Pete Brownell Partied with Indicted Russian NRA Ally Mariia Butina in 2015

The Iowa gun manufacturer and former NRA president joined a gun-rights delegation on a trip to a Moscow hunting club party hosted by Putin ally Alexander Torshin

A photo from a December 2015 party at a Moscow hunting club whose guests included Iowan and future NRA President Pete Brownell, back row, third from left; and now-indicted Russian national Mariia Butina, back row, fifth from left.

Another shoe dropped this week in the FBI’s investigation into the ties between the National Rifle Association and a shady pro-gun group in Russia called Right to Bear Arms, whose 29-year-old founder, Mariia Butina, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent that are related to allegations that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election.

As the Informer noted in January, after McClatchyDC’s bombshell report revealing details of the FBI investigation, the story has an Iowa connection thanks to Pete Brownell, who runs the Montezuma firearms parts manufacturer Brownells Inc. and until recently was president of the NRA. The news agency noted* that Brownell was a member of an NRA delegation to Russia in December 2015 that met with Russian oligarch, central banker, and Putin ally Alexander Torshin, whom the FBI suspects may have funneled illegal funds to the NRA to help Donald Trump win the election.

After this week’s news broke, an image from that meeting (posted above) began circulating on social media along with others of Butina posing with prominent US conservatives. Pictured at a Moscow hunting club with Torshin — the event’s host, who helped found Right to Bear Arms — and Butina are several major gun-rights figures, including NRA donor Arnold Goldschlager, former sheriff David Clarke, former NRA President David Keene, and Brownell.

Brownell himself has not been publicly implicated in any crimes related to the FBI’s investigation. He did not serve as NRA president during the 2016 election — he was elected in May 2017 and replaced this year by disgraced Reagan administration official Oliver North. Nonetheless, his association with Right to Bear Arms is just one of several stories of recent political intrigue involving the Trump administration and prominent Iowans.

The charges Butina faces are separate from the 12 indictments against Russian nationals announced last week by the Justice Department as part of Robert Mueller’s grand jury investigation into evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Butina, who moved to the US on a student visa in 2016 and enrolled as a graduate student at American University in Washington DC, is not specifically charged with election meddling but rather for allegedly conspiring to act as a Russian agent. However, in the spring of 2016, she reportedly attempted to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin. She also has close ties to Torshin, who made an active effort to use his lifetime NRA membership as political leverage to build connections with the Trump campaign. In April, Torshin was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department, which identified him as one of “those who benefit from the Putin regime and play a key role in advancing Russia’s malign activities.”

Correction: This article initially said that Brownell was named in a summary of a confidential memo. In fact, he was named separately by the reporter who obtained the summary, which was of an internal report by Spanish authorities investigating Torshin for alleged money laundering.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.