During his first day on the witness stand in a closely watched bankruptcy trial, National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre conceded Wednesday that he made a “mistake” by not disclosing his excursion on a Hollywood producer’s yacht on conflict-of-interest forms. The gun-group honcho also acknowledged on Thursday that he was disciplined for receiving “excess benefits.”
“Yes, I was disciplined,” LaPierre told the charities bureau chief of the New York State Attorney General’s Office. “I paid it back.”
On the first day of his testimony, LaPierre faced questioning about his excursions on two yachts, the Illusions and the Grand Illusions; all-expense-paid hunting trips in Botswana and other exotic locales for him and his wife; a shopping spree at a Beverly Hills Zegna for Italian suits that ran close to $300,000.
More tales of high-living abounded on LaPierre’s second day of testimony, as the NRA chief admitted flying exclusively on private charter flights for years and even picking up his niece on the NRA’s dime. LaPierre claimed not to know about tens of thousands of dollars in expenditures to his wife’s hair stylist, which was referred to during opening statements as a “glam squad.”
Beyond the spate of embarrassing headlines, LaPierre’s life of luxury could damage the NRA’s hopes to declare bankruptcy and move from New York to Texas. The NRA, which has boasted of its continuing financial health, has taken that course of action to avoid New York Attorney General Letitia James’s (D) lawsuit seeking to shut down the organization for violating the state’s non-profit law. LaPierre previously testified that he established the company Sea Girt, LLC in Texas, which had more assets than debts when filing a federal bankruptcy petition in Dallas, Texas.
Even reporting strong membership, the NRA has justified the gambit as a way to avoid court-ordered annihilation in New York, where it claims to be the target of a political enforcement action by a regulator who called their non-profit a “terrorist organization” on the campaign trial.
Questioning by the New York Attorney General’s charity bureau chief James Sheehan has aimed to defend the legitimacy of New York’s lawsuit, showing LaPierre’s tight control over the NRA’s operations, lavish lifestyle, and alleged purging of dissidents. One of the most high-profile disputes involved the NRA’s former president Oliver North, who once attended LaPierre’s wedding before their spectacular falling out led to litigation.
Accused of plotting a “failed coup attempt” against NRA leadership, North has questioned legal bills by the Brewer firm to the NRA and accused LaPierre of financial improprieties. Sheehan noted that LaPierre declined to support North’s reelection after that.
“This whole thing is a contrived narrative,” LaPierre snapped, in an answer stricken as non-responsive.
Throughout his grilling by Sheehan, LaPierre peppered his testimony with defensive outbursts like that. Bankruptcy Judge Harlin Hale has instructed LaPierre repeatedly to answer the questions, and the NRA’s lawyer Greg Garman reminded LaPierre to stick to yes or no answer, when possible. Garman told LaPierre he will have the opportunity to tell that part of the story under the NRA’s questioning.
That pattern, on display repeatedly during two days of question, eventually wore on the judge’s patience.
“Do you understand that I’ve asked you that more than a dozen times over the last day?” Hale at one point scolded LaPierre, who apologized.
The NRA has also come to blows with their former public relations firm Ackerman McQueen, which wants the Texas federal court to dismiss the bankruptcy petition.
The firm’s lawyer Mike Gruber questioned LaPierre about invoices by one of the NRA’s law firms, Brewer, which showed line items marked “Russia” and billing tens of thousands of dollars, as recently as January 2021. LaPierre acknowledged authorizing the payments to Brewer, but he insisted he could not recall having viewed the invoices themselves.
Gruber also pressed LaPierre on his insistence that bankruptcy in Texas was necessary because he could not get a fair shake in New York.
“Do you believe that she can dissolve the NRA without a court doing it?” Gruber asked.
“I’m not a lawyer,” LaPierre responded, eventually acknowledging that the NRA would have the opportunity to fight that fate in state and federal court, with multiple levels of appeal.
The NRA’s lawyer Greg Garman declined to question LaPierre further, until the gun group puts on its case in chief. LaPierre’s testimony concluded shortly before 3 p.m. Eastern Time.
Update—April 8 at 2:54 p.m. Central Time: This story has been updated to include details from the remainder of LaPierre’s testimony.
(Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
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