A Justice Department investigation into whether Russians illegally funneled donations to the Trump campaign through the National Rifle Association (NRA) has uncovered a web of contacts between the gun group and allies of Vladimir Putin.
And the NRA still isn’t willing to provide any answers.
As McClatchy reported Monday, the DOJ probe has revealed that NRA executives met with Dmitry Rogozin, at the time a deputy prime minister, and Sergei Rudov, a major philanthropist, during a December 2015 trip to Moscow.
Rogozin was added to the U.S. government sanctions list in 2014 for his direct involvement in overseeing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, raising further questions about the propriety of the NRA’s contacts with him.
Overseeing the 2015 trip was Alexander Torshin, a Putin ally, lifetime NRA member, and former deputy head of Russia’s central bank. McClatchy first reported in January that the FBI was investigating whether Torshin gave money to the NRA in order to boost Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
The gun rights giant has denied accepting foreign funds for election-related activities, which is against the law. But it has acknowledged taking in donations from foreign entities for non-political purposes, and has said it moves money between its various accounts as permitted by law.
Finances aside, the NRA’s interactions with Russian entities merit scrutiny, according to experts who study the region.
Anders Aslund, a Russia expert at the Atlantic Council, told TPM it was “impermissible” for the NRA to meet with someone like Rogozin. Aslund described Rogozin as a “hardcore nationalist” and “quite a famous person in Russia,” adding that the NRA executives would surely have known who he was.
The NRA did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment. A spokesman for the group told McClatchy that they had received no contact from the FBI.
Democrats in Congress are also investigating financial links between Russia and the NRA for any possible illegal activity. After exchanging a series of letters with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) the NRA’s general counsel cut off communications in April, saying they had provided all the facts needed to satisfy any “legitimate concerns.”