This One Is Big

January 18, 2018 9:15 a.m.

There’s a very important article out this morning from McClatchy, one I’ve been waiting a very long time to read. The headline is that Bob Mueller’s probe is investigating whether Russia used the NRA to funnel money into the effort to elect Donald Trump. This news is not out of the blue.

Going back more than a year there have been a number of as yet uncorroborated claims that Russia funneled a vast sum of money into the NRA to support get out the vote activities to elect Donald Trump. These efforts, in the nature of things, would also help down-ballot Republicans in key states. The massive NRA effort is no secret. Indeed, it’s pretty clear that the NRA played a very important part in securing Trump’s razor-thin victory. If the money is legitimate there is nothing legally wrong with that. One source of misplaced Democratic confidence going into the 2016 election was that Trump simply had no ground game, no complex organizational infrastructure to deliver supporters to the polls. That was true. But the NRA was mounting a very well-funded ground game operating essentially on Trump’s behalf.

To be fair, the NRA is an extremely powerful organization and raises tons of more or less legitimate American money. This is supercharged by recent changes in campaign money laws. So it’s not like the NRA having an insanely large amount of money to spend on Trump’s behalf is inexplicable or requires a foreign explanation.

So, the NRA’s efforts and seeming effectiveness are facts. The NRA’s close ties to Russia have also been extensively explored. Some of the best reporting comes in a series of articles in The Daily Beast. This includes the creation of a Russian version of the NRA (which is odd since ‘gun rights’ are quite out of place in the Russian context). The key player is a man named Alexander Torshin, a Russian politician and banker who appears to have extensive security service ties and an equally extensive money laundering record abroad. There’s little question that this effort (Russia courting the NRA and vice versa) is at some level an influence operation, an effort to cozy up to and develop relationships with a major right-wing organization in the US. Whether it goes beyond that into clearly illegal efforts on behalf of Russians or Americans is as yet a fact not in evidence.

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Like other reporters, I’ve been aware for almost a year of claims that Russia funneled tens of millions of dollars into the NRA’s 2016 efforts. Clarity: claims are not facts. I have seen no hard evidence of this. Today’s McClatchy story is the first to report that Mueller’s probe is investigating whether the NRA was used as a conduit for money to support Trump’s election effort.

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