Sam Thielman

Sam Thielman is an investigative reporter for Talking Points Memo based in Manhattan. He has worked as a reporter and critic for the Guardian, Variety, Adweek and Newsday, where he covered stories from the hacking attacks on US and international targets by Russian GRU and FSB security services to the struggle to bring broadband internet to the Navajo nation. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son and too many comic books.

Articles by Sam

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JUNE, 16 (RUSSIA OUT) Russian billionaire and busimessman, Concord catering company owner Yevgeny Prigozhin is seen during a meeting with foreign investors at Konstantin Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia, June,16, 2016. Vladimir Putin attends the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
Russian billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin attends a meeting, June 16, 2016, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

Some of the names in the Mueller indictment are new to the unfolding drama, but others we know all too well. Reporting on the unprecedented Russian efforts to swing the U.S. election uncovered the work of troll farm Internet Research Agency (IRA) before Friday’s indictment; some of its most notorious characters are now wanted by the FBI. In my notebooks, I have a large collection of shady Russians too obscure to include in stories about American politics. It’s weirdly gratifying to see some of them surface in the indictment.

Here are some names that were already on our radar:

Yevgeny Prigozhin

“Putin’s Chef” is, as his nickname suggests, a close ally of the autocratic president of the Russian Federation; he is also a restaurateur who runs a tony eatery out of a repurposed yacht in St. Petersburg, the city where the IRA is also located. Concord Management and Consulting, another of the billionaire Russian’s main businesses, is also named in the indictment. Prigozhin is notoriously vain: He sued internet company Yandex 15 times in a a single year, according to CNN, over “illegal, inaccurate, or irrelevant information.” He also spent nine years in prison in the 1980s for fraud and robbery. The Anti-Corruption Foundation, a Russian non-profit founded by Putin nemesis Alexey Navalny in 2011, accuses Prigozhin of defrauding the Russian government of billions of rubles.

Mikhail Bystrov

Wired reported in September that Bystrov, former head of the IRA, is still very much in the same business: He runs a new Russian troll farm, called Glavset, out of St Petersburg. Actually, he runs Glavsest out of the same office building where the Internet Research Agency used to be.

Mikhail Burchik

Burchik appears to have supervised one of the more disturbing operations detailed of the indictment. The document alleges that two women who worked for the Kremlin obtained tourist visas in 2014 and toured the U.S. gathering intelligence for use in IRA’s election interference campaign. Burchik, a 30-year-old “internet entrepreneur,” according to English-language Russian news site Meduza, was “executive director” of one of the many legal entities associated with the troll farm.

Dzheykhun “Jay” Aslanov

The head of the IRA’s American unit, which was responsible for many of the activities detailed in the indictment, Aslanov is most notable for his role in a gimlet-eyed account of his work at the IRA offered by one of the group’s former employees, Alan Baskayev, who gave a lengthy interview to Russian TV network Dzodh last year. “Jay was a really not bad manager: not the most competent in this field, well, frankly speaking, generally incompetent, but he had assistants,” Baskayev recalled.

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The Kremlin operation that interfered in the 2016 campaign stoked fears of voter fraud in advance of election day, purchasing ads on Facebook and using the #VoterFraud hashtag on Twitter, according to an indictment of 13 Russian nationals filed by Robert Mueller’s probe on Friday.

Separately, the Russians spread social media messages that aimed to discourage blacks from voting, the indictment says.

One Facebook account, called Stop A.I., alleged in August that “Hillary Clinton has already committed voter fraud during the Democrat Iowa Caucust,” according to the indictment.

A week later, the group used its @TEN_GOP twitter account to report fictitious accusations of voter fraud being investigated in North Carolina.

A week before the election, the group used the #VoterFraud hashtag to push a similar lie, this time involving “tens of thousands of ineligible mail in [sic] Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida.”

Trump, too, made numerous false claims about Democratic voter fraud in the run-up to the 2016 election.

The indictment also says that late in 2016, the Russians “began to encourage U.S, minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for third-party U.S. presidential candidate.”

