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The NRA, Maria Butina And Trump


The National Rifle Association is holding its annual convention this weekend in Indianapolis. Sounds like a doozy with accusations of financial improprieties and extortion. NRA President Oliver North announced today that he will not seek re-election. His term ends on Monday, so he's effectively out of there. Yesterday, President Trump addressed the membership in Indianapolis just as Maria Butina was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Of course, she's admitted to conspiring to infiltrate the NRA on behalf of Russia. NPR reporter Tim Mak joins us from the NRA convention. Tim, thanks so much for being with us.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Oliver North's announcement not to seek re-election comes just a few hours after The Wall Street Journal broke a big story saying that Wayne LaPierre, head of the NRA, says that North told him to resign, or he would reveal evidence that LaPierre used organization funds for personal expenses. Yet Oliver North seems to be the one who lost out.

MAK: Well, there's a real schism right now that's developing within the top levels of the organization. The NRA just had what it calls its annual members meeting. And during that meeting, you had two developments. One is Oliver North saying he's not going to stand for re-election for a second year, as is customary for NRA presidents. He's effectively stepping away from an organization he's been on the board of for more than 20 years. That's a big deal among the Second Amendment supporters. The second thing that happened was that a number of members on the floor promoted a resolution basically calling Wayne LaPierre to step down due to these allegations of financial mismanagement that have been circulating both among members and in the press.

SIMON: And as I read them in the Wall Street Journal, they seemed to be personal expenses they were charging.

MAK: Right. There are these allegations that high-level members of the NRA have engaged in financial misconduct designed to benefit themselves personally. And that's deeply troubling among a lot of grassroots members here in Indianapolis.

SIMON: What's the implication of the fact that it's Mr. North who seems to be - who is on the way out and not Wayne LaPierre? Does it mean that most people don't believe the charges? They don't care? What happens?

MAK: Well, there are charges that are being leveled by both sides - that both - Mr. North is saying one segment of the NRA is engaged in financial misconduct. Mr. LaPierre and folks who support Mr. LaPierre are saying there are other allegations of financial misconduct. We haven't done specific details about precisely where this misconduct ocurred. It could be on both sides. It doesn't tell us, you know, whether or not the membership or the leadership there has been financial misconduct.

SIMON: Any discussion over what seems to be a relationship between the NRA and Russia, at least as derived from the story of the sentencing of Maria Butina? Vladimir Putin today called her sentence an outrage.

MAK: You know, it's interesting. This is just not something that NRA members or NRA leadership have been interested in discussing in full (ph). She pleaded guilty to conspiring with a Russian official to infiltrate the NRA and other conservative groups. And according to a federal prosecutor, she funneled information that had, quote, "serious potential to harm" the U.S. political process. The NRA just does not want to talk about that today.

SIMON: NPR political reporter Tim Mak speaking with us from the site of the NRA convention in Indianapolis. Tim, thanks so much for being with us.

MAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.