Longtime NRA Attorney Says Group's Own Lawyer Embarked on 'Highly Destructive Path,' Court Documents Show

National Rifle Association
The logo of the National Rifle Association is seen at an outdoor sports trade show on February 10, 2017, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Court filings between the group and its former PR firm, who are embroiled in multiple lawsuits, commonly reference “extortion” attempts and Shakespeare-style intrafamily quarrels. DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty

A top attorney at the National Rifle Association—who was let go from the organization last April amid an internal power-struggle and a state attorney general's investigation—appears to have accused the group's outside counsel of wrongdoing in a conflict that has pitted the NRA against its longtime PR firm.

J. Steven Hart, who until last year served as general counsel to the NRA's board of directors, named William A. Brewer III, an aggressive litigator and the NRA's current outside counsel, as the driving force behind many of the accusations that have resulted in at least four lawsuits currently playing out from Virginia to Texas.

The information was revealed in a redacted filing submitted to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, where the NRA and its former PR firm, Ackerman McQueen, are airing a series of grievances about their decades-long relationship.

That lawsuit chiefly concerns a dispute about Ackerman's citations to the NRA in its portfolio, but wrangling over discovery materials has quickly exposed the underlying hostility between the two parties. Court filings now commonly reference "extortion" attempts and Shakespeare-style intrafamily quarrels.

The relevant filing, submitted by Ackerman on Wednesday, seeks to disqualify Brewer's namesake firm, Brewer, Attorneys and Counselors, over allegations that it is "leaking false and disparaging information" about the PR firm and "side-stepping the attorney-client privilege."

The document appears to have been improperly redacted when filed, allowing Newsweek to view material beneath the redactions, including testimony about Brewer that Ackerman attributes to Hart.

In response to a request for comment, an Ackerman spokesperson told Newsweek that its comments "are the filing."

Among the most significant revelations, Hart has testified, according to Ackerman, that there was in place a "coordinated effort to try to deal with Bill Brewer," reframing the NRA's prior allegation of a "coup."

"This has been reconstructed as a conspiracy against" Wayne LaPierre, the group's CEO, Hart is said to have testified, according to the document.

Additionally, Ackerman claims that "high-ranking NRA officials" have testified that "Brewer's actions were improper given his clear conflict of interest."

Not only are Brewer and Ackerman on opposing ends of the lawsuits, but Brewer is the son-in-law of the firm's late CEO, Angus McQueen, and brother-in-law to its current CEO, Revan McQueen.

"The narrative is contrived," Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesperson for the NRA, told Newsweek. "Ackerman is so desperate to distract from the agency's alleged improper actions that it is resorting to unhinged rants. This latest rant bases much of its attack on a communication that does not even exist. The rest of the diatribe is based on claims and allegations from former advisors who were terminated."

"In any event, this is the same stale and desperate narrative Ackerman has tried to peddle all along," Arulanandam added. "It does nothing to diminish the confidence the NRA has in Bill or his law firm – or our commitment to hold this former vendor accountable."

Hart is the NRA official who first brought Brewer on to the gun-rights group, for the purposes of dealing with a New York state investigation into Carry Guard, its now-defunct gun-owners' insurance product.

After Hart was dismissed, the New York Times reported he communicated with another NRA-affiliated attorney, calling Brewer a "moron" or "Manchurian candidate."

These communications, among others, are seized on by defenders of LaPierre, who accuse Hart of participating in a conspiracy to overthrow him.

Hart did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

National Rifle Association
A picture of Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre is seen at the National Rifle Association (NRA) booth during CPAC 2019 February 28, 2019, in National Harbor, Maryland. “This has been reconstructed as a conspiracy against Wayne,” a former NRA attorney is said to have testified, referring to a purported attempt to hold another NRA lawyer accountable. Alex Wong/Getty

The NRA has fiercely contested related allegations made by Ackerman over the course of the litigation. In their own brief, the group said Ackerman "cannot cite to any" evidence of misdeeds by Brewer.

"Argument and innuendo are not 'evidence,'" the brief says.

At least one legal scholar cited by the NRA believes the effort to oust Brewer from the litigation lacks merit.

"It is my initial opinion that this request for disqualification provides no legal basis for the relief sought," Linda Eads, a professor at SMU Dedman School of Law who reviewed the material on the NRA's behalf, concluded, according to the group. "It is based on allegations that have not been factually established."

Hart believes, according to Wednesday's filing, that Brewer embarked on a "highly destructive path" when he pressed Ackerman to open its books and that "it was stupidity on Brewer's part" that led him to do so.

This key allegation, that Ackerman was insufficiently providing access to billing records, led to the parties' first lawsuit last April. Hart is said to have testified that Brewer manufactured the stand-off by requesting documents "no reasonable person would produce."

Ackerman says that Hart also directly implicated Brewer in another claim of leaking information to the media, further dismantling the pair's working relationship in recent months. "You would have to be an idiot not to know Bill Brewer was doing this," Hart testified, according to the document.

Ackerman says that it was not just Hart, but "numerous witnesses" who testified "that Brewer was leaking."

The NRA has, in turn, accused Ackerman of leaking damaging materials to the press. That allegation, in addition to an allegation of working to foment a coup at the NRA, formed the basis for the NRA's second lawsuit against Ackerman in Virginia last year.

Brewer has sustained criticism from some, even within the NRA, for the exorbitant cost of his legal fees. Former NRA President Lt. Col. Oliver North wrote in an internal memo last year that his firm was "draining NRA cash at mindboggling speed." Wednesday's filing says that the firm was paid $54 million for legal services over the past two years.

According to Ackerman, Hart, in his testimony, discussed how expensive litigation on behalf of the NRA was "taking over" the business plan and said Brewer was "getting inside of LaPierre's head."

Brewer's defenders argue that he has provided invaluable legal services to a group besieged by anti-Second Amendment politicians and external scrutiny. Moreover, the NRA has cited its many courtroom wins, such as against the City of San Francisco, as vindication for its overarching legal strategy.

The NRA has previously objected to Ackerman's allegedly improper disclosure of confidential material in court documents. The group is now seeking to disqualify Ackerman's attorneys over an incident where material subject to attorney-client privilege was apparently filed multiple times, even after the NRA said it raised the issue with Ackerman.

The fallout spilled into the public last April, when North was ousted as president at the annual meeting of members in Indianapolis, Indiana. Reports subsequently revealed that in the days preceding the development, North had called LaPierre's office to convince him to retire.

The NRA has long referred to this as an "extortion" attempt perpetrated by North on behalf of Ackerman, who was paying North's salary. But Ackerman is now alleging that two senior officials, LaPierre's assistant and the group's current president, "confirmed" North was not acting at the behest of Ackerman, a key part of the "extortion" allegation.