Judiciary Dems call for hearings on NRA's role in Russia's 2016 election meddling

Judiciary Dems call for hearings on NRA's role in Russia's 2016 election meddling
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Two Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are calling on the panel to examine whether top officials at the National Rifle Association (NRA) were aware of Russia's attempts to contribute money to the Trump campaign through the gun rights group.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Dems sue Archives to try to force release of Kavanaugh documents Dems call on Senate to postpone Kavanaugh vote Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski MORE (R.I.) pressed Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyDem: 'Bulls---' to say GOP doing everything to contact Kavanaugh accuser Grassley wants unredacted version of letter from Kavanaugh's accuser Attorney for Kavanaugh accuser criticizes Senate panel's ‘rush to a hearing’ MORE (R-Iowa) in a letter to hold public hearings on the matter, a request that comes after federal authorities indicted a Russian woman last week that they allege acted as a Kremlin agent.

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Maria Butina was indicted for allegedly working to advance Russia's interests by cultivating relationships with Republican power players as well as infiltrating "organizations active in U.S. politics."

While the groups and individuals she formed relationships with go unnamed in the indictment, Butina is believed to have been in a relationship with a Republican political operative — listed as "U.S. Person 1" — who authorities say played a key role in helping her gain access to other influential people. 

This individual, according to the indictment, wrote an email in October 2016 saying he has been "involved in securing a very secure line of communication" between the Kremlin and what is believed to the Trump campaign and the NRA.

“These reports and court filings suggest that the Russian government may have been using the NRA, through Ms. Butina and others, to funnel funds to the Trump campaign," Blumenthal and Whitehouse write in a letter to Grassley, noting it is illegal for foreign groups to directly or indirectly contribute to U.S. political campaigns. 

“As members of the Committee tasked with oversight over federal campaign finance law, we have an interest in determining whether the NRA was aware of attempts by Ms. Butina to violate the prohibition on foreign contributions to U.S. campaigns," they continue.

The call for public hearings comes amid rising fears that Russians will seek to meddle in future election, following their efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential race.

Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's ongoing probe is examining potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.