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 WydenDemocrats release data showing increase in 'mega-IRA' accounts Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Jan. 6 probe, infrastructure to dominate week 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 TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt 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 PutinDemocrats find a tax Republicans can support Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections MORE, and Maria ButinaMaria ButinaAmerican imprisoned in Russia calls for Biden to resolve 'hostage diplomacy situation' in Putin meeting Fake German heiress Anna Sorokin taken into custody, faces deportation US-convicted Russian operative Maria Butina visits Navalny in jail 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 CohenMichael Wolff and the art of monetizing gossip Why the Trump Organization indictment may be far less consequential than the media think Michael Cohen: Weisselberg indictment 'the tip of the iceberg' 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.