For an organization currently swamped with questions about its relationship with Russian donors, the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) announcement Monday, naming Oliver “Ollie” North as its next president, was a strange move.
After all, there are few figures in modern American history more closely tied to instances of working with foreign adversaries — and then lying about it, ad nauseum — than North. Nor are there any other groups, outside of those affiliated with Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, that have gotten as much recent attention for their bizarre ties with Russian funding sources.
North has flown under the radar over the past few years, appearing primarily on conservative radio and Fox News. But he is best known for his role in the Iran-Contra affair, which rocked Ronald Reagan’s second term and is often cited as the most prominent executive scandal since the days of Watergate — until the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia at least.
In the Trump Era, they love to revisit the worst intelligence failures of the past:
Gina Haspel: Torture
John Bolton: Iraq War
Ollie North: Iran Contra
— mieke eoyang (@MiekeEoyang) May 7, 2018
The Iran-Contra affair didn’t bring down Reagan, but it eventually embroiled a number of his closest advisers.
Briefly, the scandal involved the U.S. selling illegal arms to the Iranian regime, which was then waging a horrendous war against Iraq. A significant amount of the money generated from those sales was then redirected to the far-right Contras in Nicaragua. All of these dealings were kept from the American public, which only learned about the developments after a Congressional investigation into the transfers.
North, then working for the National Security Council, played a central role in the entire affair, leading the program to reallocate funds to the Contras — despite the fact that Congress had already passed legislation barring any aid to the group. When the revelations came to light, North was fired. He would later be sentenced on multiple counts, including destroying relevant documents and the obstruction of Congress.
The convictions never seemed to dampen North’s reputation, however — at least among American right-wing circles. (Reagan would, at one point, describe North as a “hero.”) As such, the fact that he was selected as NRA president is as unsurprising as it is indicative.
The timing of North’s hiring presents its own raft of questions — especially given the rolling revelations about the NRA’s relationship with a Russian official accused of massive money laundering, as well as Russian donations that may have been funneled to the Trump campaign.
North, as it is, has been something of a Russia hawk over the past few years, insofar as he was fine criticizing the Obama administration’s response to Moscow’s aggression over the past few years.
However, his position seems to have softened somewhere under the Trump administration. While North, unlike outgoing NRA President Pete Brownell, hasn’t taken recent trips to Moscow to meet with Russian officials already sanctioned by the U.S., North suggested last year that Trump may be able to circumvent current American sanctions against Russia — much as the Reagan administration did with Iran.
Ollie North says Trump can violate Congressional Russia sanctions law like he helped reagan do in iran contra https://t.co/eBpUJ4lRiB
— Laura Rozen (@lrozen) August 4, 2017
North, likewise, will have his hands full immediately dealing with the ongoing questions into the NRA’s ties with Russia. CNN reported in late April that the NRA was “setting aside years of documents related to its interactions” with Alexander Torshin, a Russian official sanctioned last month by the U.S.
Torshin, a lifelong member of the NRA, has been the primary conduit for tying the NRA to Russia. Added CNN, “Torshin’s years-long involvement with the NRA had all the hallmarks of a Russian influence operation, Russia experts said.”
Questions about ties between Russia and the NRA — including donations from Russians the NRA initially failed to disclose — have come primarily from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and the Federal Election Commission. Last week, Wyden decided to send the FEC all of the communications his office has had with the NRA — communications the NRA decided to end recently. Wyden’s missive to the FEC include all of the letters between Wyden’s office and the NRA, as well as the NRA’s announcement that it would no longer answer Wyden’s questions.
Wyden said the FEC will be able to use the documents for “use in any ongoing or future inquiries, regulatory action, legislative recommendations, or reports.”