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New York Attorney General Launches Investigation Into NRA Financial Dealings


It's been a dramatic few days for the National Rifle Association. In Indianapolis, at its annual conference, NRA president Oliver North announced suddenly that he was stepping aside. CEO Wayne LaPierre had to dodge his own ouster. NPR's Tim Mak covered the NRA convention in Indianapolis. He's back and joins us in the studio. Welcome back.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Thank you.

CORNISH: Why is all of this happening and why now?

MAK: So there are numerous media reports and public allegations of financial mismanagement swirling around the organization. And it really all did come to a head this weekend.

CORNISH: How did it play out at the convention?

MAK: So you had Oliver North. He's the president of the NRA, perhaps best known for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. He said he didn't have enough support on the board of directors to continue as president and announced dramatically in a letter that he was stepping aside. Then you had an insurgent campaign by NRA members trying to oust Wayne LaPierre, the CEO and executive vice president, from his leadership posts. Here's sound of that resolution being read out at the conference.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Do hereby express our disappointment, frustration and lack of confidence in Wayne LaPierre's ability to guide the association out of the dangerous mess he has created and call for his immediate resignation.

MAK: LaPierre managed to avoid being removed, but that didn't stop calls for change in the organization. Here, for example, is Ron Carter. He's a NRA member from Colorado Springs. He said he felt LaPierre had been at the organization for too long.

RON CARTER: I don't know a single organization in the United States that has a vice president that has served for that long. And to not own up to those failures that his organization has is a failure of leadership. And so he should absolutely step down or be removed.

MAK: It got - even got the notice of the president of the United States, who spoke to the group on Friday. But he warned today that they needed to - that the NRA needed to get their act together amid these reports of financial misconduct.

CORNISH: The other office that noticed - New York's attorney general. They launched a probe into the NRA. What's going on with that investigation?

MAK: Well, so this is just the latest probe into the National Rifle Association. There are a number of congressional committees that have begun investigations. But the one launched by the New York attorney general can be uniquely threatening to the NRA. I mean, the NRA is chartered in New York. And the New York attorney general's office told NPR that it had already begun issuing subpoenas.

The New York AG has the ability to oversee nonprofits in the state and also a unique set of remedies if it finds wrongdoing. If it finds wrongdoing, it could punish a nonprofit by removing their board of directors or forcing them to pay - repay money wrongfully obtained or, even in extreme cases, to force organizations to cease operations or dissolve.

CORNISH: Tim, you've actually spoken with members of the NRA's leadership. What are you hearing from them?

MAK: Well, so the NRA's board is meeting today. And one of the critical issues they'll need to deal with is how to handle these allegations of financial misconduct. Here's what one board member, former Congressman Allen West, told me over the weekend.

ALLEN WEST: We've got to do what is right by our members because we are the voice of the members. And I think it's very important that we put in the right type of organizational reforms that are necessary. If we do find that there has been financial malfeasance - and then we got to report it back to the members. That's it.

MAK: So the NRA has 5 to 6 million members. They say they've got more members than ever before in the past. And it's a really devoted, passionate membership. And that's what drives the power of this gun rights group. A lot of them are still very supportive of LaPierre, who has held the role since 1991. But a lot of this unrest comes as gun control groups are becoming more nationally influential and Democrats in control of the House have passed gun control measures. All of these threats mean that the NRA is vulnerable to challenge - challenges that are both internal and external.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tim Mak. Thanks for your reporting.

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

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