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NRA admits to receiving foreign funds, but Sen. Wyden wants more answers

Oregon senator demands answers to questions NRA continues dodging.

The NRA, led by CEO Wayne LaPierre, continues to dodge questions about financing it received from Russia or Russian nationals. CREDIT: GETTY / TOM WILLIAMS
The NRA, led by CEO Wayne LaPierre, continues to dodge questions about financing it received from Russia or Russian nationals. CREDIT: GETTY / TOM WILLIAMS

A pair of letters released on Tuesday reveal that the National Rifle Association (NRA) has received foreign funds, calling into question that much further the tens of millions of dollars the NRA donated to the Donald Trump campaign — money that came from an arm of the NRA not required to reveal the identities of its donors.

In the NRA’s response to questions from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), written by general counsel John Frazer and dated March 19, the group says it received “no significant contributions to any NRA entities sent from any foreign address or drawn [from] any foreign financial institution” in 2015-2016. However, the group did receive contributions “from U.S. subsidiaries of foreign entities,” but added that “none of those entities or individuals is connected with Russia.”

The NRA  denied that any of the contributions “were made in connection with U.S. elections” — but it also admitted to transfers between the group’s assorted financial accounts “as permitted by law,” making the tracing of these funds, and their original proprietorship, far more difficult.

As before, the response didn’t satisfy Wyden. “In your recent letter, you chose not to fully answer this [finance-related] question with respect to expenditures not subject to [Federal Election Commission] disclosure requirements,” Wyden wrote. He also repeated his request for financial information pertaining to the NRA’s foreign funding, asking for records pertaining to expenditures and communications.

Wyden also requested information about the NRA’s notorious 2015 trip to Moscow, which included NRA mega-donor Joe Gregory and a handful of NRA higher-ups meeting with sanctioned Russian officials. Frazer denied that Gregory was an NRA employee, referring to him as a charter member of the NRA’s “Golden Ring of Freedom Program,” who “traveled to Russia in his personal capacity.” Frazer also denied that any Russian nationals “have ever been members of the Golden Ring of Freedom program.”

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That doesn’t square with available evidence, however — nor did it address Wyden’s request for information pertaining to “other related donor programs.” In a series of photos from 2016, the NRA’s primary Russian contact, Alexander Torshin — a Russian official accused of a leading role in massive money laundering operations in Spain — was spotted wearing the “Ring of Freedom” badge.

Continued questions

The letters — and the NRA’s continued choice not to respond to Wyden’s requests for information — only fuel questions regarding the ties the NRA has maintained in Russia over the past few years.

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Earlier this month, ThinkProgress investigated the pro-Kremlin leanings of Kline Preston, the Nashville-based lawyer who initially put NRA officials in contact with Torshin. In addition to recently praising the re-election of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a series of tweets from Preston unearthed and translated by ThinkProgress call further into question his own role in helping build a bridge between Russia and the NRA.

Preston, unlike many of the other figures in the drama swirling the NRA, hasn’t been shy about his pro-Kremlin leanings. In the midst of Russia’s invasion of southern Ukraine in 2014, Preston tweeted: “Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] simply WELL DONE!! Crimea is Russia!! It was and will be!”

In another, Preston exclaims that the Donetsk People’s Republic — a Russia-backed enclave in eastern Ukraine — “will win!”

For good measure, Preston’s Facebook page is littered with material from Russian propaganda outlets — including, of all things, Pravda — as well as a number of neo-Confederate posts. He even posted material from the page of Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

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Preston hasn’t yet been mentioned in any of the letters between Wyden and the NRA, but his role presents yet another raft of questions suddenly facing the gun lobby. Given the NRA’s ongoing unwillingness to answer Wyden’s questions, it may be a matter of time before he makes a cameo.