The National Rifle Association has long offered its expertise in politics and public relations to gun groups in Australia, Brazil, Canada and elsewhere. The question now is whether during the 2016 presidential campaign the NRA embraced a very different sort of international mission: serving as a conduit to Donald Trump’s campaign for Russian interests.
The FBI reportedly is investigating whether the NRA helped funnel money from Russians into the election, which would violate U.S. election law prohibiting the use of foreign money. In recent years the NRA has developed relationships with several well-connected Russians, including Alexander Torshin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin who is deputy governor of the Russian central bank.
Torshin, who has been implicated in money laundering by Spanish authorities, is also an NRA member. In 2016 he is reported to have met with Donald Trump Jr. at the NRA’s annual meeting in Kentucky, and in 2015 NRA leaders met with Torshin in Moscow.
The NRA has said the FBI has not contacted it about Russian funds. Curiously, the gun group has so far failed to take the simple step of denying that it accepted Russian money at all. The NRA reported spending more than $55 million in the 2016 election, including $30 million on Trump — more than the organization has spent on any candidate in its history.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, sent letters to the U.S. Treasury Department and the NRA requesting information about the group’s ties to Putin allies. Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, should do the same.
The public has the right to know if the NRA served as a backdoor for Putin’s sabotage of the election — especially given the NRA’s role in lobbying Congress and state governments, and funding political campaigns. Did the NRA receive any money from Russia-linked individuals or entities? Did it facilitate meetings between Russians and members of the Trump campaign? To what end?
As a nonprofit organization, the NRA is not required to disclose its donors. Congress should change that law. Regardless, thorough answers from the NRA to each of these questions could resolve any doubts about its conduct, even if they also show that the group chooses its friends poorly.
Russia’s sabotage of the 2016 election was an attack on American democracy. It should be easy enough for the NRA to show that it played no role in that assault. So far, it hasn’t taken the opportunity to do so.
— Bloomberg View