The National Rifle Association’s board spent Monday huddled behind closed doors, capping off an annual meeting that has been plagued by a public power struggle, accusations of extortion and financial mismanagement, and news that the New York attorney general is investigating the organization’s nonprofit status.
The board went into executive session Monday morning, and its meeting remained closed to members for all of Monday. The NRA announced that Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre was re-elected unanimously to his position, marking his victory in the internal management spat.
The vote of confidence capped a dramatic fight between LaPierre and former NRA president Oliver North. LaPierre accused North of attempting to extort him, and then North said he would not seek a second term, citing confrontations with board members and donors over what they said were exorbitant payments to a law firm, a lawsuit against the NRA’s longtime public relations firm and reports about alleged financial mismanagement.
Carolyn Meadows, a longtime NRA member, was elected president.
The meeting came as President Donald Trump blamed the organization’s financial woes on New York’s governor and attorney general, alleging without proof that they were “illegally” using state law to dismantle the organization, which stands up for gun-ownership rights and promotes gun safety and education.
The NRA, Trump said, “Must get its act together quickly, stop the internal fighting, & get back to GREATNESS – FAST!”
The NRA spent $30 million to help elect Trump, who spoke at its annual meeting in Indianapolis on Friday. But the organization has been unable to achieve any major federal victories, despite having a Republican president and, until January, a Republican-controlled Congress.
LaPierre played down the organization’s strife Monday, saying that he looks forward to continuing efforts to protect Second Amendment rights and to face whatever comes.
“United we stand,” LaPierre said. “The NRA board of directors, our leadership team and our more than 5 million members will come together as never before in support of our country’s constitutional freedoms. The challenges ahead of us are our greatest opportunities — confronting our adversaries, defending the association, and continuing our tradition as the greatest civil rights organization in the world.”
Adversaries — largely in the form of gun safety organizations — have seen the NRA’s rifts and external pressures as a rallying point, arguing that the organization is strained and that its influence is waning.
“I’ve never seen them weaker, I’ve never seen them in so much crisis, I’ve never seen so much public infighting, and they are now under the spotlight of multiple investigations,” said John Feinblatt, president of the gun safety group Everytown, noting ongoing legal actions in New York.
New York Attorney General Letitia James has opened an investigation into the tax-exempt status of the organization, which is chartered in New York, though she has not specified what possible violations there might be. James has issued subpoenas as part of the investigation and sent letters Friday telling the NRA, its charitable foundation and other affiliated organizations to preserve their financial records. James is “focused on enforcing the rule of law,” her office said Monday. “In any case we pursue, we will follow the facts wherever they may lead. We wish the President would share our respect for the law.”
The NRA also has been enmeshed in a lawsuit with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who issued a directive last year urging insurance and financial services companies to review their relationships with the organization. The directive came after a state investigation found the NRA-branded “Carry Guard” insurance to be illegal under state law.
Cuomo responded to Trump on Twitter, writing that “74,600 Americans have died from gun violence since you were elected. You have done nothing but tweet about it.”
Cuomo continued: “Unlike you, NY is not afraid to stand up to the NRA. As for the NRA, we’ll remember them in our thoughts and prayers.”
The NRA claimed in court papers filed in the New York state case that it would be “unable to exist” if it were not able to collect donations or safeguard its assets.
Congress has also increased its scrutiny of the organization, with Reps. Ted Lieu, D-California, and Kathleen Rice, D-New York, writing to LaPierre, stating that they have “grown increasingly alarmed by the complex web of relationships” between people associated with the NRA and Russian officials.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, has been investigating the organization, pressing for answers about financial and other ties between the organization and Russia. On Friday, a federal judge sentenced a Russian gun rights activist who pleaded guilty to conspiring with a senior Russian official to infiltrate the NRA and other conservative-leaning organizations without registering as a foreign agent.
A congressional aide said internal investigations that shed light on alleged self-dealing within the NRA appear to have been set in motion by the congressional investigation.
“I take allegations of self-dealing at the NRA extremely seriously,” Wyden said in a statement. “America doesn’t give nonprofits a break to let board members and officials get rich at the taxpayers’ expense. It’s wrong, and it’s illegal. I will be asking the NRA and former officials to provide documents reported in the press that allegedly demonstrate NRA officials abused the group’s resources.”
Some NRA members are also starting to speak out against an organization in which they deeply believe, concerned that secrecy and allegations of financial mismanagement are undermining its core mission of responsible gun ownership.
Steve Hoback, an NRA life member who once worked at the organization, wrote in a public letter that he is extremely proud to be part of the NRA, but is now a “current disgusted yet DEVOTED member.”
Hoback wrote that his beloved organization is at a crossroads.
“The heedless, unbridled hero worship of many Members and their antipathy toward holding the Old Guard accountable has helped to create the monster that is destroying the Association from within,” he wrote. “This PROUD member of the ‘unwashed masses’ that the Old Guard looks down on and feels deserve secrecy from the inner workings has had enough and will no longer tolerate the foxes keeping watch over the hen house.”
Washington Post writers Tom Hamburger and John Wagner contributed to this report.