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New York attorney general sets her sights on disbanding the NRA

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New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday she has filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court seeking to dissolve the National Rifle Association.

In a press conference about the lawsuit, James said the powerful gun rights organization, which operates as a nonprofit, had been used as a “personal piggy bank” by its leadership. 

“The NRA’s influence has been so powerful that the organization went unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets,” she said. “For years, the NRA diverted millions and millions of dollars away from its charitable mission for personal use by senior leadership.”

New York State Attorney General Letitia James announcing a lawsuit to dissolve the National Rifle Association. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
New York State Attorney General Letitia James announcing a lawsuit to dissolve the National Rifle Association. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

James’s lawsuit specifically named four executives, including the organization’s CEO and executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, and its general counsel, John Frazier. The suit also named two former NRA executives, Wilson Phillips and Joshua Powell. Along with the dissolution of the NRA, James’s suit seeks to ban the quartet from serving on the board of any other nonprofit in New York, and restitution for millions of dollars in misappropriated funds. 

“These individuals and the NRA are charged with failing to manage the NRA’s funds and failing to follow numerous state and federal laws, which contributed to the loss of more than $64 million in just three years,” James said. 

The suit outlines what James described as “dozens of examples” of the organization’s failures. She said the four executives “led and perpetuated” much of the conduct cited in the suit. James specifically focused on LaPierre, who has been the NRA’s public face. She called him the “central figure behind this scheme” and pointed out that the lawsuit accuses LaPierre of diverting funds to personal expenses for him and his family, including private jet travel, “membership fees at golf clubs,” a $17 million post-employment contract that was signed “without board approval,” private security, trips to the Bahamas and “multiple luxury hunting safaris in Africa.” According to James, much of this money was diverted through an “illegal pass-through arrangement” with the NRA’s longtime advertising agency, which listed these items as its own expenses and was reimbursed “without receipts.”

“They used millions upon millions of dollars from the NRA for personal use, including for lavish trips for themselves and their families, private jets, expensive meals and other private travel,” James said of LaPierre and the other executives.

On Twitter, the organization posted a brief statement suggesting the suit is a partisan effort.

“This was a baseless, premeditated attack on our organization and the Second Amendment freedoms it fights to defend. You could have set your watch by it: the investigation was going to reach its crescendo as we move into the 2020 election cycle,” the statement said. 

“It’s a transparent attempt to score political points and attack the leading voice in opposition to the leftist agenda. This has been a power grab by a political opportunist — a desperate move that is part of a rank political vendetta.”

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The NRA said on Twitter it filed a lawsuit against James in response to her action. The NRA also provided a statement to Yahoo News from one of its board members, Tom King, who claimed he was “privately warned” by James’s predecessor, Eric Schneiderman, that New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, was “engineering an attack on the NRA.”

“I was told Cuomo would use every resource to pursue his lifelong dream of defeating the NRA, and an ‘investigation’ of our Association was on the horizon. I always expected better of the governor, and hoped he would rise up to honor the principles under which he was elected. I feel compelled to share this story today for all who hoped this state would put its people first — not use them as pawns to advance Cuomo’s partisan agenda,” King said. 

Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Schneiderman, who resigned in 2018 after multiple women accused him of abuse, also did not respond. 

James, a Democrat, became New York’s attorney general in the special 2018 election to replace Schneiderman after campaigning on promises to take on President Trump. She said her office has jurisdiction over the NRA because it has been registered as a charitable nonprofit corporation in New York since its founding in 1871.  

At her press conference on Thursday, James denied her NRA suit was political in nature. 

“This was an investigation that started in 2019 and, till this day, it’s based on the facts,” James said. 

“We follow the facts and the law.”

James also explained why she felt it necessary to push to dissolve the organization entirely.

“The corruption was so broad and because of the level of waste … they have basically destroyed all of the assets of the corporation,” James said.

This is indeed a turbulent time for the NRA, which is America’s most prominent gun rights organization. The group is experiencing financial woes that have led to hundreds of layoffs, which the NRA attributed to the coronavirus pandemic. LaPierre, who joined the NRA in 1978 and began leading the group about 13 years later, has also faced an internal revolt

Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

And James’s office isn’t the only one investigating the group. In February, the New York State Department of Financial Services announced it was filing charges against the NRA for allegedly violating insurance laws through “misleading marketing practices” associated with its Carry Guard program. A hearing on that matter is scheduled for next month. 

The tumult surrounding the NRA has potential political implications. The group spent over $30 million to help elect Donald Trump in 2016 and LaPierre has advised the president. Former special counsel Robert Mueller investigated ties between the Trump campaign and the NRA during his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. During the course of the presidential race, and later during Mueller’s inquiry, it emerged that the NRA had links to multiple individuals with ties to the Russian government. 

At her press conference, James was asked if her office was examining any of the money the NRA has donated to political campaigns. She replied that the “investigation is ongoing.” 

She offered a similar response when she was asked if her office will recommend criminal charges. James also said her office will be submitting a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service based on her findings. 

James has also been making good on her campaign promise to target Trump. Her office has been investigating Trump’s real estate business, which is headquartered in New York. At the press conference, James declined to comment on her efforts to investigate the president. 

“It’s not the subject of today’s press conference and we will not comment on any other investigation,” she said.

President Trump called the lawsuit a “terrible thing” as he departed the White House for a trip to Ohio. Trump, who switched his residency from New York to Florida late last year, also suggested the NRA should do a similar relocation.

“Move to Texas and lead a … beautiful life,” he said.

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