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The NRA's role linking Russia and GOP-- the deadly brew tearing the nation and the world apart...
The Republican Party is involved in a race against time and history— a race they are destined to lose to common sense and diversity. As the white vote shrinks, its power wanes as well. The current GOP has decided to fight the inevitable. Their base of support has not shrunk as much as it has become distilled. Their power lay in numbers. By mid-century, the nation will no longer have a white majority population. This is the race they will eventually lose, because, well, it fulfills one promise our founder made, albeit grudgingly, that gender, color, race, or any other human attribute should not determine our shared destinies. America’s experiment with democracy is not about majorities but the rule of law.
This diary is about the other race the GOP is engaged in— one that dispenses with their need to remain relatable and, instead, renounces relevance for power. While the rank-and-file GOP is interested in partisanship, they have decided that policy issues are situational,— not principled but transactional. The “conservative agenda” has been out of step with the majority of Americans so the party has resorted to imposing its will rather than engage in political persuasion. Compromise and negotiations are tedious. So they cheat. Winning at all costs is for them a worthy goal. Enjoying wacky social media camaraderie and the Fox News lib-owning gabfests keep them entertained and uninformed. Blissful ignorance is how they roll as the antics of MTG and Kevin’s clown school keep them entertained.
Meanwhile, the GOP prefers the more ominous race that actually relies on the daily violence we are experiencing in America. It is the race to maintain a white, male-dominated governance through fear and intimidation. The party has enlisted a mercenary army of racists, bigots, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis to help them fight the battle. Groups like the NRA and Charles Koch’s Americans for Prosperity have established alliances sometimes with hidden forces who deal in dark money, tradecraft, and anti-democratic efforts. The source of the money matters little as long as it furthers their causes.
Political gamesmanship supplants policy considerations and both give way in the GOP to distraction and lies. It reminds me of the movie term MacGuffin, a term coined by Alfred Hitchcock to describe a plot device that moves the story along but is, in the end, irrelevant. Famous MacGuffins include the falcon statuette in Maltese Falcon and the Ark that Indiana Jones and the Nazis pursue— to what end no one can figure out. The focal point of the plot is always buried under a mysterious distraction. “Trumpism” is a bit like that--neither a political movement nor a philosophy-driven “ism.” Like most of Trump’s undertakings, his anti-democratic instincts are based on self-serving convenience— off-branded autocracy and, in the end, irrelevant
The connection between guns, money, and Russia is fraught with diversion. Guns are the GOP hobbyhorse that hides behind the Second Amendment, propped up by SCOTUS appointments bought and paid for by Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society’s “court whisperer”. A 2019 report by the Senate Committee on Finance (here) uncovered a troubling connection linking the NRA and Russia. It involved the planning behind the NRA delegation to Moscow to further business ties and relationships with Russian gun manufacturers by the Russian government. Ostensibly, the trip was offered by the Russians in 2014 and would lead to a source of donor income to the NRA from Russian gun manufacturers who would offer the “gifts” as a way of introduction to NRA members and American gun interests. This was the “MacGuffin.” The reality is that the NRA had been talking to the Russians for years before the invite. The 2014 delegation was a culmination of this effort to ensnare the American gun lobby on behalf of the Kremlin.
The Russians were intent on enticing the NRA’s leadership to attend and expressed some dismay over the decision by then-NRA president Allan Cors to forego the Moscow trip. It was reported that the NRA CEO, Wayne LaPierre was skeptical of the move, but would only support it if it was an “unofficial” visit. He would not attend. Russian planners of the event held out the veiled risk that, unless the current NRA president attended, plans for “personal meetings” with high-ranking officials (perhaps including Putin) would be scrapped. Donna Keene, wife of NRA's past president, wrote Cors of her concern in an email:
“Your canceling will risk–I think completely burn–all the inroads NRA volunteers have worked on so hard for so long. It will hurt Torchin’s (sic) pro-American career … David and I did no NRA international travel when he was an officer–but this is NRA business–we’ve worked for 7 years to build trust with the Russians. They are status-conscious and have spent untold hours and dollars on us. Allan, please, please come.” (emphasis mine)
— Donna Keene email to Allan Cors and Millie Hallow, November 13, 2015
The Russians were playing the NRA by intimating that the invitation to the NRA was something more than simply a trade show and swap of interests between Russian gun manufacturers and American gun lobbyists. It was an opportunity for dark contributions to the NRA’s various funding PACs. At the time, Donna Keene was a gun lobbyist, husband David was a GOP political consultant after his stint as NRA chief.
