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The Russia Investigation Just Got Bigger, And Republicans Are Still Working Against It

According to anonymous sources associated with the matter, the FBI is running an investigation on whether a Russian banker laundered money through the NRA for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

On January 18th, McClatchy journalists Peter Stone and Greg Gordon released a special report on the NRA money laundering accusations. According to the report, the investigation centers around Alexander Torshin (above), the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank and a leading senator in Putin’s United Russia Party. Torshin has been previously implicated in money laundering in Spain, allegedly using his political position to help move money through the banks. In 2017, the Madrid newspaper El Pais reported that the Spanish police attempted to arrest him in 2013 before a tip-off from a Russian prosecutor made him cancel his trip.

Torshin has connections to the NRA; he is a lifetime member of the organization, and has started a sister group in Russia, called Right To Bear Arms. In late 2015, he hosted two opulent dinners for an NRA delegation to Moscow that included meetings with influential Russian government and business figures. A year later, he allegedly attempted to make contact with Trump during an NRA convention in Kentucky. Just before the convention, NRA fundraiser Paul Erickson sent an email to Trump campaign aide Rick Dearborn titled “Kremlin Connection.” In the email, Erikson said that Russia planned to use the convention to make “first contact” with the Trump campaign.

The email was eventually forwarded to Trump’s advisor Jared Kushner (below), who advised the Trump campaign to “decline such meetings.” However, Kushner failed to disclose his knowledge of the message to Robert Mueller’s investigation. And although Torshin was unable to speak to Trump Sr. during the gala, he had a conversation with Trump Jr. over dinner. Alan Futerfas, one of Trump Jr.’s lawyers, says that the conversation was all “gun-related small talk.”

It’s still uncertain whether the snubbed Torshin turned to his NRA connections to funnel the money to Trump. Although it’s illegal to use foreign money to influence American elections, Republican measures in previous years against campaign finance restrictions and disclosure rules have made it potentially easier to do so. In the last election, the NRA reported that they had spent $30 million to support Trump directly, which is almost triple what the group put aside to support Mitt Romney four years previously. It’s impossible to know where that extra money came from since the 2010 Citizens’ United decision in 2010 means that 501(c)4 nonprofit organizations aren’t required to disclose donors. And the NRA, through a nonprofit arm, was the biggest c(4) spender in the recent election.

In implicating the NRA, the FBI may stir up more suspicion from the coalition of Republican politicians who see the Mueller investigation as a smear campaign against Trump, and have been actively working against it. This group has called on those investigating Trump’s campaign to quit and in some cases, for them to be “purged” from the government if they refuse to do so. According to a recent CNN report, Attorney General Jeff Sessions put so much pressure on FBI director Christopher Wray to making staffing changes in senior FBI leadership that he threatened to quit over it. Trump has, at times, supported this coalition, and their mission to turn the spotlight onto Hillary Clinton’s alleged contacts with Russia. In a New York Times interview back in December, the president said that the investigation makes the United States “look very bad.”

But many moderate Republicans are turning against this small group, and they may not be able to slow Mueller’s investigation. Mueller recently negotiated an agreement with Steve Bannon and got guilty pleas from former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. And Democratic Representative Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) told Michelangelo Signorile that he’s heard rumors that “the NRA-Kremlin story is going to get bigger” on a SiriusXM interview. He added, “I think Donald Trump and his associates are in some serious legal jeopardy.”

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