Fetching Russian Maria Butina allegedly wooed top Republicans and National Rifle Association (NRA) officials into a dalliance with Russian oligarchs and the Kremlin’s intelligence apparatus that may have included a massive influx of cash to bolster Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
Now, the Senate Intelligence Committee is the latest to call the NRA into account.
The committee reportedly has asked the NRA to turn over records and other documents that would shed light on its relationship with Russian interests including the details behind a 2015 Kremlin trip by NRA officials, according to The Daily Beast.
The Web site, citing two sources briefed on the committee’s activities, also reported that the Senate Finance Committee has been seeking NRA documents for months.
The NRA has become increasingly politicized under the direction of NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre, who has led the group to the hard right.
During the 2016 election campaign, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch attacked American institutions and spouted themes that have since been attributed to Russian-sponsored cyber attacks on the election, liberals and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The NRA’s dalliance with Russia exploded in national headlines after Butina was indicted in July on charges of being an undeclared Russian operative for the Kremlin’s intelligence apparatus.
The NRA spent more than $30 million to support Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, more than it has spent on any candidate in the history of the organization.
McClatchy, a Midwestern news service, reported in January that special counsel Robert Mueller was investigating whether the NRA was a conduit for Russian money spent to support Trump’s campaign.
The gun lobby’s total election spending actually approached, or exceeded, $70 million, according to McClatchy, citing two unnamed sources.
Oddly, this past August, the NRA claimed in court filings and public statements, that a lawsuit by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Department of Financial Services had driven it to the brink of bankruptcy, according to The New York Post.
The Muller probe reportedly targeted Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Torshin was described as Butina’s mentor, according to an NPR investigative report.
Among Butina’s 4,588 Facebook connections are NRA officials, gun lobbyists, a Justice Department staffer, a congressional aide, the top organizer of the National Prayer Breakfast and an executive with the Outdoor Channel.
She may have even been trying to infiltrate the Navy’s West Coast center for handling nuclear weapons. She was in touch with a senior enlisted sailor at the facility.
McClatchy reported that “several prominent Russians, some in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle or high in the Russian Orthodox Church,” were identified as having contact with NRA officials during campaign.
Six months before the election, Republican operative and fundraiser Paul Erickson, described as Butina’s boyfriend, told then-Sen. Jeff Sessions the NRA would help to arrange a “back-channel” between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. At the time Sessions was working for the campaign.
Donald Trump Jr. was photographed with Butina and a Russian official at the 2016 NRA convention. Butina allegedly sought to use the gun advocacy group to tilt the Republican Party toward Russia.
In December 2015, Butina’s Russian counterpart group sponsored a week-long trip to Russian for an NRA delegation. The group met with former Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin and Torshin, according to reports. Both are currently under U.S. sanctions because of their ties to Putin,
Former NRA President David Keene, incoming president Peter Brownell, Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke and NRA donors Jim Gregory, Arnold Goldschlager and Hilary Goldschlager made the trip, according to The Daily Beast.
The FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence, are reportedly investigating if money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win, the two sources told McClatchy.