Last Thursday, investigative reporters Peter Stone and Greg Gordon of McClatchy DC Bureau reported what could be another bombshell in the Russia probe: that the FBI is investigating whether a Kremlin-linked banker illegally channeled funds to the National Rifle Association to aid Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
On Friday, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, told me on SiriusXM Progress that the word on Capitol Hill is that the story of a Russia-NRA-Trump link is going to grow.
“FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA,” Stone and Gordon reported being told by two sources familiar with the matter.
The journalists noted that it’s “illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.”
The same day their story ran, Gordon told me on SiriusXM Progress he and Stone are fairly certain the Torshin investigation is part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
“We’re confident that this is Mueller,” he said. “There’s no part of the FBI that is doing Trump and Russia and not working for Mueller.”
The Kremlin’s alleged outreach to the NRA, Stone observed, “can be looked at as another part of the way that Russia is trying to build political links in the U.S., and that’s what the suspicions are.”
The NRA reported spending a record amount of money on the 2016 elections: $55 million. That includes over $30 million pushing for the election of Trump, which is three times what the group spent to advance Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012.
When I asked about the McClatchy report on Friday, Lieu, a former prosecutor who has been outspoken on Twitter about alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, said, “The rumors I’ve heard on Capitol Hill are that the NRA-Kremlin story is going to get bigger, particularly because we’re talking about some potentially very large sums of money being involved.”
Lieu underscored the possible significance of the story with a telling comparison to Watergate.
“It’s ironic that when you think about Watergate, one of the lines we followed was, ‘Follow the money,’” he commented.
The congressman also weighed in on reports that former White House strategist Steve Bannon, whose recent falling-out with Trump cost him his perch as chairman of Breitbart News, was subpoenaed by Mueller to testify.
“He is going to testify under penalty of perjury and he is going to testify at a time when Donald Trump and his associates have abandoned Steve Bannon,” Lieu said. “I think Donald Trump and his associates are in some serious legal jeopardy.”