Of all the angles Russian intelligence organizations used to infiltrate and undermine American society in recent years, their courtship of the National Rifle Association is perhaps the most audacious.
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Unlike their exploits to hack the Democratic National Committee and spread misinformation over social media, their confidence operation on the NRA has taken place over a long period of time, and out in the open.
The NRA’s leadership has done little to nothing to conceal their cozy relationships with Russian oligarchs tied to the Kremlin. In fact, they’ve even openly touted their budding friendships with NRA-like groups in Russia. President Trump’s third and current National Security Advisor, John Bolton, even taped a video for the NRA’s Russian patrons that was played to an audience at a gun rights convention in Russia.
After recent reporting began to expose previously undisclosed financial ties between the NRA and Russia, however, many Americans began to question the nature of their patronage.
For months now, pro-second amendment lawmakers and their allies in the right-wing media have been desperately trying to downplay the suspicious financial links that have been uncovered between the NRA and Russian billionaire banker Alexander Torshin.
Now we know why. Many of the people involved with facilitating the financial arrangements between the NRA and Kremlin-linked oligarchs like Torshin are also closely linked to Republican lawmakers.
Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn is one such Republican. She’s locked in a tight race with Democrat Phil Bredensen to replace GOP Senator Bob Corker, who announced last year he would not seek reelection.
She also counts among her most important advisors one Kline Preston, a Nashville area lawyer who is at the center of the NRA’s extensive relationship with Torshin.
“Preston first introduced Torshin to then-president of the NRA David Keene in 2011,” The Tennessean reported in March. “The pair later attended the NRA’s annual convention in Nashville in 2015.”
This confirmed link to one of Putin’s closest oligarchs has put Preston’s relationship with Rep. Blackburn under intense scrutiny. But Blackburn’s representatives have declined to offer any clarification of Preston’s role within the campaign. When asked by The Tennessean back in March to comment on their report, they dodged completely.
“A spokeswoman for Blackburn declined to answer specific questions about Preston’s work for the campaign or his relationship with her or her family members. Instead, the spokeswoman issued a statement condemning Russia.
“Congressman Blackburn believes Russia is not our friend,” the statement read, “and [she] thinks we need to treat Russia like any bully…”
The lady doth protest too much, me thinks. Preston has offered little to no clarification either, saying only that they were longtime “family friends.” Now we know it was much, much more than that.
Think Progress has obtained documents that confirm Kline Preston was not only intimately involved with Rep. Blackburn’s past campaigns, he actually led them.
“Blackburn was far closer to Preston than has previously been reported,” Casey Michel at Think Progress writes. “Preston not only listed himself as the ‘Campaign Finance Chairman’ for Blackburn, but additionally worked for years as the president of Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc.”
More from Think Progress:
“According to information now removed from his website, Preston says he served as president for Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc. through at least 2014, with official documents showing the work beginning in 2003. During the same time period, he also introduced Alexander Torshin, a now-sanctioned Russian official accused of mafia ties and massive money laundering in Europe, to then-NRA President David Keene.”
Rep. Blackburn is just the latest in a string of Republican lawmakers whose dubious ties to high ranking Russians have been uncovered. When Special Counsel Robert Mueller finally concludes his investigation into Russia’s multifaceted operation to undermine the 2016 presidential election and tip the scales in Donald Trump’s favor, expect there to be plenty more like her.