"Follow the rubles," said the modern day Deep Throat. But following money is boring! Who cares if you find the connections between Russia, the NRA and the 2016 elections of Republican politicians and campaign finance law violations?
Luckily we have Maria Butina. Everyone wants to know about her and her leader's plan to influence the US elections.
In the same way the Stormy Daniels' case gave the media an eye-catching hook to look into the corrupt dealings of Michael Cohen and Donald Trump, so too will the Maria Butina case give the media a way to look deeper into the Russian connection to the NRA and the influence they have had on the Trump campaign as well as MULTIPLE REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGNS.
Because the mainstream media needs to look serious, they won't just cover this "unregistered foreign agent" they will also report on the multiple campaign finance violations committed by the NRA over the years. The sexy spy will lead the coverage, which is fine with me, as long as the NRA involvement is fully exposed. Currently the NRA is dodging the media or saying this connection is no big deal.. The investigations from the FBI and FEC should prove otherwise.
Following the FBI and Mueller investigations, there should be big fines for the NRA, lots of them. Because the NRA knew what they were doing. For years the NRA has used shell games and parsed the language of campaign finance law to avoid reporting and detection. As Howie Klein pointed out back in January of this year.
"There are two other clear grounds for federal campaign finance law liability: soliciting a “thing of value” from a foreign national, and “substantially assisting” the foreign national in spending to influence an election."
The money from Russian to the NRA then to Trump will be the white whale story (orange wail?), but there are many more down ticket races where Republicans were helped by NRA/rubles. I made a video to point some of them out.
When the NRA campaign finance violations become known by the politicians who were helped, what should happen?
- Demand they condemn the NRA for their coordination with Russia?
- Demand they donate the money to a non-partisan group like Opensecrets.org?
- Give the money back? (Of course the NRA would love that, they are whining they need it. The NRA Says It’s in Deep Financial Trouble, May Be ‘Unable to Exist’)
Even in the era of Citizens United, when money from rich Americans and corporations flows freely, foreign funding for American elections is still restricted. The NRA has been hiding its awareness of this, lying about where and how the money was spent. They will use various excuses when they have to account for their knowledge and actions including "We were spending money on pro-gun candidates already, it's not as if they told us who to back!." But just because the Russians wanted the same candidates doesn't mean the money is any less Russian.
Also, it is likely that the current NRA President, Ollie North, was put in so quickly in order to provide distance from previous NRA leadership.The most recent president, Pete Brownell, seen here with Butina and Donald Trump Jr., was involved in 2016 campaign funding plans.
However, Wayne La Pierre is still in power and he needs to be questioned about this. But it is Chris Cox, the head of the NRA's Institute of Legislative Action, that really HAD to be aware of this funding. It is the funding of state races that can have a much bigger impact on outcomes. How many races were funded with tainted foreign funding? Who knew and when did they know?
Fun fact: It’s illegal for foreign funds to be spent in American elections.
The NRA has a pattern of other types of finance violations too. Mike Spies of the Trace did a great piece looking into other violations, The Mystery Firm That Became the NRA’s Top Election Consultant but sadly he noted:
"The FEC is widely considered a toothless agency, paralyzed by partisan infighting, and campaign-finance laws are often honored in the breach."
This is why I'm happy about Butina. Her involvement will highlight a lot of great reporting about the financial and personal connections between Russia, the NRA and Republican politicians. Here's a few for those interested.
For an excellent overall timeline see Ladd Everitt's very through work that is still being updated.
Denise Clifton and Mark Follman in Mother Jones have many stories on the case like, The Very Strange Case of Two Russian Gun Lovers, the NRA, and Donald Trump wherein we learn about Alexander Torshin (who really should be played by Patton Oswalt in the movie. )
Once again McClatchy was head of the pack with this piece by Peter Stone and Greg Gordon from January 18, 2017, FBI, 5 other agencies probe possible covert Kremlin aid to Trump. In their recent work they have been "following the rubles" with this story about Cleta Mitchell, Lawyer who worked for NRA said to have had concerns about group’s Russia ties
David Corn of Mother Jones asked the question, Did Alleged Russian Spy Maria Butina Cause a Leadership Shake-up at the NRA? The quick installment of Oliver North as NRA president becomes much more interesting if it involves a sexy Russian operative.
(BTW, as someone who has watched thousands of spy movies I always roll my eyes when I see female spies working on straight guys. Men soooo easily get sucked into these schemes. Then add in a bunch of old white guys who like to carry around guns as proof of their manhood? As the slaughter lobby members might say, "It's a target rich environment." )
As more about the Butina case becomes revealed in court, keep looking at the money and people connections but also "things of value” and the people who were "substantially assisting” the foreign national in spending to influence an election.
If the Russian plan wasn't so effective, it might be funny, like something out of a tv cartoon. But we need to see that this was a long-term, multimillion dollar plan by the Russians to interfere with our elections and the NRA was an eager and willful participant.
There needs to be serious consequences to the NRA and their leadership for their actions.