The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

NRA chief ‘bristled’ at the group’s early endorsement of Trump in 2016, the gun lobby’s former ad firm claims

NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre listens as President Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in February 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

The longtime public relations agency for the National Rifle Association claimed in a new court filing this week that NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre “bristled” at the group’s early endorsement of Donald Trump in 2016, thought the real estate developer would lose the election and referred to his administration as the “Trump slump.”

The assertions are the latest claims in a brutal legal brawl between the NRA and Ackerman McQueen, its now-estranged PR firm, and emerge at a delicate moment for both the gun rights lobby and the White House.

 LaPierre’s direct line to Trump is major currency for the NRA at a time when it is trying to quash calls for stricter gun control and contend with allegations of misspending by top leaders. In turn, the NRA’s ongoing support for Trump is a valuable asset for the president heading into a reelection campaign and could help assuage supporters concerned about tentative White House interest in stronger background checks on gun buyers.

In a statement, William Brewer III, an outside attorney for the NRA, said Ackerman McQueen’s court filing was “fraught with false and misleading information.”

“In the ultimate act of desperation, Ackerman attempts to discredit Mr. LaPierre’s support of President Trump,” Brewer said. “Mr. LaPierre’s support of the president is well-known — as an advocate, fundraiser and partner in the fight to protect our constitutional freedoms.”

The allegations of LaPierre’s skeptical views toward Trump are the most recent salvo by the Oklahoma City-based PR agency Ackerman McQueen, which the NRA recently accused of continuing to tout its work for the gun group, despite the severing of their decades-long relationship.

How a hard-charging lawyer helped fuel a civil war inside the NRA

The firm has denied any wrongdoing and, in a counterclaim filed Tuesday in Texas, lobbed a series of accusations against LaPierre.

Among the most provocative: that he balked when the NRA threw its support behind Trump in May 2016, months earlier than the group had weighed in on behalf of presidential contenders in the past.

When the NRA endorsed Trump at its convention in Louisville that month, LaPierre posed for pictures with Trump and warned the crowd of the dangers of a potential Hillary Clinton presidency. “You can kiss your guns goodbye,” he said. 

The NRA’s political arm went on to spend a record $30 million in support of Trump’s candidacy despite his previous support for some gun-control measures.

But Ackerman claims that LaPierre was not happy about the move.

“LaPierre bristled at the thought of openly supporting Trump so early,” according to the firm’s court filing. “He continued his cynicism regarding Trump during the entire presidential election, noting on multiple occasions that he didn’t believe Trump could win.”

After Trump was elected, LaPierre routinely referred to the Trump presidency as the “Trump slump,” the firm claims.

The White House and the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Trump and the NRA chief have met as recently as last week and have spoken several times since the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, renewed calls for federal restrictions on guns. 

Trump has told aides that while he believes the NRA has lost some of its influence, he remains impressed by its large membership and personally likes LaPierre, whom he calls a “survivor,” according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.

In the latest court filing, Ackerman McQueen described the NRA chief executive, who was reelected in April, as someone who “beset by paranoia or a passion for secrecy or both, adopted a dictatorial, micro management style. He demonstrated an obsession with privacy, distancing himself from the public eye and exhibiting terror at the thought of public scrutiny.”

Among the issues LaPierre has not dealt with transparently, according to the ad agency, were ties between NRA officials and Russia. An Ackerman McQueen contractor asked to investigate the matter was “stonewalled,” the firm claims, adding that “NRA officials even implied that they were more concerned with hiding the facts of the investigation instead of bringing the entire story to light in order to fix any issues that existed.”

Senate Democrats last week said the NRA may have violated tax laws when top officials traveled to Moscow in 2015. A long-running inquiry led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) found that senior NRA officials pursued personal business interests on the trip and then helped a senior Russian government official and a Russian gun rights activist meet GOP presidential candidates and other political figures during the 2016 campaign.

NRA may have violated tax laws with 2015 trip to Russia, according to report by Senate Democrats

The NRA rejected the findings and said the report “promotes a politically motivated and contrived narrative.” The organization has said the trip was not officially approved by the tax-exempt organization and that LaPierre was opposed to it. But Wyden pointed to NRA documents that suggest it was an official NRA trip.

Ackerman McQueen also claimed this week that LaPierre turned against the firm because it refused to go along with his “financial adventurism and organizational mismanagement.”

The filings list NRA expenses that drew condemnation by members when they were revealed this year, including spending on LaPierre’s personal wardrobe, costly bills for meals and transportation, extensive legal fees and the “attempted purchase of a Texas mansion.” 

The Post reported in August that LaPierre wanted the NRA to buy him a multimillion-dollar estate in the Dallas area last year; the NRA has said the purchase was Ackerman McQueen’s idea.

In his statement Wednesday, Brewer said that Ackerman “refuses to account for the claims and allegations against the agency — and instead opts to smear the NRA and its most senior officials.”

“The agency clings to a desperate strategy, doubling down on its reputational attack against the senior leaders of its former client who determined to hold the agency accountable for its intentional wrongdoing,” he added. “The NRA is eager to bring all the facts to light.”

Carol D. Leonnig and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.