Several prominent Russians, some from President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle or high in the Russian Orthodox Church, had provable and significant contacts with National Rifle Association officials during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, as found by a McClatchy Report today, citing photographs and an NRA source.
The details emerged through a widening Justice Department investigation into whether Russian banker and lifetime NRA member Alexander Torshin illegally channeled money through the gun rights group in direct support of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.
Toshin was not the only highly influential Russian to meet with NRA executives during the campaign, Dmitry Rogozin, who had served as a deputy prime minister with oversight of Russian military defense forces until just last month, and Sergei Rudov, president of St. Basil the Great Charitable Foundation, one of Russia’s largest “charities,” launched by an ultra-nationalist ally of Russian President Putin.
The meetings took place primarily in Moscow conference rooms and restaurants, but now U.S. investigators want to know if relationships evolved into another prong in the Kremlin’s broad election-interference operation here in the United States.
Even as the contacts took place, Kremlin cyber operatives were secretly hacking top Democrats’ emails and barraging Americans’ social media accounts with fake news stories aimed at damaging the image of Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton and boosting the prospects of Republican Donald Trump.
It is a crime, potentially punishable with prison time, to donate or use foreign money in U.S. election campaigns.
A photograph taken during a 2015 trip to Russia by leaders of the powerful group showed them meeting with Torshin, Rogozin and Rudov, and a source knowledgeable about the visit confirmed the gathering. The source spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid damaging relationships.