New York Attorney General Investigation

NRA Trial Day 24: Closing Arguments WITH TRANSCRIPT

February 15, 2024

Today in Court

Today, parties presented their closing statements. NRA General Counsel John Frazer’s attorney kicked off the morning, followed by attorneys representing former NRA CFO Woody Phillips, former Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, the NRA itself, and, finally, the New York Attorney General.

Summary of Closings (In Order of Presentation to Jury)

  • Will Fleming, John Frazer’s attorney, focused his closing remarks on portraying Frazer as a man of “unrelenting good faith.”
    • Fleming argued that former NRA vendor Ackerman McQueen was a “cancer that needed to be cut out.” He said Frazer was part of the effort to do just that.
    • With respect to documents that counsel tried to get into the record over evidentiary objections by the government, Fleming asked the jury what the NYAG was seeking to hide. Later he asked rhetorically, “we have nothing to hide. Do they? It’s a fair question.” 
    • Fleming told the jury that the false statements charge relating to various charities filings against Frazer was the “worst” of all. He reiterated for the jury that Frazer is not an accountant, but “just a lawyer.” 
    • At the end of his closing argument, Fleming visibly teared up, wiped away his eyes, and apologized to the jury for being emotional, but noted “justice matters to me a lot.”
  • Woody Phillips’s attorney Seth Farber, presented a similar argument. He argued that while Phillips was not perfect, the fact that he has always acted in good faith is “essentially undisputed.”
    • Counsel focused on Phillips’s more than 25-year career at the NRA, saying whether you like its politics or not, the NRA is much more effective than what Phillips began at the NRA.
    • With respect to the vendor MMP, counsel argued that Phillips was not a “rogue employee”, but that LaPierre approved increases for MMP and that the NRA got “tremendous value” from the relationship. 
    • Regarding his client’s decision to plead the Fifth Amendment during the NRA’s bankruptcy trial (Phillips had invoked the Fifth no fewer than 80 times during his testimony in the bankruptcy trial – the full deposition can be found here), Farber said that Phillips was following his attorney’s advice, and pointed to the fact that Phillips did give testimony in this case.
    • Counsel acknowledged that Phillips was not perfect, and acknowledged that he signed-off on payments that did not have necessary approvals.
    • In closing, counsel told the jury that Phillips “didn’t profit in any way” from the controversial arrangements, and that the state wants to put Phillips in personal bankruptcy.
  • Kent Correll then presented a final defense of LaPierre.
    • Correll leaned into the political nature of the NRA, saying the organization was “under attack by the state of New York.” Later on, he told the jury the NYAG wanted to “decapitate” the NRA for “political reasons.”
      • Correll: The NYAG “doesn’t want you to look at the heroism and freedom he’s put forth.” 
      • Correll: “he dedicated himself to the cause, the Second Amendment – the right to defend yourself against others, even the government. This may be the most important case in the country right now.” 
    • He asked rhetorically “Where is Letitia James? I don’t see her. Why didn’t she show up?  We’ve been here for six weeks. If [the] case were so important to her, why wouldn’t she be here? I’ll tell you why, I would have called her as a witness and asked her why she did this.” He later said the case is “a story made up by someone with an agenda.”
    • Counsel argued that LaPierre’s performance speaks for itself, and that if he’s at fault, it was for trusting certain people too much. 
    • Correll said that LaPierre focused on “big things” and that his “big picture judgment was good”; to the extent his judgment failed him on “little things.”
      • Correll said that co-defendant Woody Phillips always told LaPierre the audits were “clean” and LaPierre just focused on relationship building and fundraising.
    • With respect to the allegation regarding hundreds of thousands of dollars in black car service, Correll asked “how do you get from point A to point B without a car service?” [NRA Watch note: It’s more likely that members of the jury took the subway to the courthouse than a black car service.
    • With respect to LaPierre’s time on the yacht of a key NRA vendor and frequent expensive travel, counsel argued that LaPierre “understood influencers before influencers were a word.” 
    • Correll said it would be “un-American” to ban LaPierre from future non-profit service. 
  • Sarah Rogers of the Brewer firm presented closing arguments on behalf of the NRA.
    • Rogers showed the jury a photo of the sun rising over the Roman Colosseum and equated it to the NRA, and the sunrise to the purported “course correction”: arguing that a course correction is more like a sunrise than a light switch. Rogers told the jury that the NRA is old like the colosseum, and that change takes time. 
    • Rogers admitted that LaPierre was, at points, “part of the problem” but then he committed to be part of the solution and to putting NRA interests above his own, and so he remained part of “the family.” 
    • In terms of Ackerman McQueen, Rogers said the PR firm declared a “blood feud” against the NRA. 
    • Rogers then turned to the topic of related party transactions. In defense of NRA payments to board member Marion Hammer, Rogers said that the NRA pays lots of gun lobbyists, and that Hammer is legendary. Rogers told the jury that there is no evidence that she is overpaid.
    • Rogers told the jury that Oliver North is not a whistleblower, as he was probably the most powerful person at NRA when he claimed to be a whistleblower.
    • Invoking the idea of personal self-defense, Rogers closed by saying that this is a case of “self defense” on the part of the NRA.
  • Monica Connell delivered the government’s summation.
    • Connell asked the jury: “What happens when someone is caught in the act, when someone is caught with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar?” She told the jury that those caught will deflect, blame others, and then go on the offense, asking “why are you even watching this cookie jar?”
      • Connell: Putting back the cookies doesn’t mean you’re not responsible.
      • The NYAG noted that the defendants pointed fingers at each other “when convenient.”
    • In response to claims that the case is a “witch hunt,” Connell reminded the jury that the NYAG is seeking restitution for the NRA. Connell also reminded the jury that the NYAG’s witnesses, for the most part, were longtime NRA leaders. 
    • Connell then methodically went through key evidence discussed throughout the trial:
      • Connell detailed several actions taken by NRA leaders well into the organization’s supposed “course correction” that significantly undermined the NRA’s argument that it had gotten its house in order years ago. For instance, LaPierre had entered the NRA into bankruptcy in “an attempt to avoid this case” without discussing with the vast majority of NRA leaders, including the organization’s General Counsel and then-CFO.
      • Connell displayed a slide featuring 14 “loyal and entrenched group of board members” all of whom had allegedly protected LaPierre and remain on the board to this day.
      • Connell pointed to evidence that LaPierre had orchestrated Oliver North’s multi-million dollar contract with Ackerman, through which he would be compensated through “backdoor payments”. 
      • Connell ran through the long timeline of alleged financial mismanagement by NRA, noting that the NRA board received reports about lax internal controls in 1996 and 2003, when LaPierre and Phillips were both in their positions, which included many of the same fact patterns that would feature in the NYAG’s complaint about the organization decades later.
      • Connell noted that it was uncontested that for years, LaPierre had violated the NRA’s travel policy with respect to his private jet travel, including $600,000 worth of flights to the Bahamas. 
      • Connell described it as “flat gaslighting” to attribute LaPierre’s frequent use of charter flights to security concerns. She asked if concerns about LaPierre’s really were the reason for LaPierre to fly private, why didn’t LaPierre tell NRA security about his trips to the Bahamas? Why did he fly commercial on some trips with the McKenzies?
      • Connell displayed a timeline which showed how the NRA’s payments to entities in which David McKenzie was a stakeholder increased within days of trips the LaPierres took with the McKenzies or on their yachts. Connell also noted that concerns were first raised about the NRA’s relationship with McKenzie over 20 years ago.


