April 29, 2019 / 1:02 PM / 6 months ago

New York officials hit back at Trump over backing NRA

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New York’s governor assailed President Donald Trump on Monday for backing the National Rifle Association in its dispute with the state, accusing the U.S. leader of being afraid of the powerful gun lobby.

A man looks through the sights of a .50 caliber rifle at the Ohio Ordinance Works during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S., April 28, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Two days after a gunman sprayed a California synagogue with bullets, killing a worshipper, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urged Trump to do more to stop gun deaths.

In a statement directed at the president, Cuomo said 74,600 Americans had died from gun violence since Trump was elected in November 2016.

“You have done nothing but tweet about it,” Cuomo said. “Unlike you, President Trump, New York is not afraid to stand up to the NRA.”

State Attorney General Letitia James on Saturday confirmed her office had issued subpoenas as part of an investigation related to the NRA. The New York Times reported the probe involved the group’s tax-exempt status.

“In any case we pursue, we will follow the facts wherever they may lead. We wish the President would share our respect for the law,” James said on Monday.

The NRA annual meeting was roiled over the weekend after internal disputes spilled into the open with retired U.S. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North saying he would step down as NRA president. North said he was being forced out because of his allegations that NRA leaders engaged in financial improprieties.

Trump, a Republican, shifted the spotlight on Monday to Cuomo and James, Democratic officials in his home state, after divisions within NRA leadership surfaced.

“The NRA is under siege by Cuomo and the New York State A.G., who are illegally using the State’s legal apparatus to take down and destroy this very important organization, & others,” Trump wrote on Twitter without providing evidence.

“It must get its act together quickly, stop the internal fighting,” Trump said of the NRA.

New York officials have run up against the gun advocacy organization as the state aims to tighten gun restrictions. The NRA last year sued Cuomo and the state’s financial regulator for engaging in what it said was a “blacklisting campaign” aimed at swaying banks and insurers to stop doing business with it.

The state legislature passed gun restrictions this year, including prohibiting armed teachers in schools and extending waiting periods to buy guns.

NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre had accused North of trying to oust him by threatening to release “damaging” information about him, according to a letter from LaPierre to NRA board members that was published by the Wall Street Journal on Friday.

North’s allegations included that LaPierre had received about $275,000 in wardrobe items paid for by an NRA vendor, the newspaper reported.

LaPierre emerged victorious, winning re-election from the NRA board on Monday as the group’s CEO and executive vice president.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump is greeted by Chris Cox (L) and Wayne LaPierre (R), executive vice president and CEO of the National Rifle Association (NRA), at the NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S., April 26, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston/File Photo

The NRA, with more than 5 million members, is the most powerful and well-connected gun lobby in the United States. NRA officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump has embraced the gun lobby, vowing not to tighten U.S. firearms laws and advocating proposals such as arming teachers as a way of preventing school shootings.

The NRA spent $30.3 million to support Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that tracks campaign spending.

Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Joseph Ax and Karen Freifeld; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bill Berkrot

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