Senate Democrats claim to have evidence that suggests the Kremlin used the National Rifle Association to funnel money to boost Donald Trump’s candidacy during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
And they are demanding to talk to two Russians about their role, including Maria Butina, a fiery red-haired Russian gun activist who founded the Right to Bear Arms, the Russian equivalent of the NRA.
‘The Committee has obtained a number of documents that suggest the Kremlin used the National Rifle Association as a means of accessing and assisting Mr. Trump and his campaign,’ Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee said in a release that outlined their preliminary findings in their investigation of potential Russian influence on the election.
It is illegal for foreign money to be used to influence federal elections.
Trump has close ties to the NRA. The pro-gun group endorsed him early in his campaign and the president repaid that loyalty with two successive appearances at its national convention, the most recent just this month.
President Trump spoke to NRA members at its annual convention in Dallas earlier this month. The NRA endorsed him early in his campaign and he’s returned that loyalty with back-to-back appearances at its national conventions.
Marina Butina, a Russian gun-rights activist, founded the Russian version of the NRA and brags on social media about her support for guns and for the National Rifle Association.
Senate Democrats say they have documents that suggest Russian nationals with ties to the NRA funneled money to the group to influence the election and also tried to set up a meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Democrats claim two individuals appear to be involved in the election effort: Russian nationals Alexander Torshin and Butina.
Butina worked as an assistant to Torshin, the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia.
She’s traveled to NRA events and posted photos to her social media accounts of her holding guns. She has also started a business with former Trump adviser Paul Erickson.
Both Butina and Torshin have ‘longstanding ties’ to former NRA president David Keene.
The Democrats also charge that during the 2016 election, Torshin, Butina and their intermediaries ‘repeatedly offered’ the Trump campaign back channels to Russia and relayed requests from Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet with Trump.
‘The extent of Russia’s use of the NRA as an avenue for connecting with and potentially supporting the Trump campaign needs examination,’ the Democrats said, adding that Butina, Torshin and Erickson ‘have refused to cooperate.’
‘Requests for documents and staff interviews have been sent to Ms. Butina, Mr. Erickson, and Mr. Keene, but they have refused to cooperate,’ the Democrats noted.
DailyMail.com has reached out to the NRA for comment.
The NRA spent at least $30 million on the president election in 2016, either to boost Trump or attack Hillary Clinton, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Overall, the NRA and its affiliated PACs spent at least $54 million on the 2016 contest, the Center for Responsive Politics notes.
The NRA spent at least $30 million on the president election in 2016, either to boost Trump or attack Hillary Clinton, according to the Center for Responsive Politics .
Trump made his second appearance as president at an NRA convention earlier this month in Dallas where he rejected calls for stricter gun laws after a high school massacre in Parkland, Florida, left 17 students dead.
He brought the 80,000 plus crowd to their feet by vowing to protect gun rights, saying the Second Amendment will ‘never ever be under siege as long as I am your president.
The president has also praised the pro-gun group as ‘a great organization that loves this country.’
‘The NRA is a truly great organization that loves this country,’ he told reporters on Air Force One while he was in route to Dallas. ‘And we have a record crowd. You probably heard, the people are lined up for long distances.’
The charge from Senate Democrats is not the first hint there were concerns about the alleged ties between Russia and the NRA.
In January, McClatchy reported the FBI was investigating whether Torshin funneled money to the NRA to help Trump.
And last month, the Federal Election Commission launched an investigation into whether Russian entities gave illegal campaign contributions to the NRA to be used during the election, Politico reported.
The Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee also charged the Trump team with misleading the public regarding its ties to Russia.
‘The Trump campaign, transition team, and Administration have repeatedly denied any contacts with Russian interests, despite the clear existence of such contacts. President Trump and his associates have also made misleading statements,’ they said.