In March 2014, the U.S. government sanctioned Dmitry Rogozina hardline deputy to Vladimir Putin, the head of Russias defense industry and longtime adversary of American powerin retaliation for the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
Eighteen months later, the National Rifle Association, Donald Trumps most powerful outside ally during the course of its 2016 election, sent a delegation to Moscow that met with him.
The meeting, which hasnt been previously reported in the American press, is one strand in a web of connections between the Russian government and Team Trump: Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn both denied speaking with the Russian ambassador, which turned out to be untrue; former campaign director Paul Manafort supported pro-Russian interests in Ukraine; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson won an Order of Relationship from Putin; and then, of course, theres the hacking campaign that U.S. intelligence agencies say Russian launched to tilt the election in Trumps favor.
Meeting with Rogozin, a target of U.S. sanctions, is not itself illegalas long as the two sides did no business togetherexplained Boris Zilberman, an expert on Russian sanctions at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy. But, he noted, it is frowned upon and raises questions those targeted for sanctions have been engaged in conduct which exist in direct opposition to U.S. national security interests.
Which raises the question: Why was the NRA meeting with Putins deputy in the first place?
The NRA has hitherto objected to the parts of the U.S. sanctions regime that blocked Russian-made guns from importation into the United States. But curiously, David Keene, the former NRA president and current board member who was on the Moscow trip, insisted the meeting with the high-ranking member of the Kremlin government had nothing whatsoever to do with geopolitics.
Rogozin is chairman of the Russian Shooting Federation and his Board hosted a tour of Federation HQ for us while we were there, Keene told The Daily Beast. It was non-political. There were at least 30 in attendance and our interaction consisted of thanking him and his Board for the tour.
Rogozin tweeted photos of the meetings, writing that they discussed a forthcoming rifle competition in Russia.
But Rogozin is no ordinary Russian official, and his title extends far beyond being simply the chairman of a shooting club. His portfolio as deputy prime minister of Russia includes the defense industry. One issue where Rogozin seems particularly interested is cyberwarfare, which he has heralded for its first strike capability. And hes well-known in Russia for being a radicaloften taking a harder line than Putin himself.
Rogozin was the leader of the ultra-right party called Rodina, or Motherland, and famously believes in the restoration of the Russian Empire, including what he calls Russian America( i.e ., Alaska ).
To wrestle control of the party, he turned its course from a party that was occasionally in opposition to Putin to a strictly pro-Putin party. In 2005 Rogozin and his party miscalculated Putins anti-immigrant mood and get kicked out of the parliament for a chauvinistic promotion video that told: Lets Clean the Garbage! featuring Central Asian employees eating a watermelon and spitting on the ground.
Still, Rogozin bided loyal to Putin and soon was appointed Russian ambassador to NATO at the time of the Russia-Georgia Warhis main responsibility at the time was to prevent Ukraine and Georgia from joining NATO. Today his Motherland party is back in the parliament, trying to unite right-wing motions in Europe.
It is flustering that they would be meeting[ with a Russian official] about anything given their vocal subsistence of the president, told Rep. Mike Quigley, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russias attempts to influence the 2016 presidential elections. Due to the NRAs opposition to sanctions, it defies credulity that they wouldnt have discussed sanctions and their extraordinary support for Donald Trumps campaign.
Russia is not Americas friend. And its stunning to hear that while they were attacking our democracy, one of the largest organisations supporting Trump was cozying up with a sanctioned Russian in Moscow, told Rep. Eric Swalwell, who is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee panel that oversees the CIA.
Rogozins inclusion in U.S. sanctions, prior to his meeting with the NRA delegation, marks him as an American adversary. But if that designation raised red flag to Keene and his compatriotsincluding board member Pete Brownell, top NRA donor Joe Gregory, and Trump supporter Sheriff David A. Clarkethey didnt mention them, before or since.
The White House designated Rogozin for sanctions through an executive order in March 2014 after the Russian annexation of Crimea in Ukraine. Perhaps its only coincidence, then, that a few months later, the NRAs Institute for Legislative initiatives protested when the Treasury Department banned the importation of Kalashnikov pistols under authority granted to them from that same executive order.
These latest sanctions will no doubt engender the idea among some that the Treasury Department is using a geopolitical crisis as a convenient excuse to advance the presidents domestic anti-gun agenda, the NR-AILA wrote at the time.
The National Rifle Associations support for Trump was unprecedentedand it seems to have paid off. The organization backed Trump in May 2016 much earlier than they had endorsed other nominees in previous election cycles, and before he had even been officially named the Republican presidential nominee.
The NRA expended $30.3 million to elect Trumpmore than even the top Trump super PAC, which expended only $20.3 million, according to OpenSecrets.
This proved to be an important piece of the puzzle for the presidents eventual victory, dedicating him bona fides among Democrat from working class families.
