Manhattan, New York — National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre admitted on Monday he authorized spending on helicopter rides for himself and others to avoid traffic at NASCAR races.
During his second day on the stand at the NRA’s civil trial in New York, LaPierre testified that he spent the non-profit’s money on private helicopter trips. He admitted the purpose of the flights was convenience and noted it was a common practice during the group’s dealings with the racing company.
“Yes, Your Honor, it is an invoice for helicopter transportation,” LaPierre said when shown a receipt for one flight.
“And you authorized this trip?” the lawyer representing the New York Attorney General’s Office asked.
“Yes,” LaPierre replied. “It was a practice to get people out there.”
The new revelation of yet another extravagant expense charged to the NRA by its outgoing leader may negatively impact his chances of surviving the civil suit unscathed. The growing plethora of luxurious personal expenses that NRA leadership has admitted to charging the group for and the numerous conflict-of-interest arrangements they acknowledged during the trial may further harm the group’s reputation with its own membership, who have fled in droves since the allegations first leaked. It could also provide grounds for the judge and jury to not just force LaPierre and others to repay the organization for inappropriate expenditures but install an overseer to push reform on the group.
The outcome of the case will determine the future of the nation’s oldest and largest gun-rights advocacy group and will likely be the most consequential in the history of the gun-rights movement.
LaPierre, who is serving his final days as the head of the NRA after announcing his resignation just before the beginning of the civil trial, testified for about five hours before bowing out due to health concerns raised by his lawyer. He sat in a dark suit and tie with a plain white button-down shirt. Despite his ailments, he looked and sounded much the same as in any interview or speech he’d given over the past several years.
However, he took a far less combative approach to the day’s questioning than during his testimony in the group’s failed bankruptcy filing. Instead, he mostly answered inquiries from the collection of lawyers assembled in a Manhattan courtroom with a yes or no. But he did defend the helicopter trips and other luxurious spending he’d authorized when prompted by his attorney.
While he didn’t try to justify the helicopter trips as a security necessity as he’d done previously with private flights, yacht trips, and even home landscaping, LaPierre did argue the helicopter rides were part of a broader effort to improve the NRA’s standing among the general public.
“The other side has always tried to push the NRA to the fringe,” LaPierre said. “So, I tried to build relationships with all of these cultural institutions that have an influence on American society. NASCAR, country music, NFL alumni, the NBA.”
He said the various partnerships with well-known brands helped bolster the NRA’s image.
“That helped the NRA in terms of being culturally relevant and showing America the NRA is a good citizen and filled with good people and not what they might read about in the papers,” LaPierre said.
He argued the partnerships grew the NRA and increased its influence nationwide.
“It produced donors. It produced goodwill,” he said. “At the NASCAR races, they used to introduce me to the drivers. We were able to form relationships with them.”
LaPierre is slated to finish his testimony in the Attorney General’s section of the case on Tuesday. Then, the defendants will have another three weeks to lay out their cases before the trial ends next month.