“We cannot resort to the lesser of two evils,” one Russian-controlled Instagram account said, referring to Clinton as “Killary.”

“Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein,” said another Russian-backed Instagram post.

Responding to the indictment, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said in a statement: “Of particular concern, the indictments show how the Russians tried to suppress the votes of minorities across the United States in order to help Donald Trump win the presidency.”

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A Treasury Department list of wealthy Russian allies of Vladimir Putin appears to have been classified without the involvement of the intelligence community.

The news raises further questions about whether the list needed to be classified in its entirety at all. And it adds to concerns that the Trump administration is finding ways to soft-pedal its enforcement of Russian sanctions to avoid alienating Putin.

At Tuesday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on global threats, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked the five top intelligence chiefs an unusual question, citing “the politicizing of the classification system”: Had any of them taken a position on the Trump administration’s decision to classify a major portion of a report on Russian oligarchs created by the Treasury Department?

Four of the men — FBI director Christopher Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA director Mike Pompeo, and DIA director Robert Ashley — answered that they had not. NSA chief Michael Rogers answered: “I raised concerns with the DNI,” but he appeared to be talking about the Nunes memo, a different issue that Wyden had also asked about.

As part of a sanctions law passed by Congress in August in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the Treasury Department was required to create a report on wealthy Russians closely aligned with Vladimir Putin.

But even as he signed the sanctions bill, President Trump referred to it as “seriously flawed.” And he made a point of saying that the executive branch answered to him, not to Congress.

A day before the January 30 deadline to produce the report, Treasury issued a bare list of Russian billionaires that it acknowledged had been taken from Forbes magazine. Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said there was a classified annex to the report that Treasury would use to punish oligarchs closely aligned with Putin, per the bill’s mandate. Mnuchin said that could happen as soon as February.

In response, Wyden called for the annex to be declassified and said Mnuchin “isn’t even going through the motions” of following the law.

A spokesman for the Treasury, who asked that his name not be used, declined to comment on the record about the level of involvement of the intelligence community in classifying the annex.

But the spokesman said the annex had been developed with input from the intelligence community. He added that it needed to be fully classified because it “describes specified Russians’ links to corruption, international business affiliations, and other sensitive information,” using “classified sources and methods.”

The department “does not publicly telegraph future sanctions actions,” the spokesman said. “Including a classified annex in the report allows inclusion of highly sensitive classified information. It similarly protects against asset flight by those discussed there.”

John Sipher, a former member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service, the leadership team that guides CIA activities, told TPM the Treasury’s decision to leave the full annex classified without apparent input from the intelligence community struck him as unusual, too.

“I assumed they’d been consulted,” he said of the intel community. “If not, it is very odd.”

I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general of the intelligence community under President Obama from 2011 to 2017, said it wasn’t unusual in itself for the Treasury to use its classification power without the intelligence community officially being involved. But he said he was surprised to hear the intelligence chiefs say they hadn’t had any heads-up at all.

“Treasury is more involved with intel than people realize; they’re part of the intelligence community with the Office of Foreign Asset Control,” said McCullough, now a partner at D. C. firm Tully Rinckey. But, he continued, “you’d think there would be some coordination at a lower level just to sort of deconflict things. I guarantee if they were declassifying something, there would be communication.”

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In a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) sent last week, four top congressional Democrats laid out reams of evidence suggesting that President Trump is improperly using the proposed Time Warner-AT&T merger to pressure Time Warner-owned CNN for gentler coverage.

“[W]e are deeply concerned by reports of inappropriate interference by the White House,” the Democrats wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose department sued to block the deal in November. The Democrats also took Sessions to task for declining to say, during congressional testimony, whether DoJ communicated with the White House on the issue. 

The Justice Department’s lawsuit is anything but an easy case. But in the most important sense, the result may not matter: Merely by picking the fight, Trump appears to be putting news organizations on notice that he’s willing to use the powers of the federal government to hurt them if they don’t play nice.

