The tangled web of the NRA, Russia, and Tennessee politics

Doug Grindstaff worked for years with Kline Preston on multiple other campaigns.

Doug Grindstaff, pictured here with his wife, had an extensive history with the man who brought the NRA and Russia together—and is now trying to elect Marsha Blackburn's replacement. CREDIT: YOUTUBE
Doug Grindstaff, pictured here with his wife, had an extensive history with the man who brought the NRA and Russia together—and is now trying to elect Marsha Blackburn's replacement. CREDIT: YOUTUBE

It turns out Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) isn’t the only prominent figure in Tennessee politics with close ties to G. Kline Preston IV, the lawyer who first introduced the National Rifle Association (NRA) to Russian officials who are now sanctioned.

According to documents obtained by ThinkProgress, Preston worked for multiple years, and on multiple campaigns, with another longtime Tennessee politico, Doug Grindstaff.

From 2003 to 2008, while Preston was serving as the president of “Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc.”, Grindstaff served on the group’s board of directors. In fact, he was the only person listed on the group’s board for all three congressional campaigns.

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Therefore, of the four people listed as the leadership of “Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc.,” one was Blackburn’s husband, one was Grindstaff, and one was Preston — the latter of whom said he was serving as the group’s president while he was also liaising between Alexander Torshin, a Russian official accused of massive money-laundering operations, and the NRA’s top brass.

Now, Grindstaff has a new position in Tennessee politics: campaign treasurer for Mark Green, the Republican state senator hoping to replace Blackburn as she vacates her seat to run for U.S. Senate.

In a release last October, Green announced that Grindstaff, “a renowned business executive and Republican leader,” had joined as campaign treasurer. According to Green, Grindstaff “is widely recognized for his leadership in building the Republican Party in Tennessee.”

Federal Election Commission (FEC) documents confirm that Grindstaff joined the campaign as treasurer.

There is no indication Preston introduced Grindstaff to Torshin, who escaped arrest in Spain in 2013 and has suspected ties to the Russian mafia. (Preston did say, though, that he introduced “Russian Government Officials” to one of the founders of CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, one of the U.S.’s most notorious private prison companies.)

Neither Green nor Grindstaff responded to ThinkProgress’ requests for comment.

Green with questions

Grindstaff has been a player in and around Nashville politics for years, where he’s lived and worked for a quarter-century.

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Like Blackburn and Preston, Grindstaff has had his base in Brentwood, a tony suburb just outside Nashville. Not only is his address listed in Brentwood — an address listed on the same forms that show him working with Preston, all while Preston was building up his network in Russia — but a 2012 video shows Grindstaff discussing all the amenities his house offers. (The style, his wife said, is “French, but elegant.”)

Per Green’s release, Grindstaff was also “the founder of a PAC that funded much of the Republican majority takeover of the [Tennessee] House in 2008 and 2010.”

Despite his ties to Preston, Grindstaff has a less checkered past than Green, the front-runner to replace Blackburn this fall.

A current state senator, Green burst into national news last year when President Donald Trump nominated him for Army secretary. Green was forced to withdraw his candidacy, however, when anti-LGBTQ comments he made came to light, including describing transgender individuals as people with a “disease.”

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Green has also said he does not “tolerate” the teaching of the “pillars of Islam” in American schools. Green, who is a creationist, has since claimed he withdrew his nomination because of “attacks on his Christian faith.”

Blackburn and Green “are cut from the same cloth,” Justin Kanew, the Democratic challenger for Blackburn’s seat, told ThinkProgress. “If you’re too extreme for this administration, you’re probably too extreme for our district.”

As it is, Blackburn is currently struggling in her Senate race against former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D). Regardless of the outcome of her race, however, the relationship between Preston, Grindstaff, and Green means Tennessee Republican operatives will still have puzzling ties to the ongoing FBI investigation into the NRA and sanctioned Russian officials.

Torshin, meanwhile, tweeted last year that Tennessee is his “favorite state in the U.S.”

And given that a fake Russian Twitter account purporting to be the Tennessee Republican Party was the seventh-most mentioned account on Election Day 2016, Preston’s ties to numerous Tennessee politicians only continues to raise more questions than it answers.