NRA Refuses to Cooperate With Congressional Probe As Democrats Warn Tax-Exempt Status Is Under Threat

The NRA is refusing to disclose financial documents to a congressional committee, and its soon-to-be-former public relations firm says it's being muzzled by the gun-rights group, according to letters posted on Monday by three Senate Democrats investigating potential financial improprieties at the NRA.

The letters, from the NRA and its longtime PR firm Ackerman McQueen, come in response to a request from Senators Ron Wyden, Sheldon Whitehouse and Bob Menendez, all Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee, seeking documents related to an encroaching financial mismanagement scandal that has ensnared the NRA's top leaders. The documentary requests were sent on May 3 and the responses are dated a few weeks later.

The scandal involves a laundry list of suspect transactions and irregular bookkeeping practices that began to surface in late April, when then-NRA President Oliver North was ousted from the organization at the NRA's annual meeting in Indianapolis.

"The NRA's legal problems are mounting and potentially threatening its tax-exempt status," a statement from the senators reads. "Its largest vendor, Ackerman McQueen, has indicated that it is willing to cooperate with investigations, if the NRA will permit it to do so.

"The NRA ought to allow its longtime vendor to turn over requested documents," it continued. "We are dismayed by the lack of cooperation from the NRA. Attempting to thwart the cooperation of other organizations is outrageous and unacceptable."

nra oliver north lapierre misconduct senate finance
A sign featuring the former President of the National Rifle Association Lt Col. Oliver L. North hangs outside of the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana, April 27, 2019. Getty/SETH HERALD

NRA General Counsel John Frazer wrote to the senators, in response to a request for evidence of a potential crisis committee which may have been formed by North before his ouster, that no such committee "was ever formed at the NRA," contradicting previous statements and public reporting.

After the senators expressed their desire to see memos reportedly sent to the NRA's board by North and by CEO Wayne LaPierre, Frazer simply responded that "many of the documents you identify are publicly available."

North himself had identified for the board instances where NRA expenditures may have evaded proper scrutiny—including over $200,000 in wardrobe costs—and LaPierre followed with his own memo warning that North was prepared to go public with additional allegations of financial and sexual misconduct at the non-profit.

"Of course, we are refraining from commenting on the privileged communications and personnel matters that have been reported upon," Frazer said, claiming that the public's understanding of the NRA's personnel woes is a result of "out-of-context statements [reported] by several media outlets."

The NRA is also embroiled in a contentious lawsuit against its longtime PR firm Ackerman McQueen, who they allege is not turning over billing records at the center of a host of investigations that have mounted against the gun-rights group in recent months. Ackerman recently moved to terminate their contractual relationship with the NRA, alleging that the organization had already effectively ended the agreement through its "many inexplicable actions" in recent months.

Ackerman's letter to the Finance Committee Democrats claims that it "has asked [the] NRA for permission" to produce the requested materials, including an alleged letter detailing North's accusations, but that they are "awaiting" the NRA's go-ahead.

"It is not [Ackerman's] wish to have to ask for permission of the NRA to produce documents to the Senate Finance Committee," the letter reads. "However, in order to conform to the Services Agreement between the parties, [Ackerman] must do so for now."

This is the same agreement that Ackerman has moved to terminate in a Virginia Circuit Court, the status of which is still pending while the lawsuit is ongoing. If the judge rules in Ackerman's favor, that could free up the firm to produce any requested documents without the NRA's permission or the need for a congressional subpoena.

NRA Refuses to Cooperate With Congressional Probe As Democrats Warn Tax-Exempt Status Is Under Threat | Politics