It’s hardly the first time that Trump has appeared to use DOJ to advance his political agenda. But this instance represents a double threat. By sending a message to the corporate owners of leading news outlets that their businesses can expect to pay a price for hard-hitting coverage, the move jeopardizes the independence not just of the U.S. justice system, but of the media, too.

Timothy Karr of the media advocacy group Free Press told TPM he worries that the next step could be charges against reporters for publishing stories that damage the administration  something that would likely have a chilling effect on the media similar to or worse than the DoJ’s lawsuit and something that appeals to Trump, who vowed to “open up our libel laws” as a candidate. The Obama administration, he added, helped lay some of the groundwork, setting a record for prosecutions under the Espionage Act, often of whistleblowers.

“The Trump administration doesn’t like leakers in its midst,” Karr said. “It may only be a matter of time before we see those prosecutions from Trump.”

Successfully neutering CNN would be a major coup for the White House. And it almost certainly would be personally satisfying to Trump, who is notoriously sensitive to his image on cable news.

In June, the network retracted a flawed story about the Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci and a Russian investment fund, and cut ties with three journalists involved. Trump celebrated on Twitter that CNN “got caught falsely pushing their phony Russian stories.”

“He’s trying to bully us, and we’re not going to let him intimidate us,” CNN president Jeff Zucker reportedly told employees in response. “You can’t lose your confidence and let that change the way you conduct yourselves.”

Karr and other advocates for tough antitrust policies say it’s legitimate to worry about the impact on consumers of the AT&T-Time Warner merger. In its lawsuit, the Justice Department alleged that the deal would lead to less innovation and higher costs for consumers.

But there are reasons to think that’s not what’s driving the Trump administration’s actions — not least the administration’s broad anti-regulatory stance elsewhere.

Trump has put outspoken foes of excessive regulation in charge of the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. And in December, he stood next to giant stacks of paper as he celebrated what he called the “most far-reaching regulatory reform” in U.S. history.

Even the Justice Department official who brought the case against the AT&T-Time Warner merger, Makan Delrahim, who leads the department’s antitrust division, was on a different side of the issue in 2016, when he was a conservative law professor.

“Just the sheer size of it and the fact that it’s media will get a lot of attention, but I don’t see this as a major antitrust problem,” Delrahim told Canadian network BNN two weeks before the election.

AT&T is reportedly seeking to put Delrahim on its witness list. And the company is suggesting that his apparent change of heart was the result of inappropriate political pressure.

“[W]e do not have to prove why Makan Delrahim decided to pursue this case, but if evidence does emerge that it was pursued for some improper purpose, that’s not going to obviously help the DOJ,” Dan Petrocelli, AT&T’s general counsel said on an earnings call last month.

Trump’s opposition to the merger didn’t come after a careful look at the impact on consumers. By his own admission, his mind was made up as soon as he heard about the potential deal.

“As an example of the power structure I am fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN — a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” he told rally-goers in Gettysburg, Penn. in October 2016, the day the planned merger was announced.

Then the week before the inauguration, Trump met with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson (the merger didn’t come up, Stephenson has said). Trump also met the same week with the CEOs of Monsanto and Bayer, which also had a proposed merger on the table. The meetings provoked criticism from anti-trust experts, who said it was troubling that Trump was departing with the usual White House practice of steering clear of companies with merger plans that might require Justice Department approval. 

Less than a month into Trump’s administration, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, complained to Gary Ginsberg, a Time Warner exec, about CNN’s coverage, which Kushner viewed as hostile.

In July, a senior administration official told the New York Times that the White House had discussed the merger as “a potential point of leverage over their adversary,” in the paper’s words. The admission received little scrutiny at the time, but it was a remarkably brazen effort by the White House to publicly warn that it recognizes how its power over the merger proposal might be used to bend CNN to its will.

That same month, Trump tweeted a gif of himself tackling a wrestler with the CNN logo superimposed over his head—something the Democrats noted in their letter to Sessions. Other Trump tweets have attacked CNN as ‘fake news.” 

