Wyden blasts FEC Republicans for blocking probe into NRA over possible Russia donations

Wyden blasts FEC Republicans for blocking probe into NRA over possible Russia donations
© Aaron Schwartz

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike Senate Democrats vow to keep pushing for more funds for mail-in voting Hillicon Valley: Coronavirus deal includes funds for mail-in voting | Twitter pulled into fight over virus disinformation | State AGs target price gouging | Apple to donate 10M masks MORE (D-Ore.) condemned Republicans on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) after they voted on Friday to block an in-depth investigation into allegations that Russians illegally donated to the National Rifle Association (NRA) in an effort to benefit President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump orders US troops back to active duty for coronavirus response Trump asserts power to decide info inspector general for stimulus gives Congress Fighting a virus with the wrong tools MORE's 2016 presidential campaign. 

"A foreign adversary interfered in the 2016 presidential election and the response from Republicans at every level, whether it be President Trump, congressional Republicans, or now the Republican appointees on the Federal Election Commission, has been to bury their heads in the sand or actively obstruct getting to the bottom of what happened," Wyden said in a written statement provided to Newsweek.

"It's inexcusable that Republican commissioners would block an investigation into whether Russian money was funneled through the National Rifle Association to help President Trump," Wyden continued, according to Newsweek. "The blatant partisanship is appalling, undermines our democracy and leaves us vulnerable to continued interference in 2020."

In March 2018, the FEC launched a preliminary investigation into allegations that Alexander Torshin, a Russian banker and former politician with ties to President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill Putin wears hazmat suit during hospital visit; Moscow mayor warns of undercounted cases Hillicon Valley: Facebook reports huge spike in usage during pandemic | Democrats push for mail-in voting funds in coronavirus stimulus | Trump delays deadline to acquire REAL ID MORE, and Maria ButinaMaria ButinaTreasury adviser pleads guilty to making unauthorized disclosures in case involving Manafort Recently jailed Maria Butina rewarded with new show on Russia Today Russia offers Maria Butina a job at human rights commission MORE, who admitted to working as a Russian agent to infiltrate the NRA, made illegal donations to the NRA in an effort for those donations to support Trump's presidential bid.

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The NRA and its lobbying arm spent a total of $30 million in the 2016 election to support Trump.

On Friday, the FEC deadlocked in a 2-2 vote, failing to find a reason to believe Torshin and Butina made illegal donations and deciding not to take action to investigate the allegations.

FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub also criticized the vote on Friday, saying the FEC was doing "nothing to find out the truth behind one of the most blockbuster campaign finance allegations in recent memory."

Commissioner Caroline C. Hunter defended FEC Republicans in a statement to Newsweek, saying it is "forbidden from investigating groups purely based on rank speculation."

"Once again, Chair Weintraub rejected the advice of the FEC's lawyers but blames her Republican colleagues. Her statement is long on conjecture and short on the evidence and the law. She relies on an 'article' [published by] McClatchy written by the same individuals who inaccurately reported Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenJudge rejects Michael Cohen's plea for early prison release amid coronavirus Michael Cohen cites 'absence of presidential leadership' over coronavirus in effort to move to home confinement Free Roger Stone MORE was in Prague in 2016. The FEC is forbidden from investigating groups purely based on rank speculation."

Earlier this year, the gun control group Giffords filed a lawsuit against the FEC for not taking action on the investigation. The NRA dismissed the lawsuit and allegations of illegal campaign contributions, telling The Washington Post they "scrupulously follow the law."

“We scrupulously follow the law,” an NRA spokeswoman told The Post at the time. “This latest effort by Giffords and the Campaign Legal Center is a frivolous lawsuit based on a frivolous complaint.”

The Hill has reached out to the NRA and FEC for comment.