A prominent board member of the National Rifle Association urged the organization to clean “its own house” and move on from CEO Wayne LaPierre’s leadership on Tuesday in a stunning escalation of the internal crisis that has plagued the organization in recent months.
Retired Lt. Col. Allen West, a former Republican congressman from Florida serving his second term on the board, 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.
“There is a cabal of cronyism operating within the NRA and that exists within the Board of Directors,” West wrote. “It must cease, and I do not care if I draw their angst.”
West said that he had called for LaPierre’s resignation before the organization’s annual meeting in Indianapolis in April, where some of the first signs of serious trouble at the organization emerged.
“It is imperative that the NRA cleans its own house,” West wrote. “If we had done so in Indianapolis, much of this could have been rectified.”
In a joint statement to ABC News, Meadows, Cotton and NRA second vice president Lt. Col. Willes Lee, appeared to issue a strong rebuke to West and called on board members to “end this petty bickering immediately” and “return to its core mission.”
“It is unfortunate,” the statement reads, “that certain board members have resorted to making false and misleading public statements about proceedings of the NRA board of directors,”
West appears to be the first board member to openly break with LaPierre as the organization faces a burgeoning scandal surrounding questionable spending practices first reported by The New Yorker and further detailed in an anonymous leak of internal documents over the weekend.
Hours later, another NRA board member appeared to join West’s call for LaPierre’s ouster. In a message posted to the public Facebook page of Timothy Knight, who is also serving in his second term on the organization’s board, Knight appeared to “100% agree” with West and express his concerns about what he called the NRA’s attempts “to cover up the financial malfeasance of the last 20 years.”
“What has been leaked to the press came as an unwelcome surprise to many of us,” Knight’s post reads. “And it erodes all confidence in management’s ability to lead the NRA. I do not support Wayne LaPierre continuing as Executive Vice President/CEO.”
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, who was recently ousted amid a dispute with LaPierre, raised serious concerns with the organization’s audit committee about $24 million in legal fees paid to Brewer’s legal firm over the past year.
The unverified documents also include letters to LaPierre from William Winkler, chief financial officer of longtime ad agency Ackerman McQueen, seeking more information about LaPierre’s personal spending through the agency -- particularly $274,965.03 in wardrobe expenses made at high-end retailer Zegna in Beverly Hills and $267,460.53 of primarily travel expenses on trips to the Bahamas, Palm Beach, New York, Los Angeles, Reno, Budapest and Italy.
The latter total also includes $13,804.84 to rent an apartment for three months in Fairfax, Virginia, that according to one letter, LaPierre “required [Ackerman McQueen] rent” and “billed to the NRA” for a young woman who, according to LinkedIn, was then an intern at the organization. She is still employed by the NRA, according to LinkedIn.
In defense of LaPierre, a spokesperson for Brewer sent statements to ABC News from Meadows and Cotton in which they did not dispute the authenticity of the leaked documents but dismissed the allegations within them and asserted that the board was fully aware of the issues raised.
“This is stale news -- being recycled by those with personal agendas," said Meadows in a statement. "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,” Cotton added. “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.”
In his blog post, however, West disputed those claims, saying he was previously unaware of the details of the allegations before reading about them in the media.
“I am deeply concerned about the actions and statements being made,” West wrote. “The recent statements by Charles Cotton and Carolyn Meadows that are appearing in the Wall Street Journal, and now other news outlets, are outright lies. I have never been told, advised, informed or consulted about any of these details mentioned in the WSJ, and who knows how much more despicable spending of members’ money. These statements have maliciously, recklessly and purposefully put me, and uninformed Board members, in legal jeopardy.”
In their statement to ABC News, the three NRA officials said there was “no excuse for any board member to claim they are unaware of legal and business concerns being addressed” as there had been “a healthy discussion” of the issues in question at a recent board meeting. They further suggested that West’s actions were merely the part of the fallout of what LaPierre had earlier described as North’s attempt to pressure him into stepping down.
“It occurs to us that board members ‘voicing’ concern may have been part of a failed attempt to oust Wayne LaPierre as CEO and Executive Vice President of the NRA prior to the board meeting in Indianapolis,” the statement reads. “In fact, we were all warned that a scorched earth campaign would ensue unless Wayne moved to withdraw the NRA’s lawsuit against Ackerman McQueen and walked away from the NRA. Wayne chose the principled path – and did neither. He will continue to press for full transparency from all vendors, even the ones that employ Col. North and others.”
In response to numerous reports of financial improprieties within the organization, the New York attorney general has launched an investigation, three Democratic senators are asking LaPierre, North and Ackmerman McQueen for more information, and Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider called on the Internal Revenue Service to “review whether the recent allegations against the NRA warrant reconsideration of the organization’s tax-exempt status.”
"It's incredibly disturbing,” Schneider said in a hearing last week, “to see these allegations and to think that NRA executives are possibly misappropriating their donors’ contributions and abusing their nonprofit status for personal gain.”
As media scrutiny of the NRA and its finances has prompted action by law enforcement and lawmakers, fierce infighting at the notoriously tight-lipped organization continues to spill into public view.
“It sickens me to publicly make this statement, but I will not allow anyone to damage my honor, integrity, character, and reputation,” West wrote. “Needless to say, there are those who have willingly done so to their own.”
ABC News' Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.