The NRA thought they could outsmart the Russians whose liaison with the group was the infamous Maria Butina, the protege of the sanctioned Russian Central Banker Alexander Torshin. Torshin positioned himself as a “gun enthusiast and was a lifetime member of the NRA. He was also known by the U.S. government as a friend of Putin who had alleged links to Russian organized crime.
The graphic demonstrates the extent of Russian use of dirty money to support its interests throughout the world. The lower graphic on the right takes this further and focuses on the scope of intervention in American politics:
...authoritarian regimes such as Russia and China have spent more than $300 million interfering in democratic processes more than 100 times spanning 33 countries over the past decade. The frequency of these financial attacks has accelerated aggressively from two or three annually before 2014 to 15 to 30 in each year since 2016.
— GMF, Alliance for Securing Democracy, “Covert Foreign Money: Financial Loopholes Exploited by Authoritarians to Fund Political Interference in Democracies,” by Josh Rudolf and Thomas Morley
A recap of world events during this period shows the Russians had more nefarious reasons for offering the Moscow meeting. They needed an American political cutout to help them carry out their plans for the 2016 election. The NRA had fallen for the trap. Putin had placed Russia in a precarious position with his reckless and often ham-handed ventures. He had invaded Crimea in February 2014 and had plans to meddle in Syria (September 2015). Russia was under heavy sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration. On July 17, 2014, Russian “little green men” shot down a Malaysian jetliner carrying 298 passengers as it flew over eastern Ukraine. Putin’s Ukraine agenda was unfolding and a “friend” in high places in America could be crucial to his success — and to soften or remove the Obama sanctions. The NRA’s vast network of partisan followers and their lobbying apparatus would be helpful to Russian interests as they welcomed a “friendly” Trump nomination for president.
The NRA contingent was working with and planning to meet persons on the Special Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list (SDN). In their analysis of their encounters in Moscow, the committee findings suggested that NRA delegates had foreknowledge of meetings with banned individuals and their subsidiaries while allowing their (SDN) publications to use the NRA logo for promotional reasons. They labeled these actions concerning but stopped short of finding them illegal.
At issue is the extent to which the NRA was complicit in the Russian scheme to support the Trump candidacy. The known Russian contributions to the NRA during the election cycle were more than $2.5 million. If the NRA was unaware of their part in furthering the political interests of the Russian state, the dark money funneled into the NRA coffers before 2016 should have given them pause. The gun organization for their part gave more than $30 million to Trump which was more than triple the amount the group had contributed to Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012. They were also on a buying spree among Republican Congress members whose votes for and against Russian adventurism would become crucial. Russia had positioned its snake in the woodpile.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore) who chaired the committee called the NRA a “foreign asset” for Russia in the months leading up to the election. It is too obvious to state here the importance of the Russians’ awareness of the NRA’s public support of Republican candidates in the past and their warm acceptance of the 2016 nominee. The Russians could direct their donation to the NRA and expect that it would be passed on to friendly Republicans who might be more amenable to Russian interests. If Republicans won, the NRA would be courting favor with the new administration’s policy initiatives in support of gun rights. The following correspondence by Maria Butina was cited in the Senate Report to show the level of interest on both sides for the NRA to commit to the trip and the importance to the Russians that the top leadership of the NRA be a part of the Russian plan:
(Maria Butina:) “I received Donna’s message that Mr. & Mrs. Cors have decided not to join the NRA delegation to Russia in December. This could cause serious problems for our trip .In Russian culture, great prestige is accorded the leaders of very important organizations…
Audiences with high government officials and a private tour of a tank farm owned by a Russian oligarch (for example) were offered to us because the current leader of the NRA was leading this very important delegation.“
The next day, Donna Keene emailed Cors and copied Millie Hallow pleading with Cors to reconsider his withdrawal from the trip.
