MADISON — When politically motivated prosecutors dispatched agents to raid the homes of Wisconsin conservatives, it wasn’t the first time the left tried to silence its political enemies.
And it wouldn’t be the last.
Last week, radical New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against the National Rifle Association that ultimately seeks to destroy the storied Second Amendment advocate.
James’ litigation, filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, alleges the NRA “diverted millions of dollars away from its charitable mission for personal use by senior leadership.” She accuses the gun lobby’s executives, including NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre, of illegal financial conduct that siphoned tens of millions of dollars from the nonprofit over the past few years.
But then the language of the left-wing prosecutor’s turns political, and vindictive.
She seeks to dissolve the NRA. James, a gun-control zealot, in 2018 campaigned on going after the organization.
Legal expert Rick Esenberg says James may be within her rights to go after NRA leaders, if they really are responsible for malfeasance. But to try to put the entire organization out of business “raises some really troubling concerns.”
Esenberg, president and general counsel of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, said James’ campaign against the NRA has the smell of Wisconsin’s infamous John Doe investigations into conservative groups.
“The New York Attorney General’s office has a history of doing that,” he said. “I think it’s really better if our prosecutors don’t get involved with things like that.”
Liberal prosecutors in Milwaukee and Dane counties, in partnership with state campaign finance regulators, harassed and intimidated dozens of right-of-center groups for years, raiding their homes and offices at sunrise, grabbing up millions of documents in an electronic spying campaign and threatening targets with jail time and hefty fines if they went public with the secret probe.
In 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court shut down the star chamber, declaring it unconstitutional.
Like Wisconsin conservatives, the NRA has fired back, filing a defamation lawsuit in federal court. It alleges the “New York Democratic Party political machine seeks to harass, defund, and dismantle the NRA because of what it believes and what it says.”
James has described the national advocacy group, which claims some 5 million members, as a “criminal enterprise” and a “terrorist organization.”
“James boasted that she would strike foul blows against the NRA and pound the NRA into submission. She vowed that she would use the NYAG’s investigative and enforcement powers for the precise purpose of stanching political speech (‘deadly propaganda),” the lawsuit states. “She has begun to deliver on her campaign promises to retaliate against the NRA for constitutionally protected speech on issues that James opposes. As NYAG, James has regrettably succumbed to ‘individual passions, and individual malevolence.’”
James has a reputation for bringing her liberal politics into prosecutions.
The attorney general weaponized her office to target ExxonMobil and conservative policy organizations in a trumped up climate change lawsuit.
Last last year, New York Supreme Court Justice Barry Ostrager acquitted ExxonMobil of all charges brought against the company.
“After four years, three different legal theories, four million documents, hundreds of hours of depositions, 11 embarrassing days of trial for the New York Attorney General (NYAG) and a month long wait, the verdict is in: ExxonMobil did not deceive or mislead investors over climate change impacts [emphasis in original],” wrote Spencer Walrath of Energy In Depth. “
James’ campaign to knock out the NRA on fraud allegations raises an important prosecutorial equity question. Why aren’t left-wing prosecutors trying to shut down Big Labor groups like the United Auto Workers? In June, Gary Jones, former president of the UAW, pleaded guilty to embezzlement, racketeering and tax evasion as part of a corruption scandal “that has shaken trust in the union.”
James and her radical prosecutor pals are more interested in silencing their political enemies than seeing their liberal allies face justice.
Esenberg said James’ latest lawsuit against the NRA is a slippery slope.
“If it turns out to be successful, that will be the way politics is fought,” the attorney said. “I think this is a pretty dangerous route to go down.”