- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Federal Election Commission chairwoman wants to start a probe into the National Rifle Association and Russia based on allegations pushed by Fusion GPS, the investigative firm that created the discredited anti-Trump dossier.

In 2016, Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn R. Simpson specifically pitched an NRA-Russia money connection to the FBI through an intermediary who happened to be one of the highest-ranking Justice Department lawyers.

In her press release announcing that Republican members blocked an investigation, FEC Chair Ellen L. Weintraub, a Democrat, cited the reporting of McClatchy news service as a credible source on which to launch a probe.

McClatchy stories on Trump-Russia generally have followed allegations made by Mr. Simpson.

After a Fusion messenger briefed the FBI, McClatchy published a story in January 2018. It said the FBI was investigating the NRA and implied that the gun-rights group took illegal Russian campaign money.

The story offered no proof. There has been no independent reporting that the investigation exists.

Using money from the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, Mr. Simpson hired former British spy Christopher Steele, who produced a dossier in 2016 that made 13 conspiracy charges against President Trump and his associates.

None has proved true. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report refuted most of them.

The dossier asserted that Mr. Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen traveled to Prague in August 2016 to meet with top aides of Russian President Vladimir Putin to secretly orchestrate a Trump-Kremlin conspiracy. Mr. Steele’s sources were exclusively Kremlin intelligence figures, his dossier says.

McClatchy also has promoted the Prague conspiracy. Cohen, now in prison on campaign and tax fraud convictions, has steadfastly denied he went to Prague. The Mueller report said he did not.

The NRA subsequently sent letters to U.S. senators saying it had scrubbed all campaign contributions and found no Russia money. A spokesman told The Washington Times that the organization had not been contacted by the FBI or the Justice Department.

“Our review of our records has found no foreign donations in connection with a United States election, either directly or through a conduit,” the NRA said in March 2018.

Ms. Weintraub criticized Republican commission members for citing the NRA’s internal review as a reason not to open an inquiry.

“My Republican colleagues and the Commission’s attorneys erred in relying upon the NRA’s own internal review of its donations, which, to the surprise of no one, failed to identify any substantial foreign donations,” she said.

Ms. Weintraub’s suspicions are based partly on the presence of Russian central bank official Alexander Torshin, an NRA lifetime member close to Mr. Putin. His former assistant, Maria Butina, a Russian gun rights advocate, pleaded guilty to failing to register as a foreign agent for her country.

In her federal prosecution, there was no allegation that Butina was involved in any illegal Russian campaign donations.

Ms. Weintraub said an FEC-filed complaint “credibly alleged that an extraordinarily significant violation of the Act may have occurred. Further investigation was and is required. But the FEC’s Republican commissioners blocked the Commission from enforcing the law on a complaint alleging a serious threat to our country’s democracy.”

The FEC chairwoman also floated a conspiracy for which there is no public evidence.

“Note that Russia’s money could have traveled along a variety of pathways into the NRA’s coffers without the NRA’s knowledge (by the use of, e.g., cut-out donors),” she said. “All these paths are alarming from the aspect of foreign money in our elections, but not all of them implicate the NRA in wrongdoing.”

In November 2017, Fusion’s Mr. Simpson told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that Mr. Torshin, whom he described as a banker, money launderer and mafia leader, and Butina were part of a Russian effort to infiltrate the NRA.

“I would say, broadly speaking, it appears that the Russian operation was designed to infiltrate conservative organizations,” Mr. Simpson said. “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.”

Mr. Simpson’s pitch to the FBI was conducted by Bruce Ohr, then an associate deputy attorney general. His wife, Nellie, worked at Fusion as a Russia analyst investigating candidate Trump.

Mr. Ohr regularly provided an FBI agent with Fusion’s allegations, including those from Mr. Steele.

The agent’s notes on his December 2016 interview of Mr. Ohr said: “Torshin may have funneled Russian money to the National Rifle Association (NRA) to use in support of Trump. An NRA lawyer found out about the money pipeline and was very upset, but the election was over by the time she learned of it. Simpson stated there are pictures of Torshin with Trump. Simpson provided Ohr with an article on the NRA and Torsion. The article is an attachment to this document.

“Some of Simpson’s staff believe the NRA spent an abnormally large amount of money during the election, possibly indicating Russian involvement, but others in his company disagree,” the notes read.

McClatchy subsequently published a story under the headline “Lawyer who worked for NRA said to have had concerns about group’s Russia ties.”

Like other McClatchy stories with a Fusion GPS theme, this article was written by Peter Stone and Greg Gordon.

Cleta Mitchell, the “NRA lawyer,” condemned the McClatchy story as completely false. She vehemently denied knowing about any Russian money or expressing any concerns. The lawyer had not been associated with the NRA since 2012.

Republicans say that if there was a political party that accepted Russian meddling, it was the Democratic Party.

Democrats financed the Kremlin-sourced dossier. Clinton operatives spread its allegations all over Washington to journalists, the Justice Department, the FBI, the White House and the State Department.

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