Along for the ride was Trump's political advisor and surrogate at the time, David Clarke. He held extensive meetings with various officials, some of whom were also on the SND list. An ominous report had Clarke meeting with an unnamed Russian state official. Clarke later tweeted a photo with the message, “Red Square near the Kremlin with a Russian officer. Met earlier with Russian Foreign Minister who spoke on Mid East.” While the NRA was being lavished with attention (and money) the real target of Russian affection was the Republican candidate for president.
The Russian trap had been laid and the NRA bit. The truth is hidden in the usual tradecraft of spies, but clearly, the NRA’s greed and insistence to curry Russian favor for its own use was a ruse for the Russians to funnel political support to Donald Trump. Gun money of dubious origins found its way to Republican candidates on the Trump undercard which cemented two years (before the 2018 midterm election) in which the GOP controlled all three levers of power. Vladimir Putin began to execute his bold plan to weaken NATO before usurping Ukraine in what Putin believed would be much easier with a friend in the White House. The first of Trump’s “perfect” phone calls which led to his first impeachment followed.
Trump’s plot to hold up Ukraine assistance already agreed to by Congress could be seen, in fact, as thinly veiled to soften Ukrainian resistance before a Russian invasion. His request to extort a “favor” for dirt on the Bidens in return for the aid was not unrelated to weakening Ukrainian interests in Congress. Had Volodymyr Zelenskyy complied, Trump would have neutralized Biden with the falsified data, Had the scheme leaked out and exposed Zelenskyy, Ukrainian sympathy would have been lost among Senators and Representatives of both parties. When Trump was exposed by those who were listening in to the extortion request, the public impeachment trial helped lead to Biden’s victory. Putin had no choice but to go it alone, without inside help from a friendly U.S. government.
Joe Biden’s victory and the American judicial system that bent but refused to break has so far saved democracy. Russia's use of the gun culture to divide us socially and politically with the hopes of undermining our democratic principles continues. The jury is still out on whether they had succeeded in the wake of Trump’s loss. Left behind is the fascist rabble that has become Trump’s base, the dark underbelly that for so long had hidden among us. The Russian gambit with the NRA, had it succeeded, would at worse have allowed the Kremlin free rein in the former Soviet nations of Eastern Europe and, at best, damaged American influence in Europe. That hope remains if any of the leading GOP candidates win in 2024.
The price was cheap— a few million and a little election interference; a populist dullard with a rabid following among (you guessed it) many of the same deplorables hidden among NRA and GOP ideologically challenged party partisans. The NRA allowed itself to be the conduit to the plot, and either willingly or stupidly, was party to all that followed. Since the NRA began its dalliance with the Russians, mayhem has followed. At home, gun sales and mass shootings suggest the U.S. has developed a death wish. The Ukraine invasion by Russia has drawn most nations into Putin’s brutal war, asking the world to choose sides between autocracy and democracy.
The gun lobby is silent in the face of rising deaths due to gun violence. They are likely oblivious to the part they have played in the grand Russian plan. Their callous indifference to their role in upsetting the lives of so many grieving families borders on the criminal. Following the money only solidifies the understanding that the Russians considered the NRA an inexpensive investment. The NRA considered the Russians a honey pot and a valuable ally. Trump took advantage of the Russian interference and the NRA‘s $30 million.to win an election that has changed everything.
The Russian focal point was always that— the resultant fallout and the oversized expectations of the 2015 trip to Moscow are now irrelevant— all merely MacGuffins.