Mueller is reportedly probing the Trump campaign's seedy ties to the NRA — which has its own Russia problems
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is probing the ties between President Donal Trump's 2016 campaign and the National Rifle Association as part of the Russia investigation, according to a new report from CNN.
CNN cites two main facts in support of this claim: Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign aide and ally of Roger Stone, said on the record that Mueller asked him about the ties to the NRA in February of 2018. The report also indicates that Mueller was "raising questions about the relationship between the campaign and the gun group" in the past month or so, though it cites no specific source for this fact.
These findings are plausible, though, for several reasons.
The NRA was a major backer of Trump's candidacy. As CNN notes, it dumped around $30 million into efforts to support his candidacy, a massive amount even by the NRA's standards.
There's also the still-mysterious case of Maria Butina, the Russian citizen who has pleaded guilty to working as an undisclosed agent of the federation. In her work, she portrayed herself as a Russian gun rights activist and formed ties to the NRA. Butina also has curious — though nebulous — ties to the Trump campaign. For example, she once asked Trump about dropping sanctions on Russia at a public event in 2015.
And Senate Democrats have alleged that the Kremlin attempted to use the NRA as a backchannel to the Trump campaign via Butina and Alexander Torshin, her chief contact and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Separately the New York Times has reported that Donald Trump Jr. met with Torshin at an NRA event.
Meanwhile, McClatchy has reported that the FBI is investigating the NRA for potentially receiving Russian funds during the campaign. The report said that the investigation is trying to ascertain whether Torshin "arranged for Russian money to flow through the gun rights group to aid Trump, people familiar with the inquiry say."
There is also evidence suggesting that the NRA and the Trump campaign had untoward ties, even apart from the Russia elements.
In December, Mother Jones reported that it had obtained documents that showed that the NRA and the campaign likely coordinated a barrage of election-related ads through a third party in Virginia.
“This is very strong evidence, if not proof, of illegal coordination,” Larry Noble, a former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission, told Mother Jones. “This is the heat of the general election, and the same person is acting as an agent for the NRA and the Trump campaign.”