NEW YORK – In a stunning reversal, the NRA has admitted to ABC News that it took money from Alexander Torshin, the Russian official and Vladimir Putin ally who is reportedly at the center of an FBI probe into “whether Russian money went to [the] NRA to help Trump” in 2016. The admission follows the NRA’s March 19 letter to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), in which the NRA’s General Counsel stated that the NRA received no money from “entities or individuals” connected to Russia during 2015-2016.
ABC’s reporting also comes a week after NPR reported that incoming National Security Advisor John Bolton — who previously headed the NRA’s international affairs subcommittee — recorded a video for Torshin’s Russian gun group praising “a new era of freedom” in Russia, and encouraging Russia’s government to loosen gun laws.
STATEMENT FROM JOHN FEINBLATT, PRESIDENT OF EVERYTOWN FOR GUN SAFETY:
“With every twist and turn, the story only gets worse for the NRA. After months of dodging questions, the NRA has admitted it took money from one of Putin’s top allies, who is reportedly under FBI investigation. Now Americans are wondering when the next shoe will drop. Instead of this drip, drip, drip, the NRA should do itself a favor and come clean once and for all about its ties to Russian interests.”
The National Rifle Association tells ABC News that it has received a single contribution from a Russian individual of less than $1,000 during the 2012-2018 election cycle.
“We have one contribution from a Russian,” Steven Hart, outside counsel to the NRA, said in an interview with ABC News.
Hart said it was the “life membership payment” made by Alexander Torshin, a Russian politician who contributed to the NRA’s non-profit parent organization which is not required by law to disclose the donation. Hart added, “The donation was the person’s membership dues” and was not used for election-related activities. “That was not a major donor program,” he said.
NRA General Counsel John C. Frazer, in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, made public Tuesday, said the gun-rights group accepted foreign donations, though not for electioneering purposes. The group’s disclosure that it received only one donation is new.
Wyden, top Democrat on the Finance Committee and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, originally wrote to the NRA following published media reports in January that said the FBI has been investigating whether Russian money illegally flowed through the NRA and into the campaign coffers of then-candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race.
It is illegal for a foreign national to contribute to a U.S. campaign, according to the Federal Election Commission; however, it is not illegal for a foreign national to contribute to other causes. The money cannot be used for electioneering, per election law.
Contributions to an organization’s advocacy arm do not have to be disclosed.
McClatchy’s Washington Bureau first reported that federal investigators were looking specifically at the activities of Alexander Torshin, a Putin-connected Russian banker who is an NRA member. He reportedly traveled to the NRA convention in Kentucky in 2016.
Following that January report, the Federal Election Commission launched a probe, and Congress also took notice, including Senate Intelligence Committee investigators looking more broadly at Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, according to a congressional source with knowledge of the inquiry.
Hart told ABC News he has not been contacted by the FBI and insists that the entire matter is made up.