(Bloomberg) -- The National Rifle Association suspended its top lobbyist and one of his deputies, adding further turmoil to the gun-rights group’s leadership ranks as it wages legal battles on multiple fronts and prepares for a bruising 2020 election cycle.
The NRA confirmed Thursday that it had suspended Chris Cox, the lobbying chief who was viewed widely as a future leader of the group, and his deputy chief of staff, Scott Christman.
The moves came after Oliver North, the former NRA board president, was ousted from the organization in April after it accused him of leading an attempted coup against Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the NRA who has long served as the organization’s leader. North alleged that LaPierre used the group to enrich himself. As part of the infighting, the NRA sued Ackerman McQueen Inc., its longtime advertising firm, and in turn Ackerman cut ties with the group.
On Wednesday night, the NRA filed a lawsuit against North arguing that he didn’t have the right to legal fees from the NRA. The lawsuit says that Cox, described as a “likely successor” to lead the organization, participated in the failed bid to oust LaPierre.
The leadership struggle came to a head on April 24, according to the lawsuit. That’s when North talked to a LaPierre aide by phone and threatened to reveal unflattering details about LaPierre’s travel and clothing expenses unless he resigned and supported “North’s continued tenure as president,” according to the complaint, which calls the exchange an extortion.
North also promised to arrange an “excellent retirement” for LaPierre through Ackerman McQueen if he resigned, the NRA claims.
The NRA filed its suit against Ackerman McQueen in mid-April, claiming it refused to turn over details about North’s contract with the advertising firm. Last month, the NRA sued again, claiming Ackerman McQueen engineered the failed coup attempt by leaking damaging information to undermine NRA leaders.
The firm fired back with a breach-of-contract countersuit, claiming that the NRA was just trying to get out of its service agreement with the firm and that it had provided all the information sought by the gun group.
North was aided in his efforts against LaPierre by NRA board member Dan Boren, a former congressman who’s now a top executive for Chickasaw Nation, a major Ackerman McQueen client, according to the NRA complaint filed on Wednesday. Boren “helped to choreograph the ultimatum they presented to Mr. LaPierre,” it said.
In emails obtained by the NRA, Boren “admitted his knowledge that Ackerman may have been invoicing the NRA for full salaries of employees who were actually working on the Chickasaw Nation account.” Those emails also show that Cox was an “errant fiduciary” who “participated in the Ackerman/North/Boren conspiracy,” the NRA claims.
The complaint asks a judge to declare that the NRA shouldn’t be required to cover North’s legal fees for subpoenas arising from its litigation with Ackerman McQueen and from a Senate Finance Committee request for information. North’s attorney had demanded that the NRA cover his legal fees for the congressional probe and for “any other inquiries” that he “may receive” in the future, it said.
Cox’s suspension was reported earlier by the New York Times. Cox’s spokeswoman told the Times that he played no role in the coup attempt.
The suspensions throw the group’s political operation into turmoil just days after President Donald Trump announced his re-election bid. The NRA spent heavily to support Trump during the 2016 race, and Cox has met with the president multiple times during his tenure. Speaking at the NRA’s annual meeting this year, Trump was introduced by Cox rather than LaPierre.
A lawyer for North, Brendan Sullivan, declined to comment and said he would respond in a court filing.
As the group’s chief lobbyist, Cox oversaw nine different divisions, including federal, state, and local government affairs. “Cox develops and executes independent political campaigns and legislative initiatives. He also serves as the Association’s principal contact with the United States Senate and House of Representatives, the White House and federal agencies,” the NRA Foundation wrote on its website in a profile of Cox.
To contact the reporters on this story: Polly Mosendz in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org;Neil Weinberg in New York at email@example.com;David Voreacos in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jeffrey D Grocott at email@example.com, David S. Joachim
For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.