The legal push to block the merger began in earnest in November. A year to the day after the election, DOJ officials quietly tried to pressure AT&T and Time Warner to commit to selling CNN as a condition of the transaction, an idea Stephenson publicly rejected the same day. Two days later, Kushner met with Ginsberg again to tell him he thought CNN should fire 20% of its staff.

The following week, Sessions testified before the House Judiciary Committee where Rep. David Cicilline asked him whether he’d discussed the merger with Trump. In response, Sessions refused to answer, though he didn’t assert executive privilege.

“I am not able to comment on conversations or communications that Department of Justice top people have with top people at the White House,” Sessions said.

Six days later, the Justice Department filed suit to block the merger.

“Personally, I’ve always felt that that was a deal that’s not good for the country,” Trump told reporters at a White House press conference soon afterward.

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At a Tuesday Senate Intelligence Committee meeting, Sen. Angus King (I-ME) scolded the president — and his appointees — for not responding to Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, saying that without a clear doctrine of deterrence there was no reason for the Kremlin not to continue to interfere in American politics without fear of consequence.

We cannot confront this threat, which is a serious one, with a whole of government response when the leader of the government continues to deny it exists.” King observed. “We’re trying to fight a global battle with our hands tied behind our back.” 

King referred to the opening statement from Director of National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, calling his assessment of the 2016 Kremlin disinformation operation during the U.S. election “stunning.”

“They will work to use cyber operations to achieve strategic objectives unless they face repercussions for their operations,” King summarized. “Right now there are none! Is that not the case? There are no repercussions. We have no doctrine of deterrence. How are we going to get them to stop doing this if all we do is patch our software and try to defend ourselves?”

Trump has been slow to punish Russia, and, without the President on board, King said he has faced backlash from constituents for pushing for Russia to face consequences. “My problem is I talk to people in Maine that say, ‘The whole thing is a witch-hunt and hoax because the president told me.'”

I am sick and tired of going to these hearings, which I have been going to for five years, where everybody talks about cyber attacks, and our country still does not have a policy or a doctrine or a strategy for dealing with them,” King said. The Obama administration, he observed, “didn’t do it either.”

“Director Pompeo, you understand this issue, do you not?” King said to CIA director Mike Pompeo. “We have to have a doctrine of deterrence — if they strike us in cyber, they’ll be struck back in some way.”

Pompeo demurred, saying the public nature of the hearing precluded him from speaking about the ways the U.S. had punished the Russian government for the 2016 cyberattacks. “I’d argue your statement that we have done nothing does not reflect the responses that frankly some of us at this table have engaged in and the United States government engaged in, during and before this administration,” Pompeo said. Pompeo deferred questions about response to Russia later in the hearing, as well, telling Jack Reed (D-RI) that “We have a significant effort, I’m happy to talk to you about in closed session, and it’s not just our effort. It is certainly an all-of-IC effort.”

That wasn’t good enough for King. “Deterrence doesn’t work unless the other side knows it,” he said. “The doomsday machine in Dr. Strangelove didn’t work because the Russians hadn’t told us about it.”

Coats was less coy, saying that 9-11 had happened because of a similar failure of intelligence. If someone is attacking you and there’s no retribution or response, it is going to incentivize more contacts,” he said. “Right now, there are a lot of blank checks for things we need to do.”

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At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday morning, CIA Director Mike Pompeo fielded a disturbing question from ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA): “Has the intelligence community assessed how the North Korean regime would react to a preventive United States attack?”

“We have,” Pompeo replied. “I would prefer to share that with you in closed session this afternoon.”

In open session though, Pompeo elaborated slightly: “We have written about various forms of actions,” he said. The intelligence community had also measured “the certainty and uncertainty we have around that analysis, as well as what we think happens in the event that the United States decides not to do that and continues to allow Kim Jong-un to develop his nuclear weapons arsenal,” Pompeo told the committee.

Feinstein pressed him further: “Have you explored what it would take to bring them to the table?” she asked.

“We have,” Pompeo said. “I’d prefer to share that with you in closed session.”

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For more than a year, there’s been intense scrutiny of Russia’s sprawling campaign to influence the 2016 election, and of the extent to which Donald Trump’s campaign was complicit in it.

