There are plenty of reasons to distrust the National Rifle Association, but a new one came about on Wednesday when Senate leaders revealed the organization was probably used by Russia as part of that nation's plot to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections.
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is overseeing the investigation into Russia’s meddling in United States' elections, released details of their findings so far from the inquiry that have not yet been seen by the public. Among the revelations, the newly-released document alleged that there’s reason to believe the Kremlin used the NRA as a means to help Trump win the election.
“The Committee has obtained a number of documents that suggest the Kremlin used the National Rifle Association as a means of accessing and assisting Mr. Trump and his campaign,” the committee said.
Two individuals in particular with ties to Putin are of concern, the committee went on to say. Alexander Torshin, described as a “Putin ally” in the document, and his assistant, Maria Butina (who also founded an NRA-linked group in Russia), attended many NRA events in the United States, and even tried to facilitate a meeting between Trump and Putin through Paul Erickson, a Trump supporter and adviser to the president during his campaign.
“Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump,” Erickson wrote after an NRA event. “He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election.”
Besides dubious attempts to get Putin and Trump to speak directly with one another, there’s also financial concerns to consider. Campaign rules restrict candidates from taking money from foreign governments — but Russia may have sidestepped that rule by giving donations to the NRA, which in turn spent $30 million to help get Trump elected.
Many questions remain to be answered as a result of this inquiry. Were the funds the NRA used to help Trump gained in an illegal manner? Did the Trump campaign know about Russia helping the NRA out, hoping to use them to influence the election? And if they did know about it, why didn’t the campaign alert elections officials about it — were they hoping to capitalize on the arrangement? Were they a part of it?
These questions deserve to be answered. Although the equivalent House committee conducting its own Russia inquiry ended its investigation earlier this year, the Senate committee’s work is far from over — and it (as well as the separate special counsel inquiry headed by Robert Mueller) should not be adjourned prematurely.
The American people deserve to know the truth — about Russia, the NRA, and the Trump campaign — and efforts by some on the right to dismantle these fact-finding missions need to be dropped.