We Just Found Out About Another Federal Investigation into Russian Meddling

The Federal Elections Commission is looking at pro-Trump donations made to the National Rifle Association.

The National Rifle Association booth at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference.Jeff Malet/Newscom via ZUMA Press

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The Federal Election Commission has launched an inquiry into potential illegal donations made to the National Rifle Association by Russian individuals and businesses in support of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, according to Politico.

The revelation comes a month after Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sought answers and relevant records in a letter to the NRA: “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,” Wyden wrote.

Politico, which first revealed the existence of the FEC investigation late on Friday evening, says the commission is examining similar issues to Wyden’s probe. The senator’s inquiry focuses on Alexander Torshin, a Russian central bank official with close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin, and his contributions to the NRA. In January, McClatchy reported that the FBI was investigating Torshin’s contributions. In response to Wyden’s letter, NRA general counsel John Frazer denied the NRA had accepted donations from foreign entities during US elections. The NRA spent a striking $30 million to support Trump’s 2016 campaign. 

As Mother Jones previously reported, social media posts from Torshin and Siberian gun rights activist Maria Butina show longstanding ties between the pair, the NRA, and various conservative heavyweights. Mother Jones‘s Mark Follman and Denise Clifton recently wrote an article laying out the duo’s history:

Alexander Torshin and his protégé Maria Butina also share an extraordinary status with America’s largest gun lobbying group, according to Torshin: “Today in NRA (USA) I know only 2 people from the Russian Federation with the status of ‘Life Member’: Maria Butina and I,” he tweeted the day after Donald Trump was elected president.

Of particular interest are their overtures to Trump. Butina asked him straight-up at a campaign event about the future of “damaging” sanctions against Russia. Torshin twice tried to meet with Trump, according to the New York Times, and did meet with Donald Trump Jr. at an NRA event. Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee has heard sworn testimony about possible Kremlin “infiltration” of the NRA and other conservative groups. And the FBI reportedly is investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the Trump campaign through the NRA—which backed Trump with a record $30 million.

Torshin, a former Russian senator and longtime ally of Vladimir Putin, has been accused of having ties to the Russian mob (an allegation he has vehemently denied). Butina, a graduate student since fall 2016 at American University in Washington, DC—who founded a Russian gun rights group and worked as Torshin’s assistant—has reportedly bragged about her connections to the Trump campaign.

More MotherJones reporting on Dark Money

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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