They get behind him early. It tends to be a lot of motion conservatives, a lot of Republicans but the NRAs membership is also so powerful in union households, told Richard Feldman, a former NRA lobbyist who wrote a book, Ricochet , about his experiences. Union leaderships are very concerned about what the NRA has to say This year it was a very important. NRA was the first major group to get behind Trump.
Indeed, there is a solid suit to be made that the NRAs endorsement and subsistence was among the most important of any group such elections cycle. The NRA lined up television advertising space early, when rates were lower, and had fund to spend when the Access Hollywood scandal hit, reading with a fresh advertising place to support Trump.
There are many claimants to the honor of having nudged Donald Trump over the top in the presidential election, wrote Fred Barnes, executive editor of the conservative publication The Weekly Standard , last week. But the folks with the best suit are the National Rifle Association and the consultants who built their TV ads.
Soon after the election, the Trump administration rescinded an order, issued in the waning days of the Obama administration, that banned lead ammunition in various hunting and fishing areasthe NRA immediately praised the action.
In retrospect, the second week of December 2015 is notable: In Moscows Metropol Hotel , now-disgraced Trump national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn dined with Putin at a dinner held by Russia Today, a state-sponsored propaganda outlet.
The NRA delegations 2015 trip to Russia took place the same week, lasting from Dec. 8-13, according to Clarkes public financial revealing sorts,( PDF ), and included not only the people who met with Rogozin but a number of other NRA dignitaries, including donors Dr. Arnold Goldshlager and Hilary Goldschlager, as well as Jim Liberatore, the CEO of the Outdoor Channel.
Various members had various stated reasons for going. At least one was there for business reasons.
Mr. Liberatore traveled to Russia to discuss our new outdoor lifestyle service MyOutdoorTV( MOTV) and prospects for international distribution, told Liberatores spokesman, Thomas Caraccioli. Liberatore did not meet with Rogozin, he added.
The delegates who were contacted by The Daily Beast did not respond to questions regarding how they paid for their trip. But Clarke, as the sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, was required to fill out public disclosure sorts outlining any private fund he received for traveling( PDF ).
The trip was sponsored at least in part by the organization, The Right to Bear Arms, a pistols advocacy organization founded by Russian national Maria Butina, a former Siberian furniture store owned who now lives in Washington , D.C ., and serves as a is connected with Russian political circles and the American capitals conservative elite.
A delegation of the worlds largest handgun rights civic organizationthe National Rifle Association of the US( the NRA) visited Moscow on an official trip and met with supporters of the Right to Bear Arms motion, wrote Butina in Russian in December 2015, posting a photo of the delegation on her organisations Facebook page.
Clarke reported that Butinas organization paid $6,000 for his dinners, hotel, transportation, and outings during his time in Russia. Brownell, the CEO of a prominent pistols company and an NRA board member, paid for the remainder, including his airfare and visas.
It is unclear where Butinas firearms advocacy organization get her moneyit is a puzzling group, considering that Russia does not have a large grassroots movement for handgun rights like the United States does.
Butina does, however, have a close relationship with Alexander Torshin, the former deputy governor of Russias central bank who has been accused by Spanish authorities of laundering fund for the Russian mob. Neither Butina and Torshin responded to requests for comment.
Both Torshin and Butina pride themselves on their close relationship with the National Rifle Assocation, boasting on social media about their life memberships in the organization and posting photos of themselves with Keene, a former president of the NRA.
Theyre not the only ones who posted photos presenting links with the NRA: Rogozin posted photos of his meetings with the NRA in 2015. In one photo, the deputy prime minister is stands at what looks just like a shooting scope with Gregory, Brownell, and Keene.
In another photo, Rogozin is at a conference table with Clarke and Brownell. Putin ally and former Russian senator Alexander Torshin is also seated with the group, along with a number of other unidentified individuals.
A White House spokesman declined to comment, as did the NRA.
Whatever the NRAs ultimate reason for sending a delegation to Moscow, the conservative motion in D.C. is starting to slowly shift their views on Russia and Putin.
In May 2014, Keene criticized President Obama for not doing enough to confront Putin.
The United States under President Obamas leadership is content to issue rhetorical denunciations , insult Mr. Putin by claiming he operates a second-rate country that doesnt understand the times in which we live , and deny he and his friends visas to visit the United States[ emphasis added ], Keene wrote in the Washington Times , where he is now an editor.
With Trump about to enter office, in January 2017, Keene was singing a different tune.
We seem prepared to believe any evil of Vladimir Putins Russia, which has with its second-rate military establishment and failing economy somehow morphed in the minds of many Americans into a greater threat than the old Soviet Union[ emphasis added ], he wrote.
Asked why the contradiction, Keene hired some Trumpian logic.
The two statements arent inconsistent, he told The Daily Beast.
with additional reporting by Anna Nemtsova, Michael Weiss, and Katie Zavadski .
Read more: www.thedailybeast.com