DC attorney general subpoenas NRA amid financial scandal

News reports have raised questions about the group's spending practices.

July 12, 2019, 6:49 PM

The DC attorney general on Friday subpoenaed financial records from the National Rifle Association and the National Rifle Association Foundation, the latest headache for the embattled gun rights organization.

“The Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia has issued subpoenas to the National Rifle Association of America (NRA) and the NRA Foundation, Inc., as part of an investigation into whether these entities violated the District’s Nonprofit Act. We are seeking documents from these two nonprofits detailing, among other things, their financial records, payments to vendors, and payments to officers and directors” Attorney General Karl Racine said.

The Attorney General for the District of Columbia is responsible for "responsible for protecting charitable organizations and their assets," the office's website says.

William A. Brewer III, the NRA's lead lawyer, said in a statement that the organization intended to cooperate fully, the Associated Press reported.

"The NRA has full confidence in its accounting practices and commitment to good governance," Brewer said. "The association's financials are audited and its tax filings are verified by one of the most reputable firms in the world. Internally, the association has an appropriate conflict of interest policy, which provides that all potential conflicts are reviewed and scrutinized by the audit committee," he said according to the AP.

The NRA faces a burgeoning scandal surrounding questionable spending practices first reported by The New Yorker and further detailed in an anonymous leak of internal documents.

The leaked documents, the authenticity of which ABC News has not been able to verify, included letters that appear to show former NRA President Lt. Col. Oliver North raised serious concerns with the organization’s audit committee about $24 million in legal fees paid to the firm of outside counsel William Brewer over the last year. North was recently ousted as president amid a dispute with NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre.

PHOTO: Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the National Rifle Association, speaks at the NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, April 26, 2019.
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the National Rifle Association, speaks at the NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, April 26, 2019.
Lucas Jackson/Reuters, FILE

Those fees -- estimated in one letter to cost the organization nearly $100,000 per day -- “are draining NRA cash at mindboggling speed,” wrote North and NRA Vice President Richard Childress on April 18 as they urged the committee to authorize an independent review.

“Invoices of this size for 12 months of work appear to be excessive and pose an existential threat to the financial stability of the NRA,” the letter reads. “This is a fiscal emergency.”

In a pair of statements provided to ABC News by a spokesperson for Brewer, two NRA officials did not dispute the authenticity of the documents but dismissed the allegations contained within them.

“This is stale news – being recycled by those with personal agendas," said Carolyn Meadows, the group's new president. "In any event, the entire board is fully aware of these issues. We have full confidence in Wayne LaPierre and the work he’s doing in support of the NRA and its members. It is troubling and a bit pathetic that some people would resort to leaking information to advance their agendas. This has no bearing on the board’s support of Wayne – and the work the NRA does to protect America’s constitutional freedoms."

“The memo on the Brewer firm’s legal fees is inaccurate – it reflects a misinformed view of the firm, its billings, and its advocacy for the NRA,” said Charles Cotton, chairman of the NRA's audit committee. “The board supports the work the firm is doing, the results achieved, and the value of its services. Importantly, this relationship has been reviewed, vetted and approved.”

Multiple attempts to reach North have been unsuccessful.

These latest revelations have arrived during a period of rising internal tensions at the organization, as media scrutiny of the NRA and its finances has prompted action by law enforcement and lawmakers.

In April, the NRA sued its longtime ad agency Ackerman McQueen, the contractor behind NRATV, raising questions about the ad firm’s relationship with North. Days later, The New Yorker published an investigation by Mike Spies of the nonprofit journalism outlet The Trace that claimed “memos created by a senior N.R.A. employee describe a workplace distinguished by secrecy, self-dealing, and greed, whose leaders have encouraged disastrous business ventures and questionable partnerships, and have marginalized those who object.”

Later that same month, The New York Times reported that in a letter sent to NRA board members, LaPierre accused North of extorting him, threatening to release damaging information about the NRA unless LaPierre resigned. Ultimately, however, it was North who would step down as president, losing the apparent power struggle.

Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist and principal political strategist for the Institute for Legislative Action – the lobbying arm for the NRA, stepped down, according to Andrew Arulanandum, the NRA’s managing director for public affairs.

Neither the NRA nor Cox have released a statement about his resignation or confirmed any details as to what prompted the move.

Some board members have also called for LaPierre to step down such as former Republican congressman, Ret. Lt. Col. Allen West.

West announced in a blog post that he was withdrawing his support from LaPierre, citing concerns about alleged financial mismanagement within the organization and what he called “outright lies” told by Carolyn Meadows, the group's new president, and Charles Cotton, chairman of the NRA's audit committee, in LaPierre’s defense.

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