NRA Watch does not offer any predictions as to what the jury will do tomorrow. That said, NRA Watch offers four key takeaways from the trial:

  1. NRA Whistleblowers Spill the Tea: The NYAG’s case started with ousted NRA board members and executives testifying how they were forced out after they tried to blow the whistle about the NRA’s problems. The lead witnesses to the State’s case were adamant Second Amendment supporters. This culminated with the testimony of conservative stalwart Oliver North, the former NRA board president, became the third LaPierre associate to claim under oath that LaPierre had told them that the head of the Brewer firm was the only person who could keep LaPierre out of jail and an “orange jumpsuit.” Furthermore, former longtime NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox also testified against LaPierre and bore witnesses to the financial mismanagement at the organization. 
  2. Wayne LaPierre Resigns and Admits Mistakes: On the eve of trial, and after three decades leading the NRA, LaPierre resigned. Thus, in many respects, the NYAG had won this trial before it even began. But this foreshadowed LaPierre largely falling on the proverbial sword during trial, admitting receiving improper benefits. At one point, he walked through the eight checks he wrote the NRA between 2020 and 2023 in an attempt to “square things up,” testifying “I couldn’t believe it, but when you add it all up, it’s over $1 million.” The NYAG alleges the scope of the misconduct is much greater, but even so, this admission really raises doubt whether LaPierre is putting on any real substantive defense at all. 
  3. NRA Points the Finger: From the opening statement when they said “the NRA is not this man,” it was clear the NRA wanted to put daylight between itself and longtime CEO Wayne LaPierre. Counsel for the NRA said, of LaPierre, that he was “not always a meticulous corporate executive.”  In its questioning of LaPierre, the NRA often treated LaPierre as a hostile witness. In this manner, the NRA appears to be hanging its hat on the jury making a distinction between the NRA and LaPierre in its deliberations, which seems like a tricky notion when, as its current CFO has testified, LaPierre really was the NRA for nearly three decades. Testimony has all borne out a “Wayne says” culture at the NRA where his word was the final word. As for the other shady business dealings? The NRA had someone else to blame for each one from longtime public relations firm Ackerman McQueen to the travel agent that booked the NRA’s private charter flights to the vendor whose stakeholder provided free vacations on a yacht to LaPierre and his family. 
  4. AG’s Evidence of Financial Mismanagement Largely Goes Unchallenged: With witness testimony and documents, the NYAG has substantiated the vast majority of shady financial transactions raised in the complaint, including (1) LaPierre’s various trips on the yachts owned by a stakeholder in multiple key NRA vendors, (2) extensive private charter flight travel for the LaPierre’s totaling over $10 million, including for flights that Wayne LaPierre wasn’t even on, (3) a variety of NRA contractual relationships with NRA board members that were not approved by the board ahead of time, (4) lavish spending on things like gifts, makeup, hair cuts, suits, and black car service, (5) multi-million dollar post-contract golden parachute arrangements for LaPierre and former CFO Woody Phillips, and (6) the contemplated purchase of a Dallas mansion for LaPierre.  

What’s Next?

The jury will receive instructions from Judge Cohen and begin deliberations tomorrow, Friday, February 16.

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.