But the question of just what Russia hoped to get from Trump has stayed mostly on the back-burner. 

That has obscured a crucial reality. On numerous occasions, in numerous ways, Russians working for or linked to Vladimir Putin’s government have asked Trump or his team to weaken or lift U.S. sanctions on Russia. And — through his public rhetoric, through a weak approach to enforcement, and, most recently, through his resistance to fully implementing a sanctions law passed by Congress — Trump has mostly done what he can to oblige.

Among Russia’s top concerns has been the Magnitsky Act, which was passed by Congress in 2012 in retaliation for Russia’s mistreatment of Sergei Magnitsky, an accountant who died in prison in 2009 — European investigators concluded he was murdered — after exposing an alleged money-laundering scheme that implicated top Russian officials. The law targeted specific Russian officials determined to be involved with Magnitsky’s death, barring them from entering the U.S. or using its banking system.

Then in 2014, President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on a range of Russian institutions including state banks, in retaliation for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine earlier that year. And in December 2016, Obama imposed additional sanctions on Russian nationals and tech companies, including ordering the removal of 35 Russian diplomats from the U.S., in response to Russia’s campaign to influence the U.S. election.

It’s the Magnitsky Act that’s especially enraging to the Putin government, because it hits powerful figures in Russian business and government, whose ongoing support is crucial to Putin, Russia experts say.

“Putin hates targeted sanctions,” said Bill Browder, the American-born hedge-fund manager who employed Magnitsky when he uncovered the alleged money laundering, and has become an outspoken Putin critic. “If the country was sanctioned, they could always bring in planeloads of luxury goods. [Specific sanctions] target, at a precise level, the elite, and they leave the rest of the people alone.”

And as the Russia expert Amy Knight points out in a history of the Magnitsky affair in the New York Review of Books, laws like Magnitsky that punish Russia for internal human rights abuses strike at the source of Putin’s power: his ability to turn the law off and on when it suits him.

The Kremlin’s Quiet Push Against Sanctions

So the Russian government set out to ask for help from Trump. The Magnitsky Act was a topic of conversation at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between top campaign staff and Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-linked lawyer, the latter told Bloomberg last November. 

They had already approached him overtly at the start of his campaign: Maria Butina, a top aide to the Russian central banker Alexander Torshin, asked Trump to lift sanctions during the Q&A portion of a speech at a libertarian conference in Las Vegas in July 2015. Trump interrupted Butina’s question to praise Putin and say he wanted better relations with the country.

More overtures followed. In July 2016, Trump advisor Carter Page visited Moscow where he discussed the ways lifting sanctions would be “advantageous” to a Russian state oil company. Later that month, Trump officially received the Republican presidential nomination.

The campaign continued through backchannels. After the election, Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the U.S., called Michael Flynn to discuss the Obama administration’s December 2016 sanctions expelling Russian diplomats, according to documents charging Flynn with lying to federal investigators. Flynn asked Kisylak not to retaliate for those sanctions, suggesting the incoming Trump administration would undermine them.

The push got even more direct once Trump took office. In July 2017, Trump and Putin held a closed-door meeting where they discussed “adoption,” Trump later told the press. That was almost certainly a reference to the sanctions on American adoptions Putin imposed on the U.S. in retaliation for Magnitsky.

Donald Trump, Pushover

Trump appears to have been glad to go along with the Russian pressure campaign. In one key early sign of its willingness to play ball, the Trump campaign in July 2016 gutted the GOP platform’s hardline position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. 

Two months later, another foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, was inveighing against sanctions to Russian news agency Interfax. Papadopoulos would later plead guilty to lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation.

Once Trump took office, however, things became trickier. Despite Flynn’s promises to Kisylak about sanctions, by February Flynn had been fired amid the FBI probe, and legislation punishing Russia beyond the expulsion of the 35 diplomats appeared to be moving forward.

In August 2017, Congress responded to the Russian election interference by passing new sanctions nearly unanimously. The bill required Trump to name businesses and individuals to be added to a list, maintained by the Treasury, of entities with which it is illegal for Americans to do business.

