Remember Maria Butina? She’s the Russian woman who came to the United States and while representing herself as a leader of a Russian gun rights organization, thoroughly imbedded herself with the National Rifle Association. To put it plainly, she played the NRA like a fiddle, with NRA leaders falling over each other to have photos taken with the attractive redhead.
In 2018, she was arrested and charged with acting in the U.S. as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, specifically the Russian Federation. In a plea deal, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to act as an illegal agent. She served five months of an 18-month sentence in a Federal prison. After release, she was deported to Russia.
In columns on the Butina scandal, I raised the question as to why hadn’t the rank and file members of the NRA stormed the gates of the NRA headquarters demanding the heads of Wayne LaPierre and other leaders who fell for the charms of the Russian woman.
On August 6, Letitia James, the Attorney General for the State of New York, filed charges against the NRA for corruption and misspending, demanding the dissolution of the National Rifle Association, the nation’s most powerful gun rights lobby. The State of New York has jurisdiction over the NRA because the NRA was chartered as a nonprofit organization in New York 148 years ago.
Ms. James also sues four current or former NRA leaders seeking millions of dollars in restitution. That includes Wayne LaPierre, NRA’s longtime executive vice president, John Frazer, the general counsel, Josh Powell, a former top aide to LaPierre, and Wilson Phillips, a former chief financial officer.
Mr. LaPierre is accused of raiding NRA funds to support an extravagant lifestyle, even though he already gets millions in direct compensation. Some $13.5 million was paid to a personal travel consultant for LaPierre. His trips included private charter flights to the Bahamas, often enjoying the good life on a private yacht owned by an NRA contractor. He lavished gifts for his inner circle. He even awarded himself a $17 million golden parachute for himself for some future time—without approval of the Board of Directors.
All in all, the lawsuit accuses the NRA and its top executives of violating numerous state and federal laws by enriching themselves, as well as friends, families and allies to the tune of $64 million over a three-year period. Ms. James seeks to oust LaPierre and Frazer and to bar all four men from serving on nonprofit boards in New York again.
At the same time, the attorney general of Washington D.C. filed suit against the NRA and its charitable foundation, alleging that the NRA misused millions of dollars of the foundation’s funds.
Not to be outdone, the NRA filed a federal lawsuit against attorney general James, claiming her action was politically motivated and violated the NRA’s First Amendment rights.
President Trump suggested that the NRA could move to Texas and live happily ever after. Rep Greg Gianforte, who is opting to run for governor instead of reelection to Congress, invited the NRA to move to Montana. A New York Times article points out that it isn’t that easy, as the NRA couldn’t up and move assets to another state during an ongoing investigation, and could possibly have to start from scratch.
This suit doesn’t come as a total surprise, in that LaPierre and his inner circle have long been accused of enriching themselves at the expense of the NRA’s members. The NRA’s former president Oliver North issued a letter to the NRA Board in 2019 accusing LaPierre of improper personal spending, though LaPierre forced out North in a power struggle.
Obviously, all this will be fought out in state and federal courtrooms, probably for years. In the meantime, it’s likely that the NRA won’t have much money to pour into Donald Trump’s campaign coffers like they did in 2016.
Still, I now question why the NRA’s rank and file members aren’t storming the gates of NRA headquarters and demanding the heads of LaPierre and his cronies for stealing members’ dues and contributions.