Friday, January 19, 2018

FBI probing whether Russians gave to NRA to help Trump

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating whether a Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money through the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump become president, Peter Stone and Greg Gordon report for McClatchy Newspapers. It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.

Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia's central bank, has a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has been implicated in a money-laundering scheme in Spain in 2016. A nearly 500-page report in the Spanish investigation called him a "godfather" in major Russian criminal organization called Taganskaya. Torshin is also a lifetime NRA member, and hosted two dinners for a high-profile NRA delegation in Moscow in 2015, then met with Donald Trump Jr. at the NRA's 2016 convention in Louisville.

The convention meeting "matters because Torshin was involved, through an intermediary, in what was described in an email sent to Trump campaign aides as a 'Russian backdoor overture.' Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law, denied his request for a meeting with the candidate on an email chain that allegedly also included aides Rick Dearborn, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates," Julia Glum reports for Newsweek. "Senate investigators argued Tuesday that Kushner had not turned over the messages to them, as they'd requested as part of their probe into the Kremlin's meddling in the election. Kushner's attorney denied it."

Journalists can't determine the extent of the FBI's evidence for the claim, but the NRA spent a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Trump; that's three times more than the NRA gave to Mitt Romney in the 2012 race. Most of that money came from a part of the NRA that doesn't have to disclose its donors. They may have spent more like $70 million, according to sources close to the NRA, since groups don't have to report spending on internet ads or field operations like get-out-the-vote drives.

"It’s unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s campaign, has been heating up," Stone and Gordon report. "Torshin is among a phalanx of Putin proxies to draw the close attention of U.S. investigators, who also have tracked the activities of several Russian billionaires and pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs that have come in contact with Trump or his surrogate."

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