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EDITORIAL: We need answers about the NRA and the alleged Kremlin agent

Maria Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization in Russia, speaks to a crowd during a rally in support of legalizing the possession of handguns in Moscow, Russia. Butina, a 29-year-old gun-rights activist, served as a covert Russian agent while living in Washington, gathering intelligence on American officials and political organizations and working to establish back-channel lines of communications for the Kremlin, federal prosecutors charged Monday. | AP Photo

The NRA — and the gun group’s congressional allies — have a lot of explaining to do.

A lot of explaining.

In an indictment this week, federal prosecutors tied the NRA and a 29-year-old Russian national named Maria Butina to an extensive Russian-backed effort to undermine American democracy. Prosecutors say Butina infiltrated the National Rifle Association and tried to use its leverage to sway American politics toward Russia.

EDITORIAL

According to the indictment and news reports, Butina worked as a Kremlin agent under an unnamed high-level Russian official who appears to be Alexander Torshin, an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a longtime NRA supporter with alleged connections to Russian security services and organized crime.

The New York Times reports the NRA repeatedly brought Butina to the United States. Mother Jones reports that Butina and Torshin spent years building ties with the NRA. Authorities want to know if the pair were helping to secretly funnel Russian money to the Trump presidential campaign.

We can only imagine how such allegations would lead to an outcry and a demand for answers by the Republican establishment of just a few years ago. On Thursday, however, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said House Republicans had refused to question Butina because it would “tarnish” the NRA.

What were those Republicans afraid we might hear?

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has demanded to know why the NRA gave at least three times as much money to Trump’s campaign as it did to Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate. Some congressional Democrats have been trying to get the NRA to turn over documents that would help trace the funding.

But the NRA, which in the past has painted American officials as “jack-booted government thugs” and opposed necessary reforms outlined in the Sun-Times “31 bullets series,” has had amazingly little to say about Russian leaders targeting American democracy.

The unfortunate background to this sordid spectacle is a campaign finance system sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court that allows deep-pocketed sources to pump vast sums of money into election campaigns without revealing their identities. According to USA Today, the NRA spent more than $10 million to help elect President Donald Trump, but the source of that money is unknown.

The door to foreign money possibly flowing into our elections may open even wider now that the U.S. Treasury Department said on Monday it will no longer require nonprofit organizations such as the NRA to disclose the names and addresses of donors giving $5,000 or more.

At a time when we need clarity and reassurance that our elections are secure, many in America’s government seem intent on pushing more of the disreputable world of campaign funding into the shadows.

That has to stop. We need explanations about the NRA and Butina — clear, detailed and thorough answers.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.