New York and DC Attorneys General Investigations

NRA Trial Day 14: LaPierre in His Own Words – “I Wasn’t The Compliance Guy” WITH TRANSCRIPT

January 29, 2024

Today in Court

The NYAG continued its examination of NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre in the morning, with the NRA and other defendants then following with an examination of their own.

Summary of Today’s Testimony

  • NYAG’s Jonathan Conley continued his examination of LaPierre, and focused many of his early questions on a helicopter vendor, Henry Aviation, that was hired by the NRA to transport NRA executives to-and-from NASCAR races.
    • NYAG entered into evidence invoices from Henry Aviation reflecting various trips to-and-from Texas Motor Speedway for Tony Makris, his wife, and others. LaPierre acknowledged he authorized the costly helicopter services so that NRA executives would not be stuck in traffic. 
  • Next, the court was shown an exhibit with the fee schedules of NRA vendor, Membership Marketing Partners (“MMP”). According to the exhibit, the fees paid to MMP entities by the NRA more than doubled over a six-year period. AAG Conley elicited testimony from LaPierre that many of the listed increases in fees occurred shortly after Wayne LaPierre or Susan LaPierre vacationed with MMP principal David McKenzie (or vacationed on their own on his yacht). LaPierre insisted, however, that the repeated increases were unrelated to these vacations. 
  • AAG Conley also elicited additional testimony from LaPierre on the pass-through fee arrangement with NRA vendor Ackerman McQueen, which has been discussed at length in the trial.
    • LaPierre corroborated prior testimony regarding suit purchases at the high-end clothing company Zegna, totaling over $274,000, that were paid for by Ackerman. He attempted to justify these purchases by stating that Ackerman head Angus McQueen “beat [LaPierre] up” with respect to his clothing, and insisted that LaPierre purchase new clothing for television appearances. 
    • LaPierre also testified that he was aware of tens of thousands of dollars in Susan LaPierre’s hair and makeup fees that were paid for by the NRA. The court was shown invoices reflecting these costs, which included one invoice for over $10,000 for a 5-day-period. 
    • LaPierre testified regarding restaurant expenses that Ackerman passed through to the NRA. One exhibit listed eight charges in June 2016 alone, for hundreds or thousands of dollars, at an Alexandria, Virginia Italian restaurant and cigar bar. 
    • LaPierre acknowledged that the pass-through arrangement with Ackerman was “not appropriate” and “probably a mistake” but insisted that it was not illegal. 
  • LaPierre testified that he authorized donating hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in NRA money to a nonprofit, Youth for Tomorrow, where Susan LaPierre was president for several years.
    • LaPierre testified that he did not report the donations to the audit committee, and admitted this was a “process failure.”
    • LaPierre acknowledged that Ackerman also completed work for Youth for Tomorrow and passed the cost through to the NRA. LaPierre testified that he was unaware that they were doing so at the time, and he thought that Ackerman was doing the work for free.
  • LaPierre largely corroborated prior testimony regarding the $6.5 million mansion that the NRA was looking to purchase for the LaPierres, but insisted it was a “safe house” because it was in a gated community. Photographs shown to court depicted a palatial home with manicured grounds. 
  • The employment agreement of former co-defendant Joshua Powell was shown to the court. LaPierre admitted that he authorized repeated raises to Powell and promoted Powell, even after he heard from NRA staff that Powell was “abusive.” He insisted that Powell “worked the system” to receive his last raise (to $800,000) and that LaPierre did not approve it. LaPierre identified Powell’s role with the NRA’s controversial Carry Guard program, which LaPierre claimed had potential revenue of $30 million. 
  • Shifting the examination to a former NRA employee in the NRA’s Advancement Division, LaPierre acknowledged that the NRA’s Financial Services division discovered financial improprieties by said employee, about which we heard testimony earlier in the trial. LaPierre admitted that, instead of disciplining the employee, LaPierre merely warned him, and then authorized doubling his salary because the employee had another job offer and LaPierre believed that the employee was great with donors. 
  • LaPierre testified that Paul Payne, who was paid under the Executive Vice President’s budget as “Special Assistant to Executive Vice President” from 1998 until 2019, would engage in advocacy for the NRA Board’s 76th seat. LaPierre said he would give advice on who he thought was best for the seat, and then Payne and his colleagues would be flown into the NRA convention and engage in pamphleting for specific candidates. LaPierre testified that these “volunteers” had their transportation and lodging paid for by the NRA. This largely corroborated testimony from Chris Cox earlier in the trial.
  • NRA lawyer Sarah Rogers questioned LaPierre aggressively over various expenses, including private charter flights for his family, luxury vacations, and limousine expenses.
    • LaPierre testified that he did not tell the NRA board about his private jet travel until 2020, and that he knew it was wrong to authorize private plane use for his family, specifically in the case of his niece. He also acknowledged that it was wrong to use black car service for his family members.
    • Under Rogers questioning, LaPierre testified that the NRA board never gave him the authority to use private jets and black cars, and that he was acting under his own authority.
  • LaPierre testified that under the NRA’s “course correction,” the NRA has done away with long term contracts. He explained that, previously, NRA board member Marion Hammer had a ten-year contract, noting “incredible talent.” But now, he testified, she is subject to a “30 day revocation clause,” and that he does not consider her to have a long term contract. 
  • LaPierre also said that since the NRA’s “course correction” in 2018, he has not taken any yacht or other trips with David McKenzie. 
  • LaPierre testified to the NRA’s relationship with former vendor Ackerman McQueen, which he says started to go “downhill” in 2017. LaPierre testified that, at the time, his efforts to get files from the firm were rebuffed, and that he told Audit Committee chair Charles Cotton that he was not backing off the subject, to which Cotton agreed, and the two “went down this path together.”
  • LaPierre testified that he has paid back “with interest” money he owed the NRA.  LaPierre stated that he is working with the IRS, too, to make sure everything is proper. He insisted that “if there were any” errors or “mistakes,” in which he “received an advantage,” he was determined to pay it back. 
  • LaPierre testified that he “never wanted a culture of ‘Wayne said,’ and that he was supportive of former CFO Craig Spray’s attempts to improve processes at the NRA.
    • LaPierre testified that former CFO Craig Spray was not fired from the NRA, but rather that Spray left the NRA for “health reasons.” When shown a copy of Spray’s May 2020 employment agreement, LaPierre testified that it was correct that the NRA would pay Spray an 18-month severance package if he were to be terminated without cause. LaPierre testified that Spray parted ways with the NRA during an unscheduled phone call. LaPierre testified that after this call, Spray’s NRA email account was immediately cut off and that Spray was given an 18-month severance package.
  • LaPierre’s attorney, Kent Correll, elicited testimony regarding the perceived security threats facing LaPierre.
    • LaPierre testified that some of the landscaping invoices related to a security wall erected outside of his home, so that “someone couldn’t shoot into [his] office.” 
  • In response to questions from Correll regarding inaccurate financial disclosure forms, LaPierre testified that he “wasn’t the compliance guy,” adding: “I was learning, I was being educated.”
  • LaPierre also testified that Spray discontinued LaPierre’s practice of billing golf club dues to the NRA in 2019.
  • Correll also elicited testimony on LaPierre’s justification for engaging a helicopter service and vacationing with the McKenzies. Though not directly responsive to why a helicopter service was necessary, LaPierre testified that cultivating relationships with cultural organizations and celebrities (which he purportedly did on such trips and through sponsorships) would ensure that the NRA was not on “the fringe” and viewed as just “some right-wing organization” outside the mainstream of society.

