High-ranking Russians had contact with NRA officials during the 2016 election campaign -- when the gun lobbying organization spent at least $70 million to elect President Donald Trump and other Republicans.
Those contacts have come to light as the Justice Department investigates money allegedly -- and illegally -- plowed into the NRA by lifetime member and Russian banker Alexander Torshin toward Trump's campaign, reported McClatchy.
"Other influential Russians who met with NRA representatives during the campaign include Dmitry Rogozin, who until last month served as a deputy prime minister overseeing Russia’s defense industry, and Sergei Rudov, head of one of Russia’s largest philanthropies, the St. Basil the Great Charitable Foundation," reported Peter Stone and Greg Gordon. "The foundation was launched by an ultra-nationalist ally of Russian President (Vladimir) Putin."
Members of Putin's inner circle and leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church met with NRA representatives mostly in Moscow, as Kremlin operatives were hacking into email systems in search of damaging information against Hillary Clinton -- which was then offered to the Trump campaign and dumped online by WikiLeaks.
Federal law prohibits the use or donation of foreign money in U.S. election campaigns.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating whether Torhsin or others directed Russian money to the NRA, which spent $30 million on Trump's campaign -- more than double what the group spent on Mitt Romney's GOP campaign in 2012.
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told McClatchy the FBI has not contacted the gun lobbying group.
Torshin, deputy governor of Russia's central bank, was among 38 Russian government officials, oligarchs and companies sanctioned by the United States in April for Kremlin election interference an aggression in Ukraine and Syria.
The lifetime NRA member was implicated by Spanish authorities in a lengthy investigation into money laundering by Russian mobsters, and the prosecutor who directed that case met with FBI officials for several hours last month in Washington.
"Torshin has denied mob ties, as well as any role in money-laundering in Spain or in secretly routing money to the NRA," Stone and Gordon reported.
The NRA's overall spending during the 2016 election jumped by more than $100 million over the previous year, according to an audit obtained by the Center for Responsive Politics, to more than $419 million.
The lobbying group spent $261 million during the 2012 presidential election and $204 million in 2008 for all of its operations in those years -- which includes law enforcement, education and training programs.
More than two-thirds of the Trump donations -- $21 million -- was spent by the NRA's lobbying arm, which does not have to publicly report its donors.
Two NRA insiders told McClatchy the group spent at least $70 million on Republican campaigns two years ago, including the presidential election.
Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu (CA) and Kathleen Rice (NY) asked FBI Director Christopher Wray last month to investigate whether Russian money was illegally funneled through the NRA into GOP campaigns.