A Thursday report from McClatchy that the FBI is investigating whether a “top Russian banker” identified as Alexander Torshin may have “illegally funneled” money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump’s White House campaign appears to have ignited a media frenzy.
An NRA spokesman said via email that, “The National Rifle Association has not been contacted by the FBI or any other investigative body.”
But a national gun rights leader based in the Pacific Northwest offered some insight because he has also been in Moscow and met Torshin. They discussed the issue of Russian gun rights and even dined together socially.
Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation and chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said in an interview that he is taking the story “with a grain of salt.”
Gottlieb was a driving force behind the creation of the International Association for the Protection of Civilian Arms Rights (IAPCAR). That organization has member groups in several countries and on nearly all continents.
“He (Torshin) has never tried to unduly influence me,” Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb noted that Torshin, an officer with Russia’s central bank, is an NRA member. He said Torshin has visited with him at the SAF display during past NRA conventions. Torshin has a keen interest in gun rights and because of his efforts toward that goal Torshin is considered something of a hero among Russian gun owners.
“He’s been fighting for expanded gun rights, and he’s been trying to put a Second Amendment (equivalent) in the Russian constitution,” Gottlieb explained.
As for the implications that Torshin may have “funneled money” to the NRA, Gottlieb said, “I have no knowledge of any Russian money going to NRA to influence elections.”
To that he added, “No offers were ever made to the Citizens Committee or Second Amendment Foundation…No offers of funds were ever made to any groups I’m associated with.”
Gottlieb also asserted that McClatchy has “a history” of news coverage critical of gun rights and the NRA.
“Therefore,” he said, “I have to take the story with a grain of salt.”
According to McClatchy and other published reports, the FBI’s Russia probe “has been heating up.”
The New York Daily News reported Thursday that, “It is not clear how much money changed hands between Torshin and the NRA, which along with the Russian Central Bank and the FBI did not comment on the report.”
Federal law prohibits using foreign money to influence federal elections, McClatchy emphasized.
The McClatchy story also acknowledged, “The extent to which the FBI has evidence of money flowing from Torshin to the NRA, or of the NRA’s participation in the transfer of funds, could not be learned.”
The story noted that NRA reported spending $55 million during the 2016 election cycle, including $30 million to support Trump’s candidacy. NRA endorsed Trump early in 2016, at its annual convention, even before the Republican convention held later in the summer. Trump appeared last year at the NRA convention in Atlanta, vowing to never let NRA members down. Trump is also a member of the association.
The president has steadfastly denied that there was any “collusion” between his campaign and Russia.