- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2018

The National Rifle Association says its review has found no evidence that the gun rights group received illegal foreign money, including from Russia, for the 2016 election in supporting Donald Trump.

The NRA sent a detailed letter last week to Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat and member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, in response to a Jan. 18 McClatchy news story that strongly implied an illegality occurred. It said the FBI was investigating whether a Kremlin- and mob-connected Russian banker named Alexander Torshin had funneled huge sums of money into the NRA’s political action committee.

The McClatchy story has been cited, aggregated and promoted by a number of liberal news websites and pundits. One headline for The National Memo on Monday blared, “Don’t Forget: The ‘Patriotic’ NRA Is Under Investigation For Kremlin Connections.”

The NRA denies the McClatchy charge.

“Our review of our records has found no foreign donations in connection with a United States election, either directly or through a conduit,” NRA Secretary and General Counsel John C. Frazer said in the March 19 letter to Mr. Wyden.

In a shorter letter on Feb. 15, Mr. Frazer said, “There has been no contact between the FBI and the NRA.”

Besides McClatchy, Glenn Simpson, co-founder of the investigative firm Fusion GPS, has pushed the Russia-NRA conspiracy narrative. Mr. Simpson has extensive ties to Washington reporters. He hired British ex-spy Christopher Steele with Democratic Party money to produce the infamous dossier that fueled the ongoing Trump-Russia collusion investigation.

The McClatchy story strongly implied that illegal Russian money enabled the NRA to spend $30 million in support of gun-owner rights advocate Donald Trump in 2016 — three times the amount it had spent on 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

The story did not offer any direct proof. No one in the story reported knowledge of such illegal foreign contributions.

The story said that Mr. Torshin is suspected of money laundering in Spain. He has ties to NRA leaders as a lifetime foreign member, and he attended an NRA convention in May 2016. The banker helped create the Russian group Right to Bear Arms. NRA-affiliated people have twice traveled to Russia to network with Right to Bear Arms members.

Mr. Wyden sent the NRA two inquiries, and Mr. Frazer responded in two letters.

Mr. Frazer’s main points: “Contributions are carefully monitored in order to comply with Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission regulations. Significant contributions from unknown entities are vetted to ensure the legitimacy of donors The National Rifle Association has strong policies and practices to ensure that we raise and spend for funds within the bounds of the law.”

No foreign money found its way into the NRA PAC, the Political Victory Fund, in 2015-2016, he said.

“As a longstanding policy to comply with federal election law, the NRA and its related entities do not accept funds from foreign persons or entities in connection with United States elections,” Mr. Frazer said.

The NRA is legally allowed, as are other organizations “for many years,” to accept foreign donations via memberships for non-election purposes. The amounts are not significant. The NRA also has received funds from the U.S. subsidiaries of foreign-owned companies or from U.S. companies with foreigners in management.

Said Mr. Frazer: “None of those entities or individuals is connected with Russia and none of their contributions were made in connection with U.S. elections.”

J. Steven Hart, general counsel to the NRA’s board of directors, told The Washington Times that the foreign money that does come into the organization is from membership dues, adding that most foreign members are Canadian.

“We allow foreigners to buy foreign membership, non-U.S. citizenship, into the NRA,” said Mr. Hart, pegging dues at between $50 and $1,000. “They cannot vote in the NRA elections We watch this very carefully. It’s really small dollars.”

“There’s absolutely no evidence” that Mr. Torshin, an NRA noncitizen member, funneled money into the NRA’s PAC, he said. “It’s actually impossible under our system. We actually have a very sophisticated system to prevent foreign money from coming in, not because of Russia, but because we can’t let it in.”

The Torshin connection?

For years, the NRA has been a liberal target, especially now in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, high school massacre and the group’s determination to fight new gun control laws that it says threaten the Second Amendment.

Besides Mr. Wyden, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has started her own Russia collusion investigation. Since last year, she has sent a series of letters to Trump associates. She wants them to submit to staff interviews and produce documents. Some requests related to Mr. Torshin.

One of her letters went to David Keene, former editorial page editor of The Washington Times and now a columnist. Mr. Keene was NRA president in 2011-2013 and chairman of the American Conservative Union in from 1984 to 2011. He traveled to Moscow in December 2015 for a Right to Bear Arms meeting.

One of those interviewed by Ms. Feinstein’s staff is J.D. Gordon, a Trump campaign national security adviser and former Pentagon spokesman. He told The Times that he was asked about the NRA and Mr. Torshin, and answered that he had no contact with either.

“I hope for McClatchy’s sake, they have good lawyers,” Mr. Gordon said. “Their baseless and defamatory hit piece on the NRA underscores the need for a second special counsel who can investigate classified and sensitive leaks from law enforcement authorities, the Congress and the media. It’s high time this protracted inquisition against scores of innocent people is halted and the offending parties punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

McClatchy’s two sources for the report that the FBI was investigating Mr. Torshin for allegedly providing huge sums to the NRA were not identified by name or profession.

At a closed Nov. 14 appearance before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Fusion’s Mr. Simpson asserted that Russia had “infiltrated” the NRA. The piece of evidence appears to be Mr. Torshin’s membership and the Right to Bear Arms group formed by a mysterious Russian, Maria Butina, who has forged ties with NRA people.

Asked by a Democrat about the NRA, Mr. Simpson said: “I think that most of what we have found is pretty much out there now. You know, it’s been said by others, but, you know, what eventually — it appears the Russians, you know, infiltrated the NRA. And there is more than one explanation for why. But I would say, broadly speaking, it appears that the Russian operation was designed to infiltrate conservative organizations. And they targeted various conservative organizations, religious and otherwise, and they seem to have made a very concerted effort to get in with the NRA.

“And so there is a Russian banker-slash-Duma member-slash-Mafia leader named Alexander Torshin who is a life member of the NRA. And we spent a lot of time investigating Mr. Torshin. And he is well known to Spanish law enforcement for money-laundering activity, and you have probably seen the press articles. And I think the Spanish files on him should be available to you. And he, as you know, was supposed to have a meeting with President Trump after the inauguration. And somebody noticed that there had been some stories about him that weren’t pretty good.”

Of the Russian group Right to Bear arms, Mr. Simpson said: “And the thing I found, you know, the most absurd about this is that, you know, [Russian President] Vladimir Putin is not in favor of universal gun ownership for Russians. And so it’s all a big charade, basically.”

The committee released a transcript of Mr. Simpson’s testimony the same day the McClatchy story appeared — Jan. 18.

The story said: “The extent to which the FBI has evidence of money flowing from Torshin to the NRA, or of the NRA’s participation in the transfer of funds, could not be learned.

“However, the NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Trump — triple what the group devoted to backing Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race.”

Most of that was money was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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