It would have been politically damaging for Trump to veto the sanctions, especially given the ongoing focus on his campaign’s ties to Russia. But in signing the bill, Trump issued a statement protesting what he labelled unconstitutional provisions. Parts of the bill, Trump said, “purport to direct my subordinates in the executive branch to undertake certain diplomatic initiatives, in contravention of the President’s exclusive constitutional authority.”

In retaliation for the new sanctions, Putin expelled hundred of diplomats from Russia. In response, Trump thanked him, saying the State Department’s budget needed cutting anyway. He later said he was being sarcastic.

Still, Trump dragged his feet on implementing the new sanctions law. His administration released the list of 39 businesses nearly a month after an October 2017 deadline had passed. And on January 29 of this year, a day before the list of persons was due, the State Department announced it wouldn’t release one, saying the threat of punishment was punishment enough.

“[S]anctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters.

The same day, the Treasury released a list of Russian oligarchs with close ties to Putin, as required by the law. But it didn’t sanction them — Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin suggested he might do so later. Treasury turned out to have cribbed the list from Forbes.

The list was released the same week that three Russian intelligence officials — one of them himself under U.S. sanctions — were reported to have met with CIA director Mike Pompeo in the U.S.

“I think that the Trump administration was persuaded not to publish a narrow list of people to be sanctioned and instead to come out with this broad list of officials that ended up being meaningless,” said Knight, the Russia scholar and the author of Orders to Kill: The Putin Regime and Political Murder. “I think they were pressured by the Kremlin indirectly, possibly through this visit of the three intelligence chiefs.”

The Limits Of The Presidency

And yet, the Trump administration also has done plenty to anger Putin. The son of Yury Chaika, the power player behind Donald Jr.’s Trump Tower meeting, has been added to the Magnitsky list. And the U.S. is arming Ukraine—something Obama never did, and exactly the position his campaign tried to strip out of the GOP platform.

“There are a lot of things that are not great news for Russia under this administration,” said Browder.

Both Knight and Browder said the Kremlin likely has some buyer’s remorse about Trump, after seeing the limits on his ability to carry out their requests. The U.S. president, after all, has much less authority than Russia’s authoritarian leader.

“I think that Putin and his supporters are beginning to realize now that Trump can’t just wave a magic wand and have sanctions go away,” Knight adds. “There are a lot of things he can’t do! I don’t know that they’re so much disappointed in Trump as disappointed in finding out that in fact he has quite a few constraints.”

This post has been updated.

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A Russian pro-gun group with ties to the National Rifle Association boasted an “honorary members” list that’s a who’s-who of far-right and nationalist Russian political figures.

The group, The Right To Bear Arms, is run by Alexander Torshin, the Russian central bank official and Putin ally at the center of an FBI investigation into whether the NRA received illegal Russian money to boost Donald Trump in 2016.

The NRA has denied being contacted by the FBI about anything related to Russia, but has said almost nothing about the reported probe. The NRA spent more dark money in the 2016 election than any other political organization.

The honorary members list offers additional evidence that the Right To Bear Arms enjoys support from powerful far-right figures in Putin’s Russia. And it raises questions about the NRA’s relationship with the group: The Right To Bear Arms hosted top NRA officials for a 2015 meeting in Moscow and has forged other close contacts with the NRA. One person on the honorary members list told TPM he received his membership at a 2015 NRA meeting.

As recently as 2016, Right to Bear Arms listed 22 “honorary members” on its website, according to an archived version of the site, which described them as “individuals who make decisions on a national scale, as well as opinion leaders.” The Right To Bear Arms site said the honorary members were listed “with their consent.”

Many of those listed work alongside Torshin in the Russian parliament. They include top brass from the right-wing nationalist LDPR and Rodina parties. That’s a powerful membership for a group which was founded in 2012 by a then-24-year-old Siberian furniture store owner, Maria Butina, and which has had little success in promoting Russian gun rights.

