How Putin’s People Infiltrated the NRA to Help Trump and the GOP

The Daily Beast has reported that the National Rifle Association (NRA) was infiltrated by Russian intelligence agents, and top officials in the Kremlin knew all about it.

The Russian government has always denied they had any involvement in the infiltration of the NRA, but new reporting from U.S. intelligence agencies shows that this is not true.

According to the report, a top Russian bank official kept the Kremlin updated on everything that was done to cultivate ties to the NRA. The goal was to use the nonprofit gun rights group to improperly influence U.S. politics, and help Donald Trump and other Republicans win elections.

The banker was Alexander Torshin, who was deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, and his protegée was Maria Butina who has been arrested for being in the U.S. working as a Russian spy. In December she pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Together, Torshin and Butina aggressively courted NRA leaders and developed unusually close relations with them. They also developed relationships with GOP lawmakers. And every step of the way they were keeping senior Russian government officials apprised of all of their activities.

The Daily Beast report was based on its review of a U.S. intelligence report showing that Torshin continually briefed Kremlin officials on the NRA operation. He also recommended that top members of Putin’s government participate in his operation to illegally influence the U.S. elections on behalf of Republicans.

“This reporting indicates that Alexander Torshin was working with the blessing of the Kremlin, at a minimum,” one European intelligence official told The Daily Beast. “The NRA is quite powerful, so when you look to influence U.S. politics, you should consider them as a convenient target.”

The 30-year-old Butina pleaded guilty last month to conspiring to act as a foreign agent under the direction of a Russian official identified as Torshin. After Butina was arrested, Torshin was immediately “retired” from the Central Bank of Russia, according to the intelligence report.

The newly revealed intelligence report is based on information obtained in 2015, around the same time that top NRA officials visited Moscow. The NRA Moscow trip was organized by Torshin and Butina as a way to increase their influence and solidify their relationships.

The new report says that Torshin advised top Russian government officials to reach out to American politicians in the GOP through the NRA, because of its unusually strong influence in American politics and especially in the Republican Party. He was able to arrange for a top member of President Vladimir Putin’s executive group to meet with the NRA representatives in Moscow.

“My assessment of what was happening with Torshin and Butina and the NRA was that the Russians decided, a good period of time before 2016, to run an influence operation here in the U.S. with a couple of different goals,” said Steve Hall, who oversaw the CIA’s Russia operations. “The obvious goal was the one the intelligence community assessed back in 2016, which was to help Donald Trump win and increase the likelihood that Hillary Clinton would lose. In addition, they wanted to create as much chaos in our democracy as possible.”