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The NRA tried to dodge questions about its ties to Russia, but Congress isn’t done yet

Sen. Wyden sends another letter to the NRA after the gun advocacy group dodged his previous queries about ties to Russia.

A photo shared by Russian Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin (right), then under U.S. sanctions, which appears to show him standing alongside the NRA's Joe Gregory, Pete Brownell, and David Keene in Moscow in Dec. 2015. (CREDIT: TWITTER)
A photo shared by Russian Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin (right), then under U.S. sanctions, which appears to show him standing alongside the NRA's Joe Gregory, Pete Brownell, and David Keene in Moscow in Dec. 2015. (CREDIT: TWITTER)

Over the past month Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has been pressing the National Rifle Association (NRA) for answers about money it may have received from the Kremlin or Russian nationals. The NRA, thus far, has tried to stonewall the senator — but Wyden isn’t letting up just yet.

After the NRA dodged his previous questions about its ties to Russia, the senator sent a new round of questions to the group on Monday. Wyden requested information on the structure of the NRA’s election-related expenditures, as well as information about the group’s notorious December 2015 trip to Moscow, where NRA higher-ups met with sanctioned Russian officials.

The letter follows recent revelations about the FBI investigating potential financial ties between Russian nationals and the NRA, especially in light of the $30 million the NRA donated to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign — money that came from a segment of the organization that isn’t required to disclose donors.

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The FBI’s investigation has centered on the role Alexander Torshin, a Russian politico who is close to President Vladimir Putin, played in potential financing. Torshin — who describes himself as a “life member of [the] NRA” — was identified by Spanish investigators as a key player in Russian money laundering in Europe. For good measure, Torshin claims he met Trump through the NRA.

In a February letter, Wyden requested documents pertaining to any contributions from Russia or Russian nationals to the NRA, notably focusing on “Russian-backed shell companies” and “real estate ownership documentation.” (Wyden also sent a letter to the Treasury Department on the topic in February, but a spokesperson for the senator told ThinkProgress that Treasury hasn’t yet replied.)

The NRA’s response to Wyden, however, effectively ignored the senator’s request, with secretary and general counsel John Frazer writing simply that “the NRA and its related entities do not accept funds from foreign persons or entities in connection with United States elections.”

At no point in Frazer’s letter did he deny that the NRA had received funding from the Kremlin.

As Wyden notes in his latest letter, the NRA’s lack of response has only led to greater concerns. “I remain concerned about the inability to get clear answers to several questions about the possibility that Russian actors funneled foreign funds into NRA electioneering activity,” Wyden wrote this week. “Clear answers to these questions are a matter of national security, campaign finance law, and American sovereignty.”

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Now, though, Wyden isn’t simply looking for information about any potential financial links between the NRA and Russia. Rather, he has expanded his request to include information on how the NRA ensures potential foreign donations aren’t funneled, wittingly or otherwise, to support domestic electoral campaigns. The senator requested information on “the steps [the NRA] takes to ensure that domestic entities donating funds are not owned or controlled by foreign nationals,” as well as how the NRA vets donors in the first place.

Moscow monies

In addition to any possible financial ties, the new letter shows Wyden is interested in another bizarre link between the NRA and Russia. In 2015, a series of NRA officials — including NRA donor Joe Gregory,  current NRA president Pete Brownell, and former NRA president David Keene, alongside Trump booster Sheriff David Clarke — took an ignominious trip to Moscow, allegedly as a fact-finding mission regarding gun rights in Russia.

The timing of the trip would have been more than enough to merit questions. However, it also appears that the NRA crew made time to meet with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin — a far-right Russian official sanctioned by the U.S. for his role in Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

According to a series of photos shared by Rogozin on his Twitter account, which is now private, the sanctioned Russian official can be seen chatting with Clarke — with Torshin apparently sitting alongside — as well as smiling next to Keene, Brownell, and Gregory. (The trip was Keene’s second venture to Moscow linked to Torshin over the past few years.)

In a series of photos he posted on Twitter. Rogozin, under sanctions from the U.S., can be seen hobnobbing with NRA higher-ups, including donors, boosters, and current and former presidents. (CREDIT: TWITTER)

Wyden, as it is, focused on Gregory’s role in the trip in his latest letter. As the senator noted, Gregory was recently listed as one of the NRA’s top donors, as well as a member of the NRA’s “Golden Ring of Freedom,” itself a group of “elite donors who chip in checks of $1 million and upwards.”

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While Gregory’s profile was recently removed from the NRA’s website, his previous biography listed him as one of the “charter” members of the “Golden Ring of Freedom” group. The NRA also described him a few years ago as the “chairman” of the “Golden Ring of Freedom.”

In his letter, Wyden requested information on “any Russian nationals” who were part of the “Golden Ring of Freedom” — or any other related donor programs — as well as information on the “purpose of Mr. Gregory’s December 2015 trip to Moscow.”

Torshin, meanwhile, has disputed any allegations that he acted as a conduit for Russian monies to the NRA. He tweeted a few weeks ago that he’s still “waiting” on “concrete evidence” of any links.

Still, Torshin, who has described Keene as a “friend,” doesn’t seem to have made much attempt to obscure his NRA ties. Torshin’s Twitter feed boasts a trove of NRA-related material, including a 2012 tweet of a plaque reading “Freedom Isn’t Free.”

Gregory has so far not commented on his trip to Russia. But as his former NRA biography notes, echoing Torshin’s tweet: “Freedom is never free.”