New York attorney general intensifies investigation into the NRA

New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a new, wide-ranging subpoena in the probe, a person familiar with the document told NBC News.
Image: New York State Attorney General Letitia James holds a press conference in New York on March 28, 2019.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James holds a press conference in New York on March 28, 2019.Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images

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By Allan Smith

The New York attorney general's office is intensifying its investigation into the National Rifle Association, recently issuing a new, wide-ranging subpoena to the gun rights organization that offers hints at where the high-profile probe is moving, a person familiar with the document told NBC News.

The deepening of the investigation was first reported by The New York Times.

The subpoena, which the Times reported was issued last week, covers areas such as campaign finance, payments made to board members and tax compliance. It seeks documents related to money transfers between NRA-controlled entities, internal communications about the organization's Federal Election Commission filings and its work with consulting firms Starboard Strategic and OnMessage, as well as records

William A. Brewer III, an attorney representing the NRA, said in a statement that the organization will comply with subpoenas "as necessary."

"Of course, the financial records of the NRA and affiliates were audited and reported in tax filings, in accordance with state and federal regulations — a fact that underscores the Association's commitment to good governance," Brewer said. "It is easy to understand why the NRA believes that the NYAG's zeal with respect to this inquiry reflects the investigation's partisan purpose — not an actual concern that the NRA is not effectively using its assets to pursue its members interests."

"Regrettably, the NYAG seems to credit hollow rants by a handful of actors who are no longer associated with the NRA," Brewer continued.

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An FEC complaint filed by the gun-control group Giffords alleged that the NRA was making payments to Starboard as a way to circumvent the law and funnel unallowable amounts of money to GOP candidates advised by OnMessage. Meanwhile, the Times reported, the NRA Foundation, the organization's affiliated charity, transferred more than $200 million to the NRA between 2000 and 2017.

In August, the Times reported that the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James had issued a subpoena for documents from more than 90 current and former members of the NRA board.

James' office declined to comment for this story.

The New York attorney general has investigatory authority over the not-for-profit organization as it is chartered in New York. James, a Democrat, opened her investigation in April amid media reports of internal strife and infighting within the organization. After the NRA was made aware of the probe, the group's then-president, Oliver North, announced he would step down.

Prior to that, North sought to oust the NRA's longtime chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, and said in a letter that was read at the group's annual convention that the organization had "a clear crisis" on its hands that needed to be dealt with "immediately and responsibly." North had formed a committee to investigate any financial improprieties in the organization. LaPierre later accused North of trying to extort him.

At the time, President Donald Trump tweeted that the NRA needed to "get its act together" because it was "under siege."

In July, the president criticized James for investigating the pro-gun group.

"People are fleeing New York like never before," Trump tweeted. "If they own a business, they are twice as likely to flee. And if they are a victim of harassment by the A.G. of the state, like what they are doing to our great NRA, which I think will move quickly to Texas, where they are loved."

"Texas will defend them & indemnify them against political harassment by New York State and Governor Cuomo," Trump continued. "So many people are leaving New York for Texas and Florida that it is totally under siege. First New York taxes you too high, then they sue you, just to complete the job."

"As the elected AG of NY, I have a sworn duty to protect & uphold state law," James tweeted in response. "My office will follow the facts of any case, wherever they lead."