A new Senate committee report alleges the National Rifle Association acted as a “foreign asset” for Russia in the lead-up to the 2016 election.
According to CNBC, the investigation, conducted by Senate Finance Committee Democrats found that top officials at the NRA used the organization’s financial resources — largely collected by member dues — to curry favor with two Russians, Aleksander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia, and his deputy Maria Butina, who said they had access to top Russian officials.
The probe found that the NRA provided both Russians “broad access to events” over a three-year period, where both could have met top GOP figures including presidential candidates.
The investigators focused on a particular trip in 2015 in which Torshin and Butina led a delegation of NRA officials to Moscow. The report alleges that former NRA president David Keene and his wife, Donna Keene, organized the trip with the promise of new business opportunities by the Russians, including access to a Russian arms manufacturer that was under U.S. sanctions. The NRA even covered a portion of the costs of the trip.
The NRA is a tax-exempt organization and is barred from using funds for the personal benefit of its officials. It is also banned from conducting actions outside its stated mission.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, the ranking member of the Finance Committee, launched his probe in February 2018 just as federal investigators were exploring potential links between Kremlin-linked individuals and the powerful gun lobby.
Wyden alleges that the NRA might have violated numerous tax laws by ignoring the parameters associated with non-profit tax status and he is calling on the IRS to investigate.
“This report lays out, in significant detail, that the NRA lied about the 2015 delegation trip to Moscow. This was an official trip undertaken so NRA insiders could get rich — a clear violation of the principle that tax-exempt resources should not be used for personal benefit,” Sen. Wyden said in a statement.
The New York State Attorney General is currently investigating the organization for allegations that it violated its tax status. Maria Butina is currently serving an 18-month sentence for conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign official.