March 2, 2018

Almost before anything else, we need to get the dark money out of politics and overturn Citizens United, because this is foreign money buying our elections, full stop. Stephanie Ruhle covers this NPR piece about Russian money flowing through the National Rifle Association in even greater amounts than we originally thought.


STEPHANIE RUHLE: A new report by NPR reveals a Russian politician linked to the Kremlin has tied himself to the NRA. NPR says, quote, Alexander Torshin claimed his ties to the National Rifle Association provided him access to Donald Trump and the opportunity to serve as a foreign election observer in the United States during the 2012 election. I want to bring in NPR's Tim Mock. Tim, walk us through this. You say Torshin used his ties to the NRA specifically to access Trump? How'd he do this?

TIM MOCK, NPR: This is through looking at Mr. Torshin's long history of tweets. This is a man who really likes to use Twitter. He's tweeted 150,000 times over the course of the last six or seven years. We see he has meticulously cultivated a network with the National Rifle Association. Mr. Torshin is the deputy governor of the Bank of Russia. He's in Vladimir Putin's party. He's served in the Russian Dualla. And has served in sensitive security roles there. It's clear he's tried to cultivate links with the National Rifle Association over time.

RUHLE: How successful has he been?

MOCK: Well, it's really interesting. He has talked repeatedly how he's attended every convention of the National Rifle Association between 2012 and 2016. During that time, he's met with every single president of the National Rifle Association. He's also said he's claimed he met with Donald Trump or knows Donald Trump through the National Rifle Association. And in an interesting anecdote, in 2012, he came to the United States as an international election observer. He watched the balloting that took place in Tennessee when President Obama and Mitt Romney were duking it out back in 2012. And he said that he got that opportunity do so through the NRA.

RUHLE: All right, Tim, stay with us. I want to bring in Evan McMullin, former CIA operative and former presidential candidate, and Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney. What's your take on this? The average American could say I'm so confused by all this Russian nonsense, I don't care. This to me seems like a big deal.

EVAN MCMULLIN: It is a big deal. The NRA did a lot to support Donald Trump. Back when Mitt Romney last ran, I think they put about $12 million into the campaign to support him. Or took activities spending about $12 million. Donald Trump, they spent about $30 million. On the 2016 election cycle in general, it was $55 million. Insiders say it was close to $70 million.

RUHLE: 70, seven-zero?

MCMULLIN: That's right. So finding out exactly where that money came from is crucially important given that the NRA has been exposed to having these close ties with a Putin ally in Torshin.

REP MALONEY: I agree with Evan. Say what you want, it's going to be a while before anybody figures out how to make the NRA a more negative force in American politics but here we are. Like a bad guy scene from an Austin Powers movie where you've got them all around the table. You've got the Russians working with the NRA. The facts of the matter are I think this is the kind of thing we understand what we're talking about. It doesn't help anybody to have Russian oligarchs who are, by the way, arms of the Russian authoritarian government, working in American political organizations with no disclosure of the financial contribution or what they're really doing. Why is that good? How does that help any of us?

RUHLE: I'm with you but people make the argument Russia, I'm just trying to go to work, put my kids through school.

MCMULLIN: That's right, some of us worry that we are -- we are in an era where we're waiting for a cyber 9/11, where we are -- it is going to take somebody really hurting us where we start to connect up the fact when the head of the United States cybersecurity are not doing what we should be doing to counter the Russians, we are going to look back on that when somebody dies or when a lot of people die or when half the bank accounts in America get zeroed out and the backup systems are corrupted too and it's gone. When we really see what the North Koreas or the Iranians have in store for us, then we're going to get our act together on this and that's the big game by the way on this Russia investigation. It's not just about the 2016 election or who said what in Trump Tower, as important as that is. It's about whether we have our pants down in a world where the next major threats could be in cyberspace.

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