The National Rifle Association is caught up in a rapidly expanding tangle of investigations — six launched in the first five months of 2019 alone. Investigators in Congress are probing the gun group’s ties to Kremlin-linked Russians and to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, as well as several potential campaign finance violations exposed by The Trace, while the New York Attorney General and the Senate Finance Committee are scrutinizing its nonprofit status.
Because it’s challenging to keep track of these probes, we’ve rounded them up below. We included only investigations that directly involve the NRA or its staff. We’ll keep this post updated to reflect the latest developments, and will add new investigations to the list, should they arise.
Senate Finance Committee
Financial ties to Russia
Launched February 2018
Senator Ron Wyden, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, has sent a series of requests to the NRA and the Treasury Department seeking information about the gun group’s financial ties to Russian official Alexander Torshin and other Putin-linked politicians. After the arrest of self-confessed Russian agent Maria Butina in July, Wyden and committee members Sheldon Whitehouse and Bob Menendez followed up with the Treasury requesting further information about Butina’s financial links to the NRA. Butina later pleaded guilty to conspiring in the United States. Earlier this month, the Finance Committee launched a separate probe into a conservative think tank linked to Butina and Torshin. Senator Charles Grassley, who chairs the Finance Committee, has ties to the NRA.
Senate Intelligence Committee
Political ties to Russia
Launched November 2018
An NRA delegation’s trip to Moscow in 2015 is under the scrutiny of the Senate Intelligence Committee, headed by Senators Richard Burr and Mark Warner, which in November requested documents about contacts with high-profile Russians during the excursion. In January, investigators grilled former Trump aide Sam Nunberg about the links between the Trump campaign, the NRA, and Russian nationals including Maria Butina. Burr, the committee’s chair, has received ample campaign support from the NRA.
House Oversight Committee
Trump administration security clearances
Launched January 2019
As part of a probe into security clearances issued by the Trump administration, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings has requested documents from the NRA regarding Trump national security advisor John Bolton’s contacts with Russia. In 2013, Bolton appeared in a video for The Right to Bear Arms, the Russian gun-rights group linked to Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin. He also headed the NRA’s subcommittee on international affairs, which Cummings has also requested information about. The Oversight Committee investigation came months after Cummings and Representative Stephen Lynch first sought information from the White House about Bolton’s ties to Russia.
House and Senate joint investigation
Campaign finance violations
Launched February 2019
A joint House-Senate probe is investigating possible “illegal, excessive, and unreported in-kind donations” made by the NRA to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and to several Republican Senate candidates. Sparked by The Trace’s reporting, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman Jamie Raskin have contacted NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and five campaign advertising vendors to request information about the groups’ relationships. “The evidence shows the NRA is moving money through a complex web of shell organizations to avoid campaign finance rules and boost candidates willing to carry their water,” Whitehouse told The Trace.
Political ties to Russia
Launched February 2019
Representatives Ted Lieu and Kathleen Rice, concerned by a “lack of transparency” around the NRA’s 2015 visit to Moscow and its other ties to Russia, have launched a new investigation intended to illuminate those connections. Another probe of the gun group’s Kremlin connections is underway in the Senate, but House Democrats, unlike their counterparts in the Senate, hold the majority required to issue subpoenas.
House Judiciary Committee
Trump administration corruption
Launched March 2019
The NRA is among more than 80 organizations and individuals that received requests for documents as part of a wide-ranging House Judiciary Committee probe which aims to establish whether President Trump and those in his orbit have engaged in “obstruction of justice, public corruption, and other abuses of power.” A letter from committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler to NRA boss LaPierre demands information on the gun group’s contacts with and about Russia and the Trump campaign during the run-up to the 2016 election. The NRA has reportedly submitted nearly 1,500 pages of documents in response to the request.
New York Attorney General
Launched April 2019
New York Attorney General Letitia James has opened an investigation into the NRA’s nonprofit status, asking the organization, its charitable foundation, and other affiliated groups to preserve financial records. The probe, first reported by The New York Times, also touches the gun group’s “related businesses,” although information about the parties involved is not yet public. James has jurisdiction because the NRA was chartered in New York in 1871. Her move follows a series of media reports about financial misconduct within the NRA, including a Trace investigation detailing allegations that former IRS official Marc Owens said “could lead to the revocation of the NRA’s tax-exempt status.”
Senate Finance Committee
Financial impropriety and nonprofit status
Launched May 2019
Three Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees tax-exempt organizations, are probing alleged financial impropriety within the NRA. Letters addressed to NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and ex-President Oliver North request documentation of alleged financial misconduct raised by North during a public power struggle for control of the gun group, which culminated with North’s ouster from his leadership role. A third letter requests documentation from Revan McQueen, the CEO of top NRA vendor Ackerman McQueen, due to LaPierre’s claim that Ackerman had prepared a damaging memo in order to blackmail him. The feud erupted after reporting by The Trace and other news organizations revealed a culture of self-dealing and financial mismanagement within the NRA, particularly around its relationship with Ackerman. The letters instruct LaPierre, North, and McQueen to respond by May 16.
A few other investigations bear mentioning. An inquiry by the House Intelligence Committee and the FBI’s reported investigation of Alexander Torshin both probed the gun group’s ties to Russia, although there is no hard evidence that the NRA or its employees have been pulled into either of those probes. Watchdog organizations have filed a series of complaints with the Federal Election Commission regarding the NRA’s campaign finance activities, and two groups are now suing the regulator for its failure to act on those complaints. Following reporting by The Trace and The New Yorker, Representative Bradley Schneider, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, has called on the IRS to investigate the NRA’s tax-exempt status.
We’ll update this post as new information comes to light.
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