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Top NRA official ‘no longer employed’ by organization, according to internal email from general counsel

The National Rifle Association of America headquarters building as seen in January 2013 (Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

A top National Rifle Association official “is no longer employed by the NRA,” according to an email sent Saturday to board members by the organization's secretary and general counsel, in a sign of ongoing turmoil surrounding the nation’s largest gun group.

The email, which was first reported by Newsweek, says that the departure of the NRA's chief of staff, Joshua L. Powell, “is not privileged” but adds that “given the assortment of pending and threatened litigation,” board members are cautioned not to make any public statements. 

Powell's status was also referenced in a Jan. 23 filing in Alexandria Circuit Court by the NRA’s former public relations agency, Ackerman McQueen. “Mr. Powell has now been placed ‘on leave’ by the NRA pending an investigation by NRA counsel,” the filing in Virginia says.

The NRA and Ackerman are engaged in a sprawling legal battle with multiple lawsuits and countersuits that encompass accusations of reckless spending and leaks to the media.

The NRA did not respond to repeated requests for comment about Powell, whose compensation rose 18 percent last year to $919,969, according to the group’s tax returns. He also received $57,168 in “taxable personal expenses.” The recent court filing does not state whether Powell is being paid while on leave or give the reason.

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Powell declined to comment. He removed “National Rifle Association Chief of Staff - Senior Strategist” from his Twitter bio last week.

His absence comes amid investigations by the Democratic attorneys general of New York and Washington, D.C., looking at the tax-exempt group’s spending.

Compensation for top officials at the NRA surged by an average of 41 percent last year — including a 57 percent increase for chief executive Wayne LaPierre that boosted his overall pay to $2.15 million — even as the NRA sharply reduced spending on programs central to its mission. LaPierre withstood calls for him to resign last year amid accusations of lavish spending on legal fees, clothing and luxury travel. NRA officials and board members have repeatedly defended his stewardship of the organization.

NRA boosted executive pay while cutting funding for key programs, filing shows

Powell also has been the subject of controversy in recent years. He was a leading promoter of the NRA’s Carry Guard insurance program, which New York’s Department of Financial Services said violated state law, triggering an ongoing lawsuit by the NRA.

Powell was accused of sexual harassment by an Ackerman employee, according to a statement Ackerman provided recently to The Washington Post. The statement was first reported last year by Pro Publica.

The Ackerman statement said the firm told LaPierre in 2018 that it would not deal with Powell anymore. “We had clear reason to believe, supported by evidence, that he sexually harassed one of our senior employees and we would not tolerate his further involvement with any of our employees in order to protect their right to a safe work environment,” the August statement said. “The NRA refused to cooperate. Instead, Mr. Powell remained in a senior position of decision-making and leadership at the organization, receiving the full support of Mr. LaPierre.”

The NRA did not respond to several requests for comment this week about the Ackerman statement referring to the sexual harassment allegation. LaPierre has previously cast the allegation as part of a conspiracy to oust him as chief executive.

(This file has been updated)

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