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Jury finds three top executives of the NRA liable for corruption

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A jury in Manhattan has found three top executives of the National Rifle Association liable for widespread corruption at the gun rights group. Claims of wrongdoing brought by New York's state attorney general were laid out over a six-week civil trial in state court. This is, of course, another blow to the conservative organization, which has already been shaken by scandal and the departure of top executives, including longtime CEO Wayne LaPierre, who resigned last month. NPR's Brian Mann is at the courthouse and joins us now. Hey, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So tell us more about this verdict. What did the jury decide, specifically?

MANN: Well, the jury really validated these sweeping claims of wrongdoing against the men who ran the NRA over a period of many years. The heaviest liability fell on Wayne LaPierre, who's been a towering figure in the gun rights movement. Jurors found he was liable for roughly $5.4 million. The lawsuit also named NRA general counsel and secretary John Frazer and former chief financial officer Wilson Phillips. Jurors found Phillips was liable for about $2 million in damages. According to the New York Attorney General, Letitia James, this money went to support the men's lavish lifestyle - clothing, private jets and vacations. In a statement just a few moments ago, Ailsa, Letitia James called this a victory in her fight against corruption at the NRA.

CHANG: Wow. Well, of course, claims of corruption within the NRA surfaced in the media before this trial even began, and this was - this organization was, until very recently, one of the most powerful conservative lobbying groups in the country. What has all of this scandal meant for the NRA?

MANN: Yeah, this has been a political soap opera. Whistleblowers within the NRA began to come forward, saying there was corruption and self-dealing within the organization. And New York State really built their case on that internal feuding and on the facts that began to emerge into the public eye. And this scandal has led the organization already to the brink of insolvency. They were forced to shut down their powerful media and television operations. They're less powerful, with less money politically across the country, though I will say former President Donald Trump did speak recently at one of their gatherings. One other interesting fact is that there are other gun groups, some of them with an even more hard-line stance on gun regulations, that are trying to fill the void as the NRA has weakened.

CHANG: Well, let's talk about Wayne LaPierre because he was this huge figure in American politics for decades, right? This is a guy whom presidential candidates would seek favor from. He has already resigned, as we mentioned. How did LaPierre personally react to this verdict, and what comes next for him?

MANN: Yeah, he walked out of the courtroom, Ailsa, past reporters a short time ago, staring straight ahead, blank-faced. He declined to answer any of our questions. LaPierre is 74 years old, and he quit on the eve of this trial, citing health concerns. And this is a huge fall from grace for him. He is now on the hook for at least $3 million in damages, though his attorneys did promise today to appeal.

CHANG: Well, can you put this verdict in a wider context for us? Because the NRA - I mean, it's lobbied hard for guns to be deregulated and widely available, with little government oversight. Has this case shifted the politics of guns at all?

MANN: You know, before this scandal hit the NRA, the organization had already worked really effectively to plant its ideas within the Republican Party. And so far, there's just no evidence the GOP is backing away from this push to keep deregulating guns. I was just in Missouri for the mass shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs celebration. And there, again, Republican lawmakers who control Missouri politics voiced opposition to any new gun safety laws or restrictions. So there's not evidence that this huge scandal at the NRA is leading to a major shift in the debate over the Second Amendment or gun violence.

CHANG: That is NPR's Brian Mann outside the courthouse in Lower Manhattan. Thank you so much, Brian.

MANN: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.