Emails and photos showing that members of the National Rifle Association organized a trip to Moscow in 2015 appear to contradict claims made by the group to distance itself from the trip, ABC reported Wednesday.
The New York Times reported earlier this week that members of the organization – including “high-profile donors, boosters and board members” – visited the country on a trip that was arranged by Maria Butina, an alleged Russian spy who pleaded guilty last month to attempting to infiltrate GOP political circles and influence US relations with Russia before and after the 2016 presidential election.
The paper said that in addition to Butina, the trip was organized with the help of David Keene, a former NRA president with ties to the alleged spy. According to the Times, the NRA is attempting to distance itself from the trip after it became clear that Butina was involved with it. A person who answered the phone when CNN attempted to contact Keene directed questions to the NRA.
In a statement to CNN, a lawyer for the NRA said CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre encouraged people not to go on the trip when he became aware of its details. LaPierre prohibited staff members from attending the trip at the time and then-NRA President Allan Cors agreed not to go on the trip.
“When he became aware of the details of the trip, Wayne was personally opposed to it,” said William A. Brewer III, partner at Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors and counsel for the NRA. “In order that the group was not viewed as representing the NRA, Wayne spoke with several people about the excursion. As a result, Mr. Cors agreed not to make the trip. In addition, NRA staff members who were in Israel (for a trip that preceded the visit to Russia) returned home.”
However, ABC reported on Wednesday that emails sent by NRA officials and photos taken during the trip and reviewed by the outlet “appear to show the organization was significantly involved in planning it.”
According to ABC, one email, shared with the outlet by an unnamed source, shows an NRA employee appearing “to help Butina make travel arrangements for a delegation” that included a litany of NRA officials, including Keene and future NRA president Pete Brownell.
Other emails suggest that the organization would cover trip expenses for two members of the trip and would provide official NRA “gifts” for the visitors to give to their hosts, according to the outlet.
A photo ABC said was posted to Facebook by “one of Butina’s fellow gun-rights enthusiasts” reportedly shows the alleged Russian spy standing alongside members of the group and a red sign emblazoned with the NRA’s logo and the words “Welcome to Russia comrads (sic).”
ABC also said that another Butina associate characterized the trip as “official” in a Facebook post about it.
“The delegation of the world’s largest social organization for supporters of weapons, the National Rifle Association USA (The NRA) made an official visit to Moscow and met with supporters of the movement, Right to Arms,” the post, translated from Russian, read, according to ABC.
CNN’s Katelyn Polantz, Veronica Stracqualursi and Marshall Cohen contributed to this report.