Yet another Russia connection
. Of course there's an innocent explanation but this just continues to feed into the question, "who involved with Trump HASN'T had contact with major figures in Russia?"
In March 2014, the U.S. government sanctioned Dmitry Rogozin—a hardline deputy to Vladimir Putin, the head of Russia’s defense industry and longtime opponent of American power—in retaliation for the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
Eighteen months later, the National Rifle Association, Donald Trump’s most powerful outside ally during the 2016 election, sent a delegation to Moscow that met with him.
The meeting, which hasn’t been previously reported in the American press, is one strand in a web of connections between the Russian government and Team Trump: Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn both denied speaking with the Russian ambassador, which turned out to be untrue; former campaign manager Paul Manafort supported pro-Russian interests in Ukraine; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson won an “Order of Friendship” from Putin; and then, of course, there’s the hacking campaign that U.S. intelligence agencies say Russian launched to tilt the election in Trump’s favor.
Meeting with Rogozin, a target of U.S. sanctions, is not itself illegal—as long as the two sides did no business together—explained Boris Zilberman, an expert on Russian sanctions at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. But, he noted, it is “frowned upon and raises questions… those targeted for sanctions have been engaged in conduct which is in direct opposition to U.S. national security interests.”
Which raises the question: Why was the NRA meeting with Putin’s deputy in the first place?
The NRA had previously objected to the parts of the U.S. sanctions regime that blocked Russian-made guns from import into the United States. But curiously, David Keene, the former NRA president and current board member who was on the Moscow trip, insisted the meeting with the high-ranking member of the Kremlin government had nothing whatsoever to do with geopolitics.
“Rogozin is chairman of the Russian Shooting Federation and his Board hosted a tour of Federation HQ for us while we were there,” Keene told The Daily Beast. “It was non-political. There were at least 30 in attendance and our interaction consisted of thanking him and his Board for the tour.”
So maybe, just maybe, this wouldn't mean much on its own but this sure sounds bad. I guess nationalism would be good for the gun business and anti-Americanism isn't a deal-breaker for the NRA when profit is involved.
But Rogozin is no ordinary Russian official, and his title extends far beyond being merely the chairman of a shooting club. His portfolio as deputy prime minister of Russia includes the defense industry. One issue where Rogozin seems particularly interested is cyberwarfare, which he has heralded for its “first strike” capability. And he’s well-known in Russia for being a radical—often taking a harder line than Putin himself.
Rogozin was the leader of the ultra-right party called Rodina, or Motherland, and famously believes in the restoration of the Russian Empire, including what he calls “Russian America” (i.e., Alaska).
Still, Rogozin stayed loyal to Putin and soon was appointed Russian ambassador to NATO at the time of the Russia-Georgia War—his main responsibility at the time was to prevent Ukraine and Georgia from joining NATO. Today his Motherland party is back in the parliament, trying to unite right-wing movements in Europe.
One point of view...
“It is disconcerting that they would be meeting [with a Russian official] about anything given their vocal support of the president,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 presidential elections. “Due to the NRA’s opposition to sanctions, it defies credulity that they wouldn’t have discussed sanctions and their extraordinary support for Donald Trump’s campaign.”
“Russia is not America’s friend. And it’s stunning to hear that while they were attacking our democracy, one of the largest organizations supporting Trump was cozying up with a sanctioned Russian in Moscow,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, who is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee panel that oversees the CIA.