“For nearly a year, the NRA has avoided answering basic questions about why it cozied up to Moscow and a Russian gun group with close ties to Vladimir Putin’s regime,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, told TPM. “Until the NRA comes clean and starts answering questions, Americans will continue to wonder what the NRA might be hiding.”

An NRA spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

One name on the list, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, is a longtime ally of Putin, who he has called “the tsar.” For decades, Zhirinovsky has been a leader of Russia’s far right. He has blamed Jews for starting the Second World War and provoking the Holocaust, and he played a key role in helping the intelligence officer suspected of poisoning defector Alexandr Litvinenko get elected to Russia’s parliament. A 2002 video shows a drunken Zhirinovsky threatening Condoleezza Rice, then the U.S. National Security Adviser, with gang rape. In October 2016, Zhirinovsky threatened “Hiroshimas and Nagasakis everywhere” if Americans voted for Hillary Clinton.

Oleg Volk, a Tennessee-based photographer who makes pro-gun posters and graphics, also is listed as an honorary member of The Right to Bear Arms. Volk told TPM that Butina and Torshin presented his honorary membership to him at “a brief lunch meeting” during the 2015 NRA conference in Nashville, as a thank you for making Russian-language images for the group to use.

Volk said he was “amused” to see Zhirinovsky’s name near his own.

“He was kind of the bogeyman in Russian politics, he was very anti-Semitic,” said Volk, who is Jewish. “People like him caused my family to get out of Russia.”

Among the other names on the Right to Bear Arms list: Ilya Drozdov, the deputy head of LDPR, who has called for Ukraine to be “wiped off the map;” as well as at least three other LDPR members.

Alexei Zhuravlev, also on the list, is a high-ranking member of the Russian parliament and the head of the Rodina party, which, like LDPR, opposes the pro-Western government in Ukraine. Zhuravelv has publicly supported the head of the Donetsk Separatists, who declared the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk a separate region called “Little Russia.” 

Rodina backs the The Antiglobalization Movement of Russia, which has courted aspiring secessionists in California, Texas and Puerto Rico and actively courts neo-Nazis. In 2015 Rodina hosted a nationalist event that featured attendees from Greek fascist group Golden Dawn and the violent far-right organization Britain First, as well as Ku Klux Klan lawyer and white supremacist Sam Dickson, and Jared Taylor, who leads the white nationalist group American Renaissance*.


*CORRECTION: This story originally referred incorrectly to American Renaissance as an American Nazi group. We apologize for the error.


Russian translation provided by Jerry Vinokurov

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions responded to Devin Nunes’s disputed memo about the Russia investigation on Friday, saying “concerns have been raised about the Department’s performance” and that the DOJ is accountable not just to the American people but to “those they have elected.”

Sessions said in a statement:

Congress has made inquiries concerning an issue of great importance for the country and concerns have been raised about the Department’s performance.  I have great confidence in the men and women of this Department.  But no Department is perfect.

Accordingly, I will forward to appropriate DOJ components all information I receive from Congress regarding this.   I am determined that we will fully and fairly ascertain the truth.

We work for the American people and are accountable to them and those they have elected.  We will meet that responsibility.

Sessions recused himself from oversight of the Russia probe after the Washington Post revealed he had met with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 campaign.

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Former Trump campaign staffer Carter Page emailed TPM his statement on the disputed Nunes memo, released on Friday:

‘The brave and assiduous oversight by Congressional leaders in discovering this unprecedented abuse of process represents a giant, historic leap in the repair of America’s democracy. Now that a few of the misdeeds against the Trump Movement have been partially revealed, I look forward to updating my pending legal action in opposition to DOJ this weekend in preparation for Monday’s next small step on the long, potholed road toward helping to restore law and order in our great country.’

The memo is centered around what it claims were improper actions by the FBI in its efforts to get a warrant to surveil Page, who had numerous contacts with people linked the Russian government.

Page is a major figure of interest in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He has consistently maintained his innocence, though former CIA officers and opposition researcher Glenn Simpson have described him as an easy target for foreign intelligence.

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