The NRA has racked up huge legal bills over the last year that threaten to debilitate the organization, according to documents posted anonymously online that appear to be written by the group’s ex-president Oliver North. The bills highlight the organization’s extraordinary legal challenges. A person close to the matter confirmed the authenticity of the documents to The Daily Beast. Stephen Gutowski of the Washington Free Beacon was the first reporter to flag the documents on Friday.
Senior NRA officials disputed the documents’ claims but not their authenticity.
The documents include a confidential memo that North and NRA official Richard Childress sent to the NRA’s general counsel and audit committee chairman, dated April 18, 2019—the week before North was dramatically deposed as NRA president. (The NRA suspended its board’s longtime lawyer at the same time.)
In the memo, North claimed to be “deeply concerned about the extraordinary legal fees the NRA has incurred” from outside attorney Bill Brewer. North and Childress then called for an independent review of Brewer’s invoices, but said the NRA’s senior leadership—including CEO Wayne LaPierre—refused to allow one, and that Brewer himself also strongly resisted any review of the eye-popping bills. Brewer has defended his fees in the past, telling the Wall Street Journal, “We’re a premium law firm, we make no bones about that.”
Lawyers for North did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reached by phone, Childress declined to comment.
“The Brewer invoices are draining NRA cash at mindboggling speed,” North and Childress wrote, adding that the fees “pose an existential threat to the financial stability of the NRA."
“This is a fiscal emergency,” they continued, “yet we have been unable to get management to engage an outside, independent review to ensure these bills are necessary and reasonable.”
The memo says Brewer charged the NRA $24,324,290 since they engaged him last year, and that some of that had been reimbursed as part of a settlement of litigation against an insurance company—leaving the NRA to pay $18.5 million.
North and Childress estimated that at the current rate, the NRA is racking up nearly $100,000 in legal bills every day—an eye-popping number.
“$97,000+ a day is a stunning amount of money for any organization to pay,” they wrote. “It cries for an outside, independent review.”
They also wrote that they made multiple requests for an outside review of the bills, including two of CEO Wayne LaPierre, who refused to order such an audit.
“If the bills are reasonable and properly documented, why the refusal to conduct an independent review?” they wrote.
They also said the Brewer firms’ engagement letter is “inconsistent with industry standards,” claimed the NRA doesn’t properly manage the firm’s work, questioned why the firm did not give the NRA a nonprofit discount, and claimed Brewer “personally” worked to stop an outside review.
Two top NRA officials pushed back against the memos’ claims in statements to The Daily Beast, arguing they come from an unreliable narrator and hinting they are part of a smear campaign targeted at LaPierre.
“The memo on the Brewer firm’s legal fees is inaccurate—it reflects a misinformed view of the firm, its billings, and its advocacy for the NRA,” says Charles L. Cotton, first vice president and chairman of the NRA’s Audit Committee. “The board supports the work the firm is doing, the results achieved, and the value of its services. Importantly, this relationship has been reviewed, vetted and approved.”
The group’s new president, Carolyn Meadows amplified that sentiment.
“This is stale news—being recycled by those with personal agendas,” she said in a statement. “In any event, the entire board is fully aware of these issues. We have full confidence in Wayne LaPierre and the work he’s doing in support of the NRA and its members. It is troubling and a bit pathetic that some people would resort to leaking information to advance their agendas. This has no bearing on the board’s support of Wayne—and the work the NRA does to protect America’s constitutional freedoms.”
Neither the NRA nor its outside counsel have disputed the authenticity of the leaked memo. Rather, they dispute its claims.
The fact that the memo leaked is significant; dozens of board members have had access to it for weeks, and it contains confidential allegations that may embarrass people close to the NRA.
The last two years have presented extraordinary challenges to the NRA, both from inside and out. After the election of President Donald Trump, donations to the association took a nosedive; the group brought in $55 million less in 2017 than it did in 2016, as The Daily Beast first reported.
Meanwhile, the conviction of Russian national Maria Butina for conspiring to act as a covert agent by befriending top NRA bigwigs put extraordinary pressure on the group. Working with Alexander Torshin—then an official with Russia’s powerful central bank, and now a target of U.S. sanctions—Butina built deep connections with people close to the group, and helped arrange a visit for some of their top officials to Moscow in December of 2015. On the trip, the NRA visitors hobnobbed with powerful Kremlin officials.
Butina’s activities drew media scrutiny and the Senate Intelligence Committee started investigating. The NRA has turned over reams of documents to the committee, which has not yet released any findings.
At the same time, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo discouraged the state’s financial institutions from doing business with the association. The group is chartered in New York, and its top officials say Cuomo’s move has hindered its ability to operate. The NRA responded to Cuomo’s move by suing him in federal court—litigation Brewer has worked on. They have notched important wins, including getting support from the ACLU and a green-light from a federal judge to move forward with claims that Cuomo violated the First Amendment.
On top of all that, New York Attorney General Letitia James has opened an investigation of the organization. And The New Yorker ran a detailed report suggesting the group could have run afoul of the state’s laws governing nonprofits. Expenditures through the association’s longtime advertising firm, Ackerman McQueen, have also drawn pointed scrutiny. The Wall Street Journal, also citing leaked documents, reported on Saturday that the firm helped pay for luxurious clothing and travel for LaPierre. Last month, the NRA sued the firm for documents about its expenses and bills. That litigation alleged North withheld details about his relationship with the firm from the NRA.