The National Rifle Association (NRA) might not want to answer any questions about its ties to Russia. But a series of reports over the past few days provide new insight into how the gun lobby first became acquainted with Alexander Torshin — a Russian operative accused of massive money laundering — and how Torshin helped build up a series of bizarre ties between Moscow and the NRA.
On Tuesday, The Tennessean reported that the NRA first met Torshin through the help of a Nashville-based lawyer named Kline Preston. According to the report, Preston considers Torshin a “longtime friend,” despite the latter’s close links to the Kremlin and Russian officials sanctioned by the United States.
In 2011, Preston connected Torshin with David Keene, former president of the NRA — and a member of the NRA’s notorious 2015 trip to Moscow — due to Torshin’s “strong interest in gun rights.” In 2015, Torshin joined Keene and Preston at the NRA convention, and even “enjoyed an evening at an Alan Jackson concert, Preston said.”
Preston told The Tennessean that any allegations that Torshin helped funnel Russian money to the NRA in the hopes of supporting Donald Trump’s campaign were “probably false.” Preston — whose Twitter feed is saturated with Russian propaganda outlets and numerous conspiracy theorists — also claimed that Torshin was “not anti-American in any way.”
As long as US is electing foreign-born presidents, I propose Vladimir Vladimirivich Putin. pic.twitter.com/2Dg98f3eIt
— Kline Preston (@gittinpaid) September 7, 2013
Putin sets example for U.S. in crackdown on foreign funding of NGOs. Foreign influences must be prevented! Молодец Владимир Владимирович!
— Kline Preston (@gittinpaid) March 29, 2013
@AlanCullison Your latest hit piece on Russia lacks integrity. US observers said last 3 elections were fair and free!
— Kline Preston (@gittinpaid) November 6, 2016
However, Preston may not the best judge of character — or political realities. Over the past week, Preston traveled throughout Russia to act as an “independent” international observer for Russia’s most recent sham election, which saw Putin effectively crowned for another six years.
The election was neither free nor fair, with rampant ballot-stuffing and carousel voting — to say nothing of blocking leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny from running — marring the election results.
But that didn’t matter to Preston. According to Russian state media, Preston saw the election as “honest, open, and trustworthy,” adding that “Putin’s crushing victory is a clear sign of trust in his policy and leadership.”
In another video, Preston claimed that he “didn’t see any complaints” from voters.
While observing the Russian elections — and helping whitewash Putin’s regime — isn’t, on its face, illegal, RIA Novosti also reported that Preston observed “elections” in Crimea, which remains occupied by Russia. While in Crimea, Preston proclaimed that “Crimea is yours… Crimea was, is, and will be Russian.”
It’s also worth noting, as The Tennessean found, that Preston appears close with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who is also one of his clients. Preston told The Tennessean that he was “close” to Blackburn, and that they’d been “family friends” for a “long time.”