New York and DC Attorneys General Investigations

NRA Trial Day 1: The AG’s Opening Argument

January 8, 2024

Today In Court

In the morning, the parties finished jury selection and other pre-trial issues. In the afternoon, the trial began with Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Monica Connell giving the government’s opening argument.

Quick Summary of Today’s Testimony

  • The New York Attorney General’s (NYAG) office began their case by telling the jury “Ladies and gentlemen, this case is about corruption in a charity. It’s about breaches of trust and it’s about power.”
    • NYAG: “You will hear from NRA employees and board members that the NRA operated — did not operate according to the law or even according to its own rules.”
  • The NYAG asserted that the evidence at trial would show the NRA operated on a “Wayne says basis” and then launched into several examples of financial transactions that LaPierre allegedly directed and/or benefited from.
    • The NYAG’s presentation detailed the NRA’s relationship with Membership Marketing Partners – alleging the NRA spent over $135 million with that particular vendor over a 10-year period. AAG Connell then described how the evidence would show Wayne LaPierre and his family benefitted from this relationship with regular yacht trips, and free trips to the Bahamas, Greece, Dubai, India, and other locations. 
    • The NYAG estimated that the NRA spent over $1 million on private flights that CEO Wayne LaPierre wasn’t even on (whereas the primary justification for these flights from the NRA has been LaPierre’s “security”), including several flights for his family. In total, the NYAG estimated over $11 million in private flight expenses were incurred by the NRA and not properly authorized by the Board.
  • AAG Connell told the jury they would be hearing from several former NRA insiders who raised questions about the NRA’s decisions, only to then find themselves on the outs with NRA leadership. In particular, she highlighted to the jury that they would be hearing testimony from former NRA President Lt. Col. Oliver North, former board member Esther Schneider, and former board member Judge Phillip Journey.
    • She told the jury that former NRA 1st Vice President Willes Lee was “canceled” from the NRA when he raised questions about leadership. 
  • The NYAG highlighted various ways in which they believed LaPierre kept those loyal to him in positions of power in the NRA. In one particularly strong example, the NYAG said the jury will hear testimony that Josh Powell once raised whether NRA General Counsel John Frazer was up to the job. In response, the NYAG said the jury would hear testimony that Wayne LaPierre responded “well, we can control John [Frazer], so we have to keep him where he is.”
    • In one slide, the NYAG ticked through “how LaPierre maintained control?” with four core themes: self-serving management, spending, secrecy, and suppression.  
  • AAG Connell told the jury that the NRA’s ill-fated bankruptcy filing cost the organization $12 million. 
  • At the conclusion of her opening statement, AAG Connell noted that Wayne LaPierre recently resigned as CEO of the NRA. She told the jury that the NYAG would still seek a finding from the jury, at the conclusion of trial, that there was “cause for removal” with respect to individual defendant LaPierre.

Analysis

The NYAG wasted no time ensuring that the jury’s first impression of the case included some of the most exorbitant examples of NRA spending with vacations on mega yachts to private jet travel to payments to NRA board members. The opening effectively weaved an explanation of New York charities law to the jury, including concepts like fiduciary duties, whistleblower protections, conflicts of interest, and internal controls, and previewed specific examples of alleged misconduct.

What’s Next?

Counsel for defendants will give their opening statements on Tuesday, with court starting at 9:30 AM.

Disclaimer: The preceding summaries and analysis are prepared by individuals at the courthouse listening to the testimony being offered in the New York Attorney General’s case against the NRA. These summaries do not purport to cover every fact or occurrence discussed during the trial. The posts may be updated as soon as transcripts are available from the court, including to cross-reference specific testimony.