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Senator: 'The NRA lied about the December 2015 Moscow trip'

Adriana Belmonte
Associate Editor

This post has been updated.

The National Rifle Agency (NRA) faced heavy criticism in the last few years after the organization’s relationship with foreign agent Maria Butina and Russian government official Alexander Torshin was made public.

The Senate Finance committee began investigating this relationship, particularly to determine what role they had in the interference in the 2016 election. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a ranking member on that committee, tweeted findings in a lengthy thread on Friday.

“The NRA lied about the December 2015 Moscow trip not being an official trip,” Wyden tweeted. “NRA leaders were told the trip was needed to prove Torshin’s American connections to the Kremlin, and that building relationships with Russians was ‘NRA business.’”

William A. Brewer III, counsel to the NRA, provided the following statement: “This report promotes a politically motivated and contrived narrative. An avalanche of proof confirms that the NRA, as an organization, was never involved in the activities about which the Democrats write. This report goes to great lengths to try to involve the NRA in activities of private individuals and create the false impression that the NRA did not act appropriately. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

A spokesman for Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) noted to Yahoo Finance that the “Committee’s Republicans have their own report, based on reviewing the same material.”

Maria Butina walks with Alexander Torshin then a member of the Russian upper house of parliament in Moscow, Russia. (Photo: AP Photo/Pavel Ptitsin, File)

Butina pleaded guilty in December 2018 of conspiring to influence U.S. politics by associating with the NRA and conservative figures. According to prosecutors, she was led by Torshin, who was Russia’s deputy central-bank governor at the time.

“While in Moscow, the NRA delegation met with a host of senior level Kremlin officials, including some of Putin’s closest advisors (at least two of whom had been sanctioned by the U.S. government), and multiple Russian oligarchs close to Putin,” Wyden said. “The now-convicted Russian agent Maria Butina made clear to the NRA she wanted to bring the ‘head of the most powerful political organization in America’ to Russia.”

To persuade then-incoming NRA president Pete Brownell to agree to participate in the Moscow trip, Butina offered to explore business deals with Russian weapons manufacturers “on the condition that he bring the NRA to Russia.” After news of the trip surfaced earlier this year, the NRA released a statement that its chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, had been opposed to the trip, and that the trip’s expenses had been repaid.

“Pete Brownell was a last minute addition to the NRA trip to Russia after then-NRA President Alan Cors announced he could not attend due to health concerns,” Ryan Repp, a spokesman for Brownell, told Yahoo Finance in an email statement. “He sought out and obtained compliance guidance, including checking with the government, and followed that guidance before, during and after the trip. He went to support the NRA as the incoming President, and would not have gone if it was not an NRA trip. Pete received absolutely no business for his company as a result of this trip. He has fully cooperated with all inquiries into this matter and will continue to do so.”

Wyden highlighted an email apparently showing that Brownell was offered a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“After returning from Moscow, the NRA gave the Russians free rein over the guest list for its 2016 Annual Meeting,” Wyden said. “It also provided access to other political organizations in 2015 and 2016 like the National Prayer Breakfast and the secretive right-wing Council for National Policy.”

According to the New York Times, the NRA stated that it didn’t agree to pay for all of the trip’s expenses “but emails show that there was confusion long afterward about who was supposed to pay for what.” As a result, however, the New York Attorney General Letitia James is leading an investigation into whether or not the NRA violated its tax-exempt status because of how it potentially used donor funds.

The NRA spent the most on gun lobbying in 2018. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

“NRA officers’ apparent use of the NRA for personal again fits a larger pattern of reported self-dealing and raises serious questions about whether the NRA broke U.S. tax laws,” Wyden said.

The full Senate report can be found here.

Adriana is an associate editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.

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