John Bolton spoke at 2013 round-table for Russian gun-rights group under scrutiny in Mueller investigation

The rumored pick for Trump’s next National Security Adviser, John Bolton, made a guest appearance at a 2013 round-table organized by The Right to Bear Arms in Russia, a group whose leaders are under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The video appearance by the former Ambassador to the United Nations included an ardent support of the 2nd Amendment and the hope that Russia will adopt similar legislation. “We pray for you to preserve these first precious freedoms,” Bolton said. The group of Russians to whom Bolton spoke included State Duma members as well as leaders of Butina’s organization.

“One of the leading neocons in the US, speaking with the wishes of positive changes in Russia and going for a dialogue, is great and is a huge success of our people,” Butina wrote on her personal blog, highlighting the speech by Bolton as an important sign of cooperation between her gun advocacy group and political leaders in the United States.

The newly discovered speech by Bolton comes at a time when he is being considered to become President Trump’s National Security Adviser (NSA) following the likely sacking of current NSA, General H.R. McMaster. Bolton has been widely viewed as being at the top of the president’s short list for the senior aide position. The 69-year-old Bolton did not respond to requests for comment.

The leaders of The Right to Bear Arms are Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin — a Putin-allied Russian politician. Both have garnered scrutiny from Congressional investigators and the Special Counsel Robert Mueller over a series of suspicious interactions with the Trump campaign and outside groups that funded pro-Trump Super PACs.

Butina and Torshin

Torshin, the deputy head of the Central Bank of Russia and alleged mafia boss, has been cultivating relationships with the NRA and other gun-rights groups in the United States since 2011. He meticulously documented his various excursions with NRA leaders and activists on social media.

In a 2011 handwritten letter, then-President of the NRA David Keene offered offered help to Alexander Torshin for his “endeavors”.

In December 2015, a delegation from the NRA including Presidents Keene and Pete Brownell, Sheriff David Clarke and others flew to Moscow and had a series of meetings with Torshin and other Russian leaders including Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.

Clarke speaking with Russian Deputy PM Rogozin in Moscow, December 2015

Butina has been Torshin’s deputy for years, often accompanying him in his trips to the United States. She however has been more aggressive in pushing her pro-gun agenda internationally as the leader of The Right to Bear Arms.

Her appearance at one of then-candidate Trump’s first official events in July 2015 raised eyebrows when she asked a question about easing Russian sanctions after being selected by Trump. The newly-declared candidate responded by saying, “I don’t think you’d need the sanctions.” Steve Bannon and Reince Preibus reportedly found the encounter puzzling. The two Trump campaign officials found it odd that Trump happened to call on Butina and had a fully-formed answer ready when asked about US-Russia relations.

Butina did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

By 2016, the relationship between Republican leaders in the United States and the team of Torshin-Butina were so well established that a Trump-Putin meeting was offered to the campaign by Conservative activist Paul Erickson. Erickson wrote, “Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump.” Though the meeting never took place, the offer highlighted Torshin’s years-long effort to gain influence in the political process of the United States on behalf of Russian leadership.

Butina and Erickson set up a mysterious South Dakota company in February 2016 called Bridges LLC, paying an extra fee to the Secretary of State’s office in order to incorporate the company on an expedited timeline. Erickson told McClatchy in 2017 that the company was “established in case Butina needed any monetary assistance for her graduate studies.” McClatchy noted that the given reason was a strange way to use an LLC.

The inclusion of Bolton in this tangled web of connections between The Right to Bear Arms in Russia and Conservative leaders in the United States raises new questions about his suitability to become National Security Adviser.

In his public statements, Bolton has offered conflicting views on the Russian interference in the 2016 US elections. He has been tough on Russian aggression while at the same time said in a recent op-ed that, “there is, to date, no evidence of collusion, express or implied, nor can it honestly be said that Russia was “pro-Trump.” In the days after the publication of the Trump dossier, Bolton called those who commissioned the dossier, “worse than prostitutes.”

The Federal Election Committee and Special Counsel Robert Mueller are investigating whether Russian money went to NRA to support Trump. Maria Butina, Alexander Torshin, and their group, The Right to Bear Arms, are of interest to the team of Mueller’s prosecutors. The extent of Ambassador Bolton’s relationship with the group remains unclear.