National Rifle Association board member Lt. Col. Allen West (ret.) called for the resignation of executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre on Tuesday after leaked memos revealed accusations of impropriety, including $275,000 spent on Italian suits and $265,000 spent on travel. The accusations were levied at him by former NRA president Oliver North and the gun-rights group's largest media vendor.
"It has become very apparent that I need to speak out about what is happening at the National Rifle Association," West said in a statement published on his website. "I am in my second term as a Board member, and I am deeply concerned about the actions and statements being made. The recent statements by Charles Cotton and Carolyn Meadows that are appearing in the Wall Street Journal, and now other news outlets, are outright lies. I have never been told, advised, informed or consulted about any of these details mentioned in the WSJ, and who knows how much more despicable spending of members' money."
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In a joint statement to the Washington Free Beacon from NRA president Carolyn Meadows, first vice president Charles Cotton, and second vice president Lt. Col. Willes Lee (ret.), the three defended LaPierre and accused West of making false statements about the way the board has operated.
"It is unfortunate that certain board members have resorted to making false and misleading public statements about proceedings of the NRA board of directors," the joint statement said. "As those board members know, we are not at liberty to discuss the particulars of the board of directors meeting that occurred in executive session on April 29. However, every board member was afforded the opportunity to speak openly about any issues of concern to them. To suggest otherwise is dishonorable."
West's comments were in response to statements made by Meadows and Cotton that painted the recently leaked memos as old news that the NRA board was long aware of. Both statements asserted that the board is fully supportive of Wayne LaPierre as well as Brewer Attorneys and Counselors and the expenses incurred by both of them.
"This is stale news—being recycled by those with personal agendas," Meadows said in a statement sent to multiple outlets. "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."
"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," Cotton said in the same statement.
West said those comments are not only wrong but may carry legal consequences for members of the board.
"These statements have maliciously, recklessly and purposefully put me, and uninformed Board members, in legal jeopardy," he said.
NRA leadership responded by saying board members like West were given the opportunity to be heard in the closed-door session of the latest board meeting.
"During the meeting in question, the board had a healthy discussion where the issues that are being reported upon now were vetted and discussed," the three officials said. "Beyond that, every board member was invited to attend committee meetings where legal, financial, regulatory, and business issues are thoroughly addressed. The NRA has an office of the general counsel, and separate independent outside counsel to represent the board of directors. In sum, there is no excuse for any board member to claim they are unaware of legal and business concerns being addressed by this Association."
They further said board members are responsible for keeping themselves informed about the operation of the organization.
"It shocks the conscience to read that certain board members have apparently not kept themselves updated, informed and active on matters that are of interest to our 5 million members," the three officials said. "They have an open invitation to get more actively involved—and to join the conversation in an appropriate way, as is provided for in our Bylaws."
West said he informed LaPierre's office prior to the group's annual meeting in April that he believed LaPierre should resign and that he informed the board of his concerns at the meeting.
"Prior to the NRAAM in Indianapolis I sent an email to Wayne LaPierre's managing director, Millie Hallow, expressing my sentiment that Wayne LaPierre resign immediately," he said. "I also drafted a memo entitled ‘Resolution of Concerns.' Both of these statements are known to the NRA board."
"I do not support Wayne LaPierre continuing as the EVP/CEO of the NRA. The vote in Indianapolis was by acclamation, not roll call vote. There is a cabal of cronyism operating within the NRA and that exists within the Board of Directors. It must cease, and I do not care if I draw their angst. My duty and responsibility is to the Members of the National Rifle Association, and my oath, since July 31, 1982, has been to the Constitution of the United States, not to any political party, person, or cabal."
Meadows, Cotton, and Lee reiterated that LaPierre was reelected "unanimously."
"Fact—when the board met, Wayne was unanimously voted to continue in his leadership role of the Association," they said. "Anyone could have run against him, or any one of us for that matter, or even called for a roll call vote. They chose not to do so."
The vote on NRA officers, including LaPierre, was held in executive session when only board members and select staff were allowed in the room during the NRA's most recent board meeting.
After a contentious members meeting in Indianapolis, where a resolution expressing no confidence in Wayne LaPierre and some members of the board was hotly debated, West told the Free Beacon the board needed to take action to address the allegation of financial impropriety. However, after a nine-and-a-half-hour board meeting spent mostly behind closed doors, the board announced few public changes. West appeared displeased with the outcome.
"It is imperative that the NRA cleans its own house," he said. "If we had done so in Indianapolis, much of this could have been rectified."
Meadows, Cotton, and Lee said West's statements may be part of a failed attempt to remove LaPierre from power.
"In closing, it occurs to us that board members ‘voicing' concern may have been part of a failed attempt to oust Wayne LaPierre as CEO and Executive Vice President of the NRA prior to the board meeting in Indianapolis," the three said. "In fact, we were all warned that a scorched earth campaign would ensue unless Wayne moved to withdraw the NRA's lawsuit against Ackerman McQueen and walked away from the NRA. Wayne chose the principled path—and did neither. He will continue to press for full transparency from all vendors, even the ones that employ Col. North and others."
West further called for the board to be reduced in size from 76 members to "30 or less" and said each member should be limited to four terms on the board. He said the group needed to be refreshed.
