Menéndez Calls for FBI and FEC Investigation Into NRA and Possible Work with Russian Operatives
Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina is the first Russian national convicted of seeking to influence U.S. policy in the run-up to the 2016 election by acting as a foreign agent. She agreed to cooperate in a plea deal with U.S. investigators in exchange for less prison time. Senator Bob Menéndez (D-NJ), however, is not happy about the plea deal. Last week, he called for a federal investigation into whether the Kremlin funneled money to the NRA during the 2016 or 2018 elections. In a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and FEC Commissioner Caroline Hunter, he said if the NRA was involved, it would represent a breach of U.S. law and “violate the sovereignty of our democratic system and, as such, merits close scrutiny by your respective agencies.” He also asked the agencies to determine whether candidates, campaign staff, or volunteers in any House or Senate races were aware of, or helped to facilitate, the flow of Russian money to these campaigns. The Senator pressed Wray and Hunter, saying it is the responsibility of their agencies to counter threats emanating from the Kremlin against the electoral processes. “Effectively neutralizing these threats requires that we identify them in real-time, which is why it is important that your agencies direct scrutiny to not just a possible Russia-NRA conduit during the 2016 election, but also whether that conduit is still active today,” Menéndez wrote. Butina admitted to working with an American political operative under the direction of a former Russian Senator, who is now the Deputy Governor of Russia’s central bank, to forge connections with officials at the NRA, conservative leaders, and candidates during the 2016 presidential race, including Donald Trump, whose rise to the White House she presciently predicted to her Russian contact. Of note: preliminary findings, released earlier this year by the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggest that the Kremlin used the NRA to improperly direct financial support to Trump’s 2016 campaign. More here.