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Trump and the NRA

President Donald Trump speaks at the NRA convention in Dallas on May 4, 2018.

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

As the House began its impeachment inquiry last week, President Donald Trump met privately with the leader of the National Rifle Association, reportedly getting an offer of a “special arrangement” to help him through the coming political fight in exchange for ending his on-and-off support of reasonable gun control.

If true (the NRA denies it), it would represent yet another instance of improper use of presidential power for personal political gain. With this new allegation in mind, Congress should scrutinize how Trump approaches the gun-safety issue going forward.

On guns, Trump has had trouble consistently toeing the NRA-mandated line adhered to by his Republican Party. After tragedies like the back-to-back mass shootings in Texas and Ohio in August, Trump followed a pattern of initial openness to reasonable gun-safety measures like universal background checks, then backed off under pressure from the NRA.

Unfortunately, Trump’s occasional flirtation with gun sanity hasn’t actually produced any from the administration — but NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre apparently isn’t taking any chances. The two met in the White House last week and, according to The New York Times, LaPierre held out the offer of unspecified “special arrangements” to help Trump through the impeachment threat if Trump would “stop the games.” Meaning, quit threatening to get rational on guns.

The NRA is facing financial and legal problems, including a new report by Senate Democrats alleging the organization functioned as a “Russian asset” during the 2016 election, underwriting political access for Russian agents to Republican leaders. But the group remains crucial to Trump as a top campaign funding source ($30 million in 2016, more than any other private donor) and as a conduit to the most socially conservative elements of Trump’s rural base.

It’s believable that the NRA, on the ropes and nervous about Trump wavering after future mass shootings, might concoct this carrot-and-stick approach to keep him in line. As for the NRA’s denials, and any that Trump might yet issue: This is an organization that has lied about the nature of America’s gun crisis for decades, and a president who has logged more than 12,000 lies in three years in office. Their denials don’t count for much.

In the impeachment inquiry, Trump stands accused of holding up hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to an ally to force an investigation against his potential 2020 election opponent — or, essentially, privately inviting a foreign government to interfere in America’s elections, as he publicly invited Russia to do in 2016.

The NRA allegations raise different issues, but under the common theme of a president’s willingness to subvert his official duties to the nation for the sake of his own political needs. If Trump suddenly assumes consistent opposition to reasonable gun-safety measures in ways he hasn’t before, it would be fair to ask whether he is doing this yet again.