Letitia James called the National Rifle Association a ‘terrorist organization’ and promised to investigate it before she was even electedNew York’s Attorney General two years ago.
She listed the gun-supporting group as one of her priorities during a magazine interview.
‘The NRA holds (itself) out as a charitable organization, but in fact, (it) really (is) a terrorist organization,’ James told Ebony shortly before she won the 2018 vote.
Now, less than two years later, James, 61, is trying to bring down the gun-toting organization claiming corruption and misspending by top officials mean it is beyond redemption, and it should be closed down.
She made her move in a lawsuit on Thursday claiming the NRA — the nation’s most powerful gun rights organization — was guilty of violating numerous state and federal laws.
James, who goes by the name Tish, has risen through the ranks of New York politics by staying mainly under the radar. She was one of eight children and has lived her entire life in Brooklyn.
Her biggest personal scandal came when the Wall Street Journal revealed she had been lying about her age for more than a decade and she was in fact four years older than she claimed.
When asked why, she simply replied: ‘Would you ask a man his age?’
She has never married. ‘I come from a long line of strong women,’ she once said. ‘I had four maternal aunts who all lived into their nineties.
‘Their message was to be very picky when it comes to selecting a partner.’
James attended public school in New York and then went on to Lehman College and the Howard University School of Law and after being rejected for a job in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in 1989 she became a public defender.
‘The rejection was truly a blessing,’ she says.
She turned to elective politics in 2001 when she lost her first fight to get on to the New York City Council. But her opponent James E. Davis was shot dead during a council meeting two years later and she ran again, this time winning.
She first made her mark opposing the building of an arena to allow the NBA’s Nets to move from New Jersey into Brooklyn, because of the number of her constituents who would be displaced.
After a decade on the council James won election as Public Advocate, the main watchdog for New York’s City Council and then in 2018 after Eric Schneiderman was forced out when four women accused him of physically abusing him, she became the first Black woman to be elected to statewide office when she won the race for Attorney General.
Since taking over the office with its $186,497 salary, James has had a spotty record.
She was slammed for supporting an agreement with Harvey Weinstein that would have set aside $15million for the disgraced movie producer’s legal fees. A judge threw out the proposed deal after one attorney for the victims called it a ‘cruel hoax.’
Weinstein’s victims would have received less than $20,000 each under the proposed deal.
The failed settlement aimed to establish a nearly $19million compensation fund for women who said they were victimized by Weinstein.
James defended the deal, saying the alternative would have given many victims nothing because the statute of limitations would have run out for them.
Attorneys for Weinstein’s victims say she went back on her word after promising victims that she would not accept a deal that benefited Weinstein and his brother.
Thomas Giuffra, who represents accuser Alexandra Canosa, said James ‘made those representations to attorneys for non-settling victims. She said she’d never agree to a settlement that gave Harvey Weinstein money at the expense of the victims.’
Her office also negotiated a $240,000 deal for 11 workers at The Spotted Pig, a Manhattan restaurant part-owned by celebrity chef Mario Batali. The staff claimed the eatery was a hotbed of sexual harassment with principal owner Kenneth Friedman forcibly kissing female workers and pressuring them to send him nude photos.
The deal included a scheme to share future profits with the workers, but the restaurant closed its doors just three weeks after it was agreed.
She also filed a federal lawsuit to stop the Trump administration’s attempt to prevent New Yorkers enrolling in Global Entry and other trusted traveler programs. The ban, which was imposed as punishment for the state allowing illegal to get drivers licenses, was lifted last month.
In her Ebony interview she called President Donald Trump ‘a threat to our democracy and values.’
‘The fact that his policies have reversed all the progress that we made under President Barack Obama and others,’ she added.
She said her decision to run for attorney general was largely ‘about that man in the White House who can’t go a day without threatening our fundamental rights.’
Language like that has caused some to wonder whether her animus towards Trump could harm her chances of winning cases involving the president and his family as Trump could claim she was biased against him.
Since becoming Attorney General she has argued that New York State’s double jeopardy law should be scrapped so anyone who receives a presidential pardon could be tried under state law, and has said she wants to probe the Trump family’s business dealings, including an unsuccessful attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills NFL team.
In February she told Spectrum News the country under Trump was ‘in the midst of chaos and confusion.’
But now James has chosen the fight that is sure to define the rest of her political career. Already Trump has attacked her, calling her lawsuit against the NRA ‘very terrible,’ and suggesting the group should move to Texas in an attempt to thwart her.
She sued four leaders of the group, including Wayne LaPierre, the long-serving chief executive, claiming they used funds as their own personal piggy bank by spending on lavish trips and bankrolling expensive lifestyles.
The group hit back with its own lawsuit saying her move was politically motivated and that it violated the association’s First Amendment rights.
It’s a fight that is likely to go on for years, probably long after the ambitions James has moved on from the Attorney General role. She is already being touted as a possible future mayor of New York City, possibly even seeking election next year when current Democratic mayor Bill DeBlasio cannot run again due to term limits. She is also said to have her eye on a possible future run as New York Governor.
James has authority to take action against the NRA as it is a charity registered in New York, even though its headquarters are in Fairfax County, Virginia.
The NRA itself claims James’s move against it is a political stunt aimed at hurting Trump’s re-election chances. ‘You could have set your watch by it,’ the group’s president Carolyn Meadows said.
‘It’s a transparent attempt to score political points and attack the leading voice in opposition to the leftist agenda.’
But in her lawsuit, James said the NRA’s power has allowed its leaders to avoid oversight for years and take some $64million from the organization. She said the group went from having a $28million surplus in 2015 to a $36million deficit just three years later.
‘The NRA’s influence has been so powerful that the organization went unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets,’ she said.
James said LaPierre, 70, frequently visited the Bahamas on the NRA’s dime, often using a 108-ft. yacht called Illusions. He also spent NRA funds on private jets, gifts, black car services and lucrative consulting contracts for ex-employees and board members, she said.
He organized one private flight from Dallas to North Platte, Nebraska for his niece and her husband at a cost of $11,435, James claimed. Another flight from Dallas to Orlando cost $26,995
She claimed that LaPierre had arranged a $17 million post-employment contract for himself without seeking approval from the NRA board.
She is asking the courts to bar LaPierre and three others, general counsel John Frazer, former treasurer Woody Phillips and former chief of staff Joshua Powell from ever again serving in leadership positions with any New York charity.
LaPierre said in a statement: ‘This is an unconstitutional, premeditated attack aiming to dismantle and destroy the N.R.A. — the fiercest defender of America’s freedom at the ballot box for decades. We’re ready for the fight. Bring it on.’