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Senate Democrats ask NRA execs, PR firm for documents related to alleged self-dealing

Images of Wayne LaPierre, chief executive officer of the National Rifle Association, Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, and retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Oliver North, then-president of NRA, are displayed during the NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News)

Three Senate Democrats have asked current and former National Rifle Association executives and the organization’s public relations firm to turn over letters, third-party audits, memos and other materials as they look into allegations of self-dealing and examine the NRA’s nonprofit status.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), members of the Senate Committee on Finance, sent letters Thursday to NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre, former NRA president Oliver North and Ackerman McQueen, the group’s longtime public relations firm. It has asked the men and the firm to hand over all requested documents by May 16.

The inquiries come after internal drama at the organization roiled the NRA’s annual meeting last weekend in Indianapolis. In a letter to the NRA’s board, LaPierre claimed North had tried to extort him by threatening to allege a “devastating account” of the NRA’s financial status unless LaPierre resigned from his position and withdrew the NRA from a lawsuit it had filed against Ackerman.

On Saturday, North said he would not seek a second term as president, citing the lawsuit against Ackerman, news reports about alleged financial mismanagement and confrontations over what board members said were excessive payments to the NRA’s outside law firm. North said he had created a committee to look into the organization’s finances.

The Senate panel has jurisdiction over tax-exempt organizations such as the NRA, and Wyden has been investigating the organization, pressing for answers about financial and other ties it allegedly has to Russia.

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In the letters, the senators ask LaPierre about the claims that North sought LaPierre’s resignation over allegations of financial mismanagement and that North formed a “Crisis Management Committee” at the NRA.

They also ask LaPierre to turn over the letter he wrote alleging North’s extortion attempt along with any documentation or materials supporting it; documentation North provided to the NRA’s board or executive committee relating to allegations of financial misconduct or the organization’s nonprofit status; investigations, audits or reviews conducted of or by the committee North created; and any other reports or findings about alleged financial mismanagement.

William A. Brewer III, the NRA’s outside counsel, said the organization will “cooperate with all appropriate information requests.”

Brewer said the NRA has confidence in its accounting practices and a “commitment to good governance.” He said the organization’s finances are audited, its tax filings are verified by an unnamed reputable firm and it “strives to comply with all applicable regulations.”

He said the NRA board did “did not form a so-called Crisis Management Committee” because such matters were under the purview of existing committees.

“The issues raised by Col. North were, for the most part, vetted and approved after review and investigation by the NRA last year,” Brewer said.

North and Ackerman did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday after the letters were sent.

The senators also seek information from North about his apparent effort to get LaPierre to resign as well as a Wall Street Journal report that North sent a second letter detailing additional allegations of profligate spending to the executive committee.

The senators asked North to provide letters he wrote to the board “outlining your allegations of misconduct” along with supporting documentation, his memo to the executive committee, internal or external audits, reviews or investigations conducted “by or for the “NRA Crisis Management Committee” and any findings from the committee on alleged financial mismanagement .

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And the senators seek information from Ackerman about the alleged extortion plot, hoping to examine claims that Ackerman planned to send a “damaging” letter to the NRA board unless La­Pierre stepped down.

In 2017, the NRA paid Ackerman $40 million, according to a lawsuit the organization filed against the firm earlier this year that alleges Ackerman refused to abide by a services agreement. The NRA is seeking records including documents relating to how much Ackerman paid North.

The subcommittee inquiries come as outside scrutiny of the NRA is growing.

New York Attorney General Letitia James has opened an investigation into the tax-exempt status of the organization, which is chartered in New York. James has issued subpoenas and sent letters Friday telling the NRA, its charitable foundation and other affiliated organizations to preserve their financial records.