Over five days have passed since a report revealed that the FBI is investigating whether a Russian banker funneled money to the NRA to boost Donald Trump’s campaign. And the gun group still isn’t talking.
The NRA did not respond to McClatchy’s requests for comments for its story on the FBI probe, published Thursday morning. And although McClatchy’s report reverberated widely in the media, the group still has offered no response, including to multiple inquiries from TPM.
The FBI is said to be looking into whether Alexander Torshin, a Russian central bank official, Putin ally, and longtime NRA member, directed money to the gun group. The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action (ILA), a 501(c)(4) group that doesn’t have to disclose its donors, spent an estimated $35 million in 2016—more than any other dark money group.
A communications staffer for the NRA-ILA told TPM Monday that NRA Managing Director of Public Affairs Andrew Arulanandam was handling questions on the issue.
Arulanandam hasn’t responded to multiple phone and email messages asking whether the NRA has been contacted by the FBI, and whether the group accepted any donations from Torshin during the 2016 campaign. Asked Tuesday if anyone else at the NRA could field questions on the topic, Jennifer Baker, the NRA-ILA’s director of public affairs, again directed TPM to Arulanandam.
The NRA’s social media feeds have also made no specific reference to the reported investigation. A post published Friday on the NRA-ILA’s Facebook page about President Trump’s judicial nominations began: “While the media focuses on fake news President Donald J. Trump is advancing his agenda.”
The NRA hasn’t been shy in the past about challenging reporting it doesn’t like. In July 2017, a video on NRATV dismissed the Washington Post as “a fake news outlet” for publishing a story laying out ties between Torshin, the NRA and other conservative groups. NRATV host Grant Stinchfield accused the newspaper of making “the blatantly false claim that the NRA had illegal ties to Russia.” (In fact, the story didn’t make any claims about illegal activity.)
TPM laid out the web of ties between the NRA and Putin allies Friday.
It’s possible that the NRA doesn’t yet know if some of the estimated $70 million it spent during the 2016 campaign had its origins in Russia. As TPM reported, a string of Supreme Court rulings including the 2010 Citizen United decision have weakened campaign finance laws and encouraged the use of dark money groups, which allow advocacy organizations to spend big on politics without having to disclose the source of their funds.
Though foreigners are still barred from contributing to U.S. elections, the opacity of these money pools makes it much harder to determine if a foreigner made a donation through an LLC or other corporate entity.
Campaign finance experts told TPM that to have engaged in criminal wrongdoing, the NRA would need to know that some of its 2016 donations originated in Russia and that they were expressly intended to be used to boost Trump’s candidacy.
“If the NRA got Russian money that it then used to influence our election, that’s a blatant violation of the prohibition on foreign nationals making contributions or expenditures on elections,” Larry Noble of the Campaign Legal Center said. “And the NRA would violate the law by assisting a foreign national [in doing so].”