A prominent Kremlin-linked Russian politician has methodically cultivated ties with leaders of the National Rifle Association and documented efforts in real time over six years to leverage those connections and gain deeper access into American politics, NPR has learned.
Russian politician Alexander Torshin said his ties to the NRA provided him access to Donald Trump — and the opportunity to serve as a foreign election observer in the United States during the 2012 election.
Torshin is a prolific Twitter user, logging nearly 150,000 tweets, mostly in Russian, since his account was created in 2011. Previously obscured by language and sheer volume of tweets, Torshin has written numerous times about his connections with the NRA, of which he is a known paid lifetime member. NPR has translated a selection of those posts that document Torshin’s relationship to the group.
Alexander Torshin’s links to NRA leaders are deeper than previously known, NPR has learned. He claims to have met Donald Trump in 2015 and served as a U.S. election observer in 2012 through the NRA.
These revelations come amid news that the FBI is investigating whether Torshin, the deputy governor of the Bank of Russia, illegally funneled money to the NRA to assist the Trump campaign in 2016, McClatchy reportedin January.
In a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Senate intelligence committee, the NRA denied any wrongdoing and suggested the FBI is investigating Torshin, not the NRA. Neither the NRA nor Torshin responded to inquiries from NPR.
Investigations by Congress and the Department of Justice have revealed that the Russian government has sought to sharpen political divisions among American citizens by amplifying controversial social issues. Investigators have expressed concern about Russian links to the NRA, one of the most politically polarizing organizations in the U.S.
Torshin is a former Russian senator and served as the deputy speaker of Russia’s parliament for more than a decade. Known as a Putin ally, he also spent time on Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee, a state body that includes the director of Russia’s internal security service and the ministers of defense, interior and foreign affairs.
15 лет я езжу в США с официальными делегациями,а чаще – частным порядком. За это время я НИ РАЗУ НЕ СЛЫШАЛ НИ ОДНОГО ПЛОХОГО СЛОВА О РОССИИ! pic.twitter.com/NKfwX7E2se
— А.П. Торшин (@torshin_ru) November 13, 2016
Translation of November 2016 tweet: “For 15 years, I’ve traveled to the U.S. with official delegations, and more often — privately. In this time, I NEVER HEARD ONE BAD WORD ABOUT RUSSIA!”
Torshin’s use of NRA connections to open doors, and his 2015 claim to know Trump through the organization, raise new questions about the group’s connections with Russian officials — at a time when the organization is being roundly criticized by its opponents, and at times the president himself, for opposition to gun control.