New York and DC Attorneys General Investigations

NRA Trial Day 19: “Did Wayne LaPierre Make Mistakes? Yes, He Did.”

February 6, 2024

Today in Court

On Tuesday, February 6th, NRA expert witness, economist Ryan Sullivan, concluded his testimony. The NRA then called longtime-NRA board member Tom King, and current NRA CFO Sonya Rowling.

Summary of Today’s Testimony

  • Sullivan testified that his primary finding was that the NRA’s course correction has been effective.
    • Sullivan testified that he believed the NRA’s “course correction” started in 2017.
    • As an economist, Sullivan acknowledged that his background is not in forensic accounting (like the NYAG’s expert Eric Hines) and that he is not an expert on internal controls. 
    • On cross examination, Sullivan acknowledged that he was also hired as an expert for the NRA in the D.C. Attorney General’s litigation against the NRA, but that the court found him not qualified to testify in that case. 
    • The parties disputed the relevance of some of Sullivan’s testimony, with the NYAG objecting to certain testimony as outside of the scope of his expert report. More broadly, the NYAG repeatedly raised that the state does not believe that post-hoc corrections cure previous violations of law. 
  • The NRA next called Tom King, a member of the NRA board for over 15 years.
    • King testified that the board is elected by NRA life members and that prospective board members campaign for the positions. As with other NRA witnesses, King was highly complimentary of the NRA board and its operations.
    • King testified that it was upon his recommendation that the NRA hired the Brewer firm, and it was due to what he perceived as a “coming storm” against the NRA. 
    • King testified that he has long been a stalwart supporter of LaPierre and that he voted for LaPierre’s candidacy as Executive Vice President through the last election. When asked if he would support LaPierre in the future, King testified that LaPierre’s “time had passed” and that it was “time for a new NRA.”
    • King testified that he was not aware of LaPierre’s extensive charter jet travel before 2019. When asked if King ever questioned LaPierre about the various allegations against him, King responded “not directly.”
      • King testified that he is now aware that LaPierre’s family flew on NRA-paid private jets. Similar to prior testimony from Bob Barr, King testified that he believed that LaPierre apologized and made restitution for those expenses. King testified that he did not know how much NRA-money was spent on private planes for LaPierre’s family.
    • On cross-examination, the NYAG entered into evidence a text thread among several NRA officers regarding a social media page entitled “NRA For Accountability,” which mentioned NRA Board Member Johnny Nugent, Jr. In the thread, NRA President Charles Cotton texted the group that they “need to reconsider Nugent’s committee assignments.” Among the responses, King replied: “Actions will be taken very soon to neutralize some of these people. Please forward any FB names to me.”
    • At the same time, King told the jury that LaPierre came to the board in 2017 or 2018 and admitted mistakes and told the board that the NRA needed to course correct. King further testified, “Did Wayne LaPierre make mistakes? Yes, he did.” 
  • On cross-examination, the NYAG asked King if he considered a $1,600 tip to a landscaper to be an appropriate use of NRA money, and King testified that it would not be appropriate. Counsel for LaPierre later characterized the tip as an alleged security charge.
  • After the conclusion of King’s testimony, the NRA called current-CFO Sonya Rowling, who testified earlier in the trial.
    • Rowling testified that she drafted a memorandum calculating LaPierre’s excess benefits over a multi-year period. Rowling also stated that the NRA will again be including an excess benefit disclosure for LaPierre on its upcoming 2023 990 filing.

Analysis

The Sullivan testimony – about the NRA’s purported “course correction” – underscores a primary difference in how the two sides see the framework for the case. The course correction is a focus on the NRA’s presentation to the jury. Yet, the NYAG seems to give the course correction the back of its hand, essentially saying you don’t get forgiveness for previous violations of the law by simply starting to follow the law once you’ve been caught. It may be the NRA’s emphasis on these facts has less to do with disputing its liability, but instead, it may be geared towards influencing the penalties and remediation phase of the case.

What’s Next?

The NRA will continue its defense with testimony from current NRA CFO Sonya Rowling tomorrow morning at 9:30am.

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.