Over the weekend, headlines all over the internet claimed that the National Rifle Association, the oldest civil rights organization in the United States, was really a “foreign asset” of the Russian government. It’s a sensational headline and, in fairness, these media outlets didn’t just make up this claim. No, they were quoting a report that said precisely that.
However, the report also isn’t what it was made out to be.
As David Harsanyi wrote over at The Federalist:
National Public Radio’s Tim Mak has been on the NRA-is-a-Russian-front beat for some time now. You may find a journalistic project predicated on a determined outcome a bit odd, but that’s how things seem to work these days.
The latest article in the series is headlined “NRA Was ‘Foreign Asset’ To Russia Ahead of 2016, New Senate Report Reveals,” and it reads like a partisan talking points memo, with not a single hint of skepticism to be found anywhere. The “report” itself, written by teSen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, is larded with suspenseful prose that works to create the impression that completely legal and innocuous interactions are part of a nefarious plot. The only thing it “reveals” is that Senate Democrats have no qualms leveling tendentious claims and spreading conspiracy theories.
Wyden should have been asked two simple questions:
1: Where we can find evidence demonstrating that the National Rifle Association acted in the interests of the Russian government rather than the interests of its members or its core mission in defending gun rights? Surely a sitting senator wouldn’t accuse an advocacy group with millions of members of being a “foreign asset”—I mean, it’s right there on the cover!—without the presence of at least one corroborating piece of evidence. An email? A phone call? A witness?
2: Where in the report can we find evidence that backs up your long-held contention that Kremlin lackey Alexander Torshin or his sidekick Maria Butina—or anyone else, for that matter—“illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency” in 2016? Surely there’s a bank receipt or transaction record or a witness who supports this spectacular allegation? The FBI and former special counsel Robert Mueller, armed with subpoena powers and an unlimited scope, reportedly investigated the issue of Russian money and the NRA, and even they turned up nothing.
The answer is there is no such evidence. A full fisking of the document would be end up being longer than actual report. Although a reader really only needs to follow some of the footnotes to understand just how preposterous Wyden’s work really is. Take these two quick examples.
I’m going to encourage you to go and read Harsanyi’s excellent rebuttal of the report.
The short version is that this “report” is nothing of the sort. It’s a partisan hack job masquerading as an official report. This isn’t something discovered during an unbiased investigation looking at the facts and following them wherever they may lead. No, it’s a Senate Democrat who is using his position to paint an ideologically opposed group as if they were in the employ of a foreign government.
However, the phrase “foreign asset” has a particular meaning. The best Wyden can do is tie Marine Butina to meeting with the NRA. As Harsanyi notes, the report tries to paint these interactions as if those she met with knew she was a Russian agent. There’s no evidence to suggest that. In fact, as noted by Harsanyi, there’s remarkably little evidence of her actually being an agent despite the massive amount of taxpayer money thrown at the investigation into her.
After all, she painted herself as a Russian gun-rights activist. As American gun rights activists believe that the right to keep and bear arms is a human right, why wouldn’t they meet with those who want to expand those rights in other nations?
What Sen. Wyden did with his report is nothing more than commit libel, in my opinion, by trying to present the NRA as being in the employ of the Russian government. So why did he do it? Harsanyi says it quite well when he wrote, “What’s clear from the report is that Wyden’s real goal is to strip the NRA of not-for-profit status, hampering its ability to effectively lobby on gun policy.”
That’s what it’s all about. It’s not that I think even Wyden buys the claim that the NRA is a foreign asset. Sure, the organization may or may not have some issues, but it’s definitely not working with the Kremlin and I think he knows it. He just wants to remove the 800 lbs gorilla in the gun control room so he and his party can run roughshod over our Second Amendment rights.