Tape of Purported 2009 NRA Treasurer Conversation Could Be a Curve Ball for the Defense

Occasionally, what happens outside a courtroom can affect the events playing out inside a courtroom. That would appear to be the case in the ongoing battle between the State of New York and the National Rifle Association.

Yesterday, ProPublica a “nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power” released an article (in conjunction with The Trace, the Bloomberg-funded group of anti-gun “journalists”), released a story telling of a secret recording of a 2009 conversation between the NRA’s Woody Phillips and Ackerman McQueen’s CFO William Winkler.

According to the report, that recording revealed the formulation of a plan in which Ackerman would issue a platinum American Express card to Tyler Schropp, the head of the NRA’s advancement division, the group responsible for bringing in donations from wealthy supporters. Schropp would then use the card to charges expenses NRA would then repay via “nondescript” Ackerman invoices.

What kind of charges? They wouldn’t just cover Schropp’s travel and entertainment. They would also be used to avoid public disclosure of Wayne LaPierre’s use of private jets and other luxury expenses.

If true, that recording would certainly bolster the Attorney General’s case for proving a pattern of deception to skirt both NRA’s internal financial controls and avoid external scrutiny. That same recording would also confirm virtually every accusation of wrongdoing in the Attorney General’s case against Wayne LaPierre and Woody Phillips.

Here’s what NRA counsel William A. Brewer III had to say about “the tape”:

The tape has not been authenticated by the NRA but, if real, we are shocked by its content. The suggested contents would confirm what the NRA has believed all along: there were certain ‘insiders’ and vendors who took advantage of the Association. If true, it is an example of a shadowy business arrangement – one that was not brought to the attention of the NRA board.

The story, if even partially substantiated, would only solidify the New York AG’s assertion that LaPierre and Phillips acted counter to their responsibilities. That’s hardly breaking news. Both sides have already agreed that abuses happened.

Where they differ — significantly — is regarding what has happened subsequent to the revelations of abuse.

The NRA argues that changes made in the organization after the very public blowup at the 2019 Annual Meeting ensure there are sufficient guardrails now in place to prevent future abuses. Those changes, the defense argues, negates the need for special outside supervision of the organization.

In fact, Brewer says, it’s a “telling sign” that the AG’s case “relies so heavily on disgruntled former employees, terminated vendors and other castoffs from the NRA’s past who are no longer affiliated with the Association.”

The Attorney General’s office, as you can imagine, disagrees with that characterization of the strength of their case and what they consider to be an over-estimation of the changes made at the NRA since 2019.

With LaPierre’s continued tenure throughout the implementation of those purported changes followed by a surprise resignation for “medical reasons” only days before the trial began, prosecutors believe there’s reason enough to conclude that the changes are insufficient to convince a jury that things have changed for the better.

Consequently, prosecutors continue their efforts to make their case to the jury that the NRA’s pattern of abusive conduct is so extreme as to make it impossible for the organization to be trusted to operate in compliance with the law and its charter.

With nearly a week of the actual trial completed, it’s entirely too-early to characterize either side as having established a significant advantage over the other. What is apparent is that neither is willing to relent. That makes for a protracted battle.

Ultimately, protracted battles are where the government always has the upper hand. They’re playing with taxpayer funds. The NRA isn’t.

We’ll keep you posted.



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