Possible NRA, Russia connections draw fresh scrutiny

The NRA-ILA Leadership Forum in Louisville, Ky. on May 20, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)
The NRA-ILA Leadership Forum in Louisville, Ky. on May 20, 2016.

The fact that the National Rifle Association took a keen interest in the 2016 elections is, at least on the surface, uninteresting. What's far more important is how much the far-right group invested and from whom the NRA received the money.

As we discussed a couple of months ago, the NRA took a keen interest in the 2012 election cycle, spending $10 million to boost Mitt Romney's candidacy. Four years later, however, the organization spent triple that to support Donald Trump. What's more, most of money the group spent on the election was spent by part of the NRA's operation that isn't required to disclose its donors.

McClatchy News reported in January that the FBI is exploring whether "a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money" to the NRA to help Trump win the presidency. Of particular interest are the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia's central bank, a close Putin ally, and someone who's faced allegations of money laundering and connections to organized crime.

McClatchy also reported last week that Cleta Mitchell, a former NRA board member, had "concerns" about the group's ties to Russia "and its possible involvement in channeling Russian funds into the 2016 elections." Mitchell later described the reporting as a "complete fabrication."

And then there was this  Politico report late Friday:

The Federal Election Commission has launched a preliminary investigation into whether Russian entities gave illegal contributions to the National Rifle Association that were intended to benefit the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election, according to people who were notified of the probe.The inquiry stems in part from a complaint from a liberal advocacy group, the American Democracy Legal Fund, which asked the FEC to look into media reports about links between the rifle association and Russian entities, including a banker with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It's far too early to say what the inquiry may uncover, though a Slate piece on this added that if FEC investigators "find compelling evidence to suggest wrongdoing the FEC could possibly refer any findings to Special Counsel Robert Mueller."

Postscript: The existence of the FEC's investigation seems quite clear. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and the senator who's arguably taken the most interest into this aspect of the Russia controversy, sent a letter to the gun group last month requesting information.

An NRA attorney responded that the organization was already "answering questions about possible Russian donations as part of an FEC inquiry."