Longtime NRA leader faces trial in case by New York AG James despite gun rights group decrying political probe

Second Amendment


Longtime leader of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, is set to face trial in the corruption case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James after a state court recently rejected the gun advocacy group’s argument that her office’s four-year investigation was politically motivated.  

LaPierre, who has been at the helm for more than three decades, is among four defendants named in James’ lawsuit brought in 2020 accusing the NRA and its senior management of violating numerous state and federal laws to divert millions of dollars to their own pockets and away from the mission of the organization. 

Jury selection is expected to kick off Tuesday before State Supreme Court Justice Joel M. Cohen. The trial, scheduled to begin on Jan. 8, is expected to last six to eight weeks. 

As recently as last Thursday, a New York state appeals court rejected the NRA’s latest effort to end James’ corruption investigation. 

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Former President Trump greets CEO and Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association (NRA) Wayne LaPierre during the NRA annual convention on May 27, 2022 in Houston. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

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The NRA has long alleged the case is politically motivated, arguing James violated the group’s First Amendment rights and executed selective enforcement of state laws governing nonprofits because she disagrees with the group’s gun advocacy. A five-judge panel of the Appellate Division in Manhattan unanimously ruled, however, that James’ office had probable cause to investigate and sue the NRA, citing the “ample evidence of malfeasance” her investigators claim to have found. 

The court also shot down the selective enforcement claim, saying other nonprofits where dissolution had been sought agreed to overhaul their leadership. In March 2022, Cohen rejected James’ goal of seeking to dissolve the NRA entirely, finding a lack of evidence that the gun advocacy group deserved the “corporate death penalty,” Reuters reported.

“We respectfully disagree with this decision, which immunizes governmental actions long thought to be unconstitutional,” NRA counsel William A. Brewer III said in a statement to Fox News Digital on Tuesday. “The government is now given broad latitude to weaponize its law-enforcement powers against those with whom it disagrees. We note that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up similar questions this Spring, as part of an NRA appeal of another misguided ruling concerning New York’s campaign against the Association. The NRA believes that the Court will clarify the First Amendment pitfalls of retaliatory regulatory enforcement.”

NRA leader LaPierre speaks in Indianapolis

NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks to guests at the 2023 NRA-ILA Leadership Forum on April 13, 2023 in Indianapolis. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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James’ lawsuit still aims to recoup millions of dollars’ worth of assets and to stop LaPierre, along with co-defendants John Frazer, the NRA’s former general counsel, Wilson Phillips, the former finance chief of the NRA, and Joshua Powell, who was the group’s second-in-command for a time, from serving on the board of any not-for-profit charitable organization in the state of New York again. Jurors could recommend LaPierre and Frazer be removed and assess how much each of the four defendants should be required to pay back to the NRA. 

After being fired from the organization in early 2020, Powell notably assailed the NRA in a tell-all book, claiming the group focused too heavily on money rather than Second Amendment rights, according to the New York Times. He also has advocated for universal background checks and red flag laws. 

Letitia James during break in Trump civil fraud trial

New York Attorney General Letitia James exits the courtroom for a lunch recess during former President Trump’s civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on Nov. 13, 2023 in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Powell has been engaged in settlement talks with James’ office, but no plea agreement has been reached, the Times reported. 

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In an interview with the Times, Brewer said that James’ case relies heavily on witnesses no longer affiliated with the NRA. Those include Oliver North, the organization’s former president who was reportedly forced out in 2020 amid a power struggle between LaPierre and the NRA’s longtime advertising and public relations firm, Ackerman McQueen. Phillip Journey, a former NRA director turned critic of the organization, is also on the list of those scheduled to testify, the Times reported. 

Amid the New York probe, the NRA filed for bankruptcy in Texas nearly three years ago. 

However, in May 2021, a federal bankruptcy court in Texas rejected the NRA’s declaration, stating, “that the NRA did not file the bankruptcy petition in good faith.”

Both while still campaigning for attorney general and after she was elected, James has notably publicly condemned the NRA as “an organ of deadly propaganda masquerading as a charity for public good,” a “terrorist organization,” and as “nothing more than a criminal enterprise.” In one September 2018 interview, she stated that she was “waiting to take on all of the banks that finance them, their investors,” the NRA notes. James’ office did not immediately return a Fox News Digital request for comment Tuesday. 



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