Pete Brownell, the CEO of the Grinnell-based firearms retailer Brownells, was a key target in a scheme by foreign agents who used the National Rifle Association “to gain access to American conservative organizations on behalf of the Russian Federation,” an eighteen-month investigation revealed. The report by Democratic staff on the U.S. Senate Finance Committee determined that while representing the NRA, Brownell met with sanctioned individuals in Russia in December 2015. That trip helped demonstrate to the Kremlin that Russian government official Alexander Torshin had strong American connections.
In addition, investigators found evidence Brownell went to Moscow “primarily or solely for the purpose of advancing personal business interests, rather than advancing the NRA’s tax-exempt purpose.” Maria Butina (who worked closely with Torshin and was later charged in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation) set up meetings for Brownell with Russian arms manufacturers and retailers and traveled with the Iowan for three days before the rest of the NRA group arrived.
By using the so-called social welfare organization’s resources in this way, the NRA and Brownell may have violated portions of the federal tax code relating to private inurement and excess benefit transactions.
Bleeding Heartland’s efforts to reach Brownell for comment on September 27 were unsuccessful. The media contact for the Brownells company did not return phone calls.