An email turned over to Capitol Hill investigators and described to the New York Times provides evidence that Russia sought to build a relationship with the Trump campaign and suggests that the National Rifle Association (NRA) sought to serve as a liaison to establish a “Kremlin Connection,” according to a Times’ report on Sunday.
In May of 2016, an NRA member by the name of Paul Erickson reportedly reached out to Trump campaign adviser Rick Dearborn, seeking advice from both Dearborn and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) about how to connect then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The email stated that Russia was “quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S.” and would attempt to make “first contact” at the NRA’s national convention that month via Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of the Russian central bank with close ties to Putin. As the Times notes, that was not the only overture Russian officials made to the Trump campaign around that time.
“Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump,” Erickson said in the email. “He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election. Let’s talk through what has transpired and Senator Sessions’s advice on how to proceed.” Erickson claimed the reach of the NRA had put him in a position to “slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin’s Kremlin.”
As ThinkProgress reported last year, the NRA has been cultivating ties with Russia for several years, primarily through a group called The Right to Bear Arms, which is essentially the NRA’s Russian counterpart. Torshin, who is also an NRA life member, was considered an honorary member of the Russian group, and spoke at a welcome reception when it hosted a delegation of NRA leaders in late 2015.
The budding relationship between the NRA and its Russian counterpart may, for example, explain why the NRA criticized the Obama administration over sanctions against Russia in 2014. Just a few weeks after that statement was issued, The Right To Bear Arms hosted Erickson, also a “life member,” for an open meeting in Moscow. Less than two years later, Erickson was emailing the Trump campaign to establish contact with Torshin.
According to the Times, neither Trump nor his campaign officials attended the dinner where Torshin planned to establish that “Kremlin connection,” (the email’s subject line), but Donald Trump, Jr. and Torshin attended a separate NRA dinner that same night.
Sessions reportedly told the House Intelligence Committee that he did not recall the outreach. Dearborn likewise did not respond to the Times’ requests for comment, and White House attorney Ty Cobb declined to comment on behalf of the administration.