In its first public attempt to distance itself from a trip that involved high-profile members of the organization visiting Russia in 2015, the National Rifle Association is trying to suggest the delegation that was sent wasn’t actually an officially sanctioned group.
NRA outside counsel William Brewer spoke on the matter earlier this week, stating that NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre was against the travel plans.
“When he became aware of the details of the trip, Wayne was personally opposed to it,” Brewer said.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who launched a Senate investigation into the NRA’s ties to Russia earlier last year, disputes those allegations, according to reporting from ABC News.
“It’s not credible for the NRA to claim that they played no official role in the 2015 Moscow trip,” Wyden said.
Emails obtained by ABC News seem to justify Wyden’s skepticism. Several correspondence emails between the NRA, its high-profile members who were part of the trip, and Russian gun-rights activist Maria Butina (who has pleaded guilty to charges of attempting to infiltrate right-wing organizations to begin covert influence campaigns on behalf of Russia), make it difficult to see how this planned visit was anything but a sanctioned trip by the organization.
The NRA's belated explanation for the 2015 Russia trip doesn't pass the smell test, and the key question remains: Why did so many high-level officials & supporters of this purportedly all-American organization fly to Moscow to schmooze with Putin officials?https://t.co/7WoPAEnSor
— John Feinblatt (@JohnFeinblatt) January 29, 2019
An email from an employee of the gun organization seems to indicate that the NRA would reimburse one of the members’ travel expenses for their travels to Moscow. In that same email, the NRA employee said that the group would be given “gifts” to hand off to their Russian hosts, provided again by the NRA itself.
A separate email from Butina indicates that she herself likely saw the trip as one approved by the NRA. In that email, she told the organization that she’d be meeting their delegation with “a big red sign saying ‘Welcome NRA.'”
Another email details how the NRA was helping Butina coordinate travel arrangements for the American delegation. Members of that delegation included former NRA president David Keene, future NRA president Pete Brownell, and several other NRA dignitaries.
While Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller is purportedly looking into the NRA, Wyden launched his own inquiry after reports that the FBI had obtained information about the group possibly receiving money from prominent Russian figures with strong ties to the Kremlin, Roll Call reported in February 2018.
“The national security as well as legal implications of these reports make it imperative that Congress conduct a thorough investigation” about the NRA’s connections to Russia, Wyden wrote to the Treasury Department in a letter requesting official documents about the group last year.