Two prominent Tennessee Republicans participated in a Russian propaganda stunt earlier this month.
G. Kline Preston IV, a local attorney, and Steve Gill, a conservative pundit, both showed up on a list of 34 “foreign observers” who participated in Russian elections in occupied Ukrainian territories. This is a common propaganda tactic in Russia, which will invite “observers” to monitor their elections to claim legitimacy, despite the reality that these elections are staged and the territory disputed. So what were two Tennessee conservatives doing in Russia?
“I went to the area of the new oblast that joined Russia last month in September I think it was — legally — and observed some elections there,” says Preston. He also confirmed that Gill was there with him.
The “new oblast that joined Russia” Preston references is a collection of territories Russia has illegally occupied since they invaded Ukraine last year. With the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the United States has warned its citizens against traveling to Russia, citing safety concerns. Multiple countries and organizations, including the U.S., have cautioned that participation in Russian elections could result in sanctions and visa restrictions.
“This was the sixth Russian federal election in which I’ve served in a capacity as either an observer or a legal expert,” Preston tells the Nashville Banner. He says he first participated in a Russian election in 2011 after practicing law and business in the country since the early 1990s.
Preston spoke highly of the Russian elections, saying that as a legal expert, he could not figure out how someone could rig the election. He even went so far as to say that the United States should take notes, alluding to the disproven idea that the 2020 election was rigged against Trump.
Preston fought to overturn that year’s election results in Michigan on behalf of Trump. Not only does he have a long history of supporting and praising Russian elections, he also has a long history of working with and for Republican politicians. Preston represented U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s campaign multiple times, beginning as early as 2005 over possible campaign finance violations. He even called Blackburn a “longtime” family friend.
In 2018, The Tennessean reported that Preston had introduced Alexander Torshin, a longtime friend who is also a powerful Russian politician closely tied to Putin, to David Keene, the former president of the NRA. A Senate report found that the NRA was a foreign asset for Russia leading up to the 2016 election.
While Preston made it clear that he was anti-war, he also clearly felt Russia was on the right side of history.
“I’ve spent more money probably than anyone in [Nashville] helping Ukrainian people, but politically, I think Russia’s correct,” says Preston.
Preston’s litigation history is varied. While Preston’s public case history has included personal injury cases, he has also been involved in political suits, such as a case he lost this year on behalf of former Republican candidate Michelle Foreman against Dave Rosenberg over defamation claims. His website places a big emphasis on international business law, intellectual property, real estate and employment law.
Meanwhile, Gill, a frequent guest on Fox 17, wasted no time going on Sunday morning’s episode of Nashville in Focus, with host Scott Couch welcoming him back from his “trip overseas,” to criticize newly sworn-in Nashville Mayor Freddie O’Connell.
“Even though Freddie O’Connell is coming from the council, I think he’s going to have a contentious relationship with the council,” Gill told the show’s panel. “And he’s definitely going to have a contentious relationship with the Tennessee legislature. And I don’t see Freddie O’Connell poised at all to help heal that rift. I think things will get worse before they get better.”
Not only does Gill frequently appear on Fox, he is also a recurring guest on RT, a Russian-controlled outlet responsible for spreading disinformation surrounding the war in Ukraine.
Gill is currently a conservative political analyst who is frequently a guest on TV and radio shows. He was previously the political editor of the conservative news site Tennessee Star. That job ended in 2019 when he was arrested for $170,000 in unpaid child support.
This isn’t the first time Gill and Preston have come under fire for participating in Russian propaganda, and it is unlikely to be the last. The two have been outspoken supporters of Russia, using the country as a way to criticize the United States.
“I’m a proud American,” says Preston. “But when I observe in other countries and I see things where in essence they’re doing something better than us, then I want us to do it.”