressional investigators with the House Intelligence Committee learned that a lawyer and 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 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 also 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 banker Alexander Torshin per ALDF’s complaint (see above).
The NRA sent Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) a letter on March 19, 2018 in which NRA Secretary and General Counsel John C. Frazer stated the organization 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.”
During a conversation with the Tennessean on March 20, 2018, lawyer G. Kline Preston (who introduced then-NRA president David Keene to 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 application for tax breaks with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) in January 2015.
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 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.
On March 27, 2018, 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 Alexander Torshin. Hart did not explain or mention two other Russian nationals, Maria Butina and Evgeny Spiridonov, who have stated they became NRA Life Members in the 2012–2018 timeframe.
Steven Hall, a former chief of Russian operations for the CIA who retired in 2015 after 30 years in 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 Alexander Torshin to a list of individuals sanctioned in connection with Russia’s illegal military intervention in Ukraine (2014-present).
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. The senator 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 during the aforementioned period, most of that “routine payments” for membership dues or magazine subscriptions.
· When did the FBI start investigating whether the NRA used Russian money to help elect Donald Trump?
· What exactly did Alexander Torshin hope to accomplish when he first formed a relationship with then-NRA president David Keene in 2011?
· Why Paul Erickson? How did an obscure Republican operative suddenly become a key liaison in the NRA-Russia-Trump relationship? Why won’t the Trump administration say whether Erickson served on their transition team?
· What was really discussed at the December 2015 meeting in Moscow between an NRA delegation and defense minister Dmitry Rogozin? Two months earlier, Florida Governor Rick Scott’s administration had approved the Kalashnikov USA deal. Is it possible that Rogozin would not have talked about this with David Keene/Pete Brownell? The NRA had voiced real concern about the sanctions against Kalashnikov Concern in July 2014.
· What is the true purpose of the holding company established by Paul Erickson and Maria Butina?
· What role did the Putin government play in the NRA’s decision to endorse Donald Trump for president?
· How did Rick Dearborn and Jeff Sessions respond to Paul Erickson’s offer to set up a back-channel meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin?
· What was really discussed at the May 2016 dinner meeting between Alexander Torshin and Donald Trump, Jr.?
· Were NRA leaders aware of Russia’s interference in the U.S. election before the American intelligence community revealed that information to the world months later?
· Did the Russians funnel money to the NRA that was used to elect Republican candidates (including Donald Trump) in the 2016 election cycle?
· What is the full scope of activities the NRA has undertaken since Donald Trump was elected to facilitate and protect his (and their) relationship with Russia?
· Did Vladimir Putin’s government privatize (75–25) Kalashnikov Concern in part to make the Kalashnikov USA deal more palatable to U.S. officials like Florida Governor Rick Scott?