Analysis

LaPierre’s second day of testimony again confirmed many of the allegations and reports of mismanagement and malfeasance at the NRA, with LaPierre tellingly answering one question about financial disclosures by explaining that he “wasn’t the compliance guy.” LaPierre admitted that the NRA had passed expenses for private jets through its longtime PR firm Ackerman McQueen, which he said were “not appropriate” and “probably a mistake.” He further admitted that for years, he did not receive approval from the NRA board for his travel on private jets or black car service. With regard to the hundreds of thousands in designer suits that the NRA’s longtime PR firm purchased for him, LaPierre essentially claimed that he was bullied by the founder of the firm to take them.

Meanwhile, LaPierre tried to justify other lavish experiences, like helicopter rides paid for by the NRA or trips to the Bahamas, including on a yacht, paid for by the stakeholder in multiple NRA vendors. He claimed that such expenses enabled him to recruit celebrities to the NRA’s cause. 

Remarkably, LaPierre claimed such recruits were important because the organization needed to ensure it was not viewed as just “some right-wing organization” outside of the mainstream of society. The NRA, and LaPierre personally, has been amplifying rightwing extremist narratives for decades, firmly cementing the organization as one of the most prominent vanguards for far right politics. Meanwhile, he has relentlessly villainized “Hollywood” as a way to deflect calls for sensible gun laws.

As previewed during opening arguments, the NRA is attempting to create some separation between the institution and its longtime leader Wayne LaPierre. During examination of LaPierre today, counsel for the NRA asked questions that painted the board of directors as unaware of many of LaPierre’s actions. In many respects, LaPierre fell on the proverbial sword, admitting mistakes and testifying the board was not aware of certain activities. However, this is unlikely to succeed in absolving the NRA from liability under the relevant non-profit laws because (i) LaPierre was not some rogue employee, he was the CEO of the NRA, and as an officer his actions can be imputed to the entity, (ii) testimony to date has shown board involvement and complicity in many of the financial arrangements at issue, not the least of which is that many of the board members were receiving revenue from the NRA under a variety of arrangements. We also heard today about the purported NRA “course correction” that will likely be at the heart of the defendant’s presentation to the jury. LaPierre’s comment that he expected the NYAG to give the organization a “pat on the back” for their compliance efforts turns out to have been a pretty poor prediction.

What’s Next?

The trial will resume on Tuesday morning with additional testimony from LaPierre.  The NYAG indicated to the court that it then expects to call NRA General Counsel and individual defendant John Frazer and NRA Board Member Willes Lee.

Disclaimer: The following 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.