U.S. News


NRA civil trial poses a threat to gun rights group

The New York Attorney General accuses the NRA, a registered non-profit, and its leaders of misusing millions in donor funds.
Posted at 5:32 PM, Jan 07, 2024

The National Rifle Association is heading into a New York courtroom Monday without its longtime leader.

CEO Wayne LaPierre resigned Friday, just days before the state's attorney general was set to take him to court to push for his ouster. LaPierre cited his health as a reason for leaving, saying "my passion for our cause burns as deeply as ever."

But after decades of leading America's most powerful gun lobby organization, Attorney General Letitia James says the NRA under LaPierre's leadership is corrupt. She says her team found the NRA misused more than $64 million from donors, including for private jet flights to the Bahamas, other travel, and clothing.

"She's probably going to seek to introduce a lot of internal communications in the NRA that might be damaging, that she may try to spin in a way to make them appear damaging,” said Criminal Defense Attorney Ken Belkin.

The case—brought in 2020—includes LaPierre, John Frazer, the NRA's general counsel, Wilson Phllips, the former finance chief, and former second-in-command Joshua Powell. The NRA tried to get the case thrown out in December, saying it was an attempt to silence a political perspective that James disagrees with. It was not successful.

Powell, who is also the author of "Inside the NRA: A Tell-All Account of Corruption, Greed, and Paranoia Within the Most Powerful Political Group in America," settled with James' office on Friday, following LaPierre's resignation. He'll testify at the trial, pay the NRA $100,000, and avoid more nonprofit work. Frazer and Phillips deny any wrongdoing.

"There are all sorts of laws that regulate, you know, nonprofits, tax laws, you know, but one thing you cannot do is regulate their speech,” said Belkin.

James says she's using her regulatory authority over nonprofits to bring the suit after reports of corruption and mismanagement. In a statement on Friday, she said LaPierre's resignation "will not insulate him or the NRA from accountability" and the case would move ahead.

"She feels that the NRA, her investigators have turned up evidence that the NRA has acted in an inappropriate manner in violation of those laws. We're going to see what those violations are from the testimony of these investigators,” said Belkin.

The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks. None of the men named in the suit are facing prison time. Should the NRA lose this case, it could make its way to the Supreme Court.