"We need to focus the NRA, the nation's oldest civil rights organization on its original charter, mission, training and education in marksmanship, shooting sports, and the defense of the Second Amendment," he said. "I will dedicate all my efforts to the reformation of the National Rifle Association and its members, of whom I am proud to serve."
West was not the only board member publicly complaining about how the recent allegations of wrongdoing by LaPierre and others have been handled. Timothy Knight, another board member, took to his Facebook page to say he was not aware of all the different claims being made before they were leaked to the media.
"I certainly did not know all those things being leaked nor do I believe that the whole Board was aware," he said.
Knight also said the NRA needs to make reforms if it hopes to continue to be as successful in lobbying for gun rights as it has in the past.
"I need the NRA to succeed," he said in his post. "We all do. We need strength and focus to be effective. We must be united in protection of our traditions, sports and rights. But I am not going to ask you to ignore your issues and concerns. We need to right the ship. I am asking you to share your concerns beyond social media."
In an interview with the Washington Free Beacon, West said there were a number of other board members who also shared his concerns. He said they would not stand for anyone using money from the nonprofit for their own enrichment.
"I'm concerned about anything that results in members' money being used for personal gain," West told the Free Beacon.
He said he hoped other NRA members and those on the board would also speak up about the concerns they have.
Leaked memos from former NRA president Oliver North and First Vice President Richard Childress to the NRA board, first reported by the Free Beacon, detailed myriad accusations of excessive personal spending by LaPierre as well as legal fees paid to Brewer's law firm. The allegations in the memos had been reported by outlets like the Daily Beast, the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Wall Street Journal in the run up to the group's annual meeting as former president Oliver North traded accusations of wrongdoing with Wayne LaPierre. The memos, however, reveal further details of the alleged impropriety.
In a memo dated April 25, 2019, North directs the creation of a crisis committee to examine accusations made in a New Yorker piece and by the group's top media company Ackerman McQueen. Attached to that memo were two letters from Ackerman McQueen detailing some of their spending on LaPierre's behalf.
In one of the letters Ackerman McQueen alleged it spent almost $275,000 of NRA money over a 13-year period at a suit store—Zegna in Beverly Hills—on behalf of Wayne LaPierre. That includes a $39,435 trip on May 11, 2004, and a $39,000 trip on Sept. 22, 2015.
In the other Ackerman letter, they allege LaPierre spent more than $265,000 of the NRA's money on airfare and limo rentals. The letter includes $17,600 spent on airfare between Washington and New York, $47,025 spent on airfare between South Africa, Los Angeles, and Reno, $7,075 on a second leg between Reno and Los Angeles, and $40,345 for airfare between Reno and Washington. Those four visits were all part of a 10-day, $112,045 trip between Jan. 17 and Jan. 27 of 2013, according to the letter.
The Ackerman McQueen letter also lists $13,804.84 worth of rent for May through August 2016 for a Megan Allen—who was working as an intern at the NRA during that time and is now a gift planning associate according to her Linkedin page. The letter lists rent for the apartment at The Ridgewood II by Windsor in Fairfax, Va., at $5,346 per month. It also requests LaPierre explain to Ackerman McQueen his "business relationship with Ms. Allen."
A second memo from Oliver North and Richard Childress to the board requested an "independent, outside expert" review the amount of money the NRA is spending on legal fees for Brewer Attorneys & Counselors. They alleged the group spent $24 million on legal fees at the firm in 13 months. That equates to nearly $100,000 of legal fees per day.
North and Childress described this spending as "draining NRA cash at mindboggling speeds" and "excessive." They said it represented a "fiscal emergency" that could "pose an existential threat to the financial stability of the NRA."
Cotton responded to the allegations by saying, "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" in a statement to numerous media outlets.
The NRA's case against New York over a letter sent by the state's top financial regulator warning banks about doing business with the group, the main case Brewer's firm has represented the NRA on, was dealt a setback on Friday when a district court judge ruled against the gun-rights group. It's unclear if the firm is still billing the NRA at the same rate detailed in the memo or where the case goes from here.
The leaked memos present the perspective of Oliver North, Richard Childress, and Ackerman McQueen in their fight with Wayne LaPierre and Brewer attorneys and counselors. They were made in response to Brewer's firm filing a lawsuit against Ackerman McQueen alleging the media company was keeping details of its lucrative contract with Oliver North from the NRA. LaPierre reportedly sent his own memo to the board accusing North of attempting to extort him into resigning and accusing him of putting the organization's nonprofit status at risk by not disclosing the details of his contract with Ackerman. LaPierre's memo was not part of the anonymous leak.
Ultimately, the leadership fight ended when North effectively resigned as president of the NRA in the middle of the annual meeting and Richard Childress, though still a member of the board, was not reelected to be first vice president. The fallout from that fight, as evidenced by West's call for LaPierre to resign, has not yet ended. With the NRA's lawsuit against Ackerman McQueen still in progress and New York's attorney general, a Democrat who has referred to the gun-rights group as a "terrorist organization," launching an investigation into their finances and nonprofit status, it's unclear how the current turmoil will play out for the NRA.
West said the best way forward for the gun-rights group is to bring in new blood at the top of the organization.
"The NRA needs new leadership," he told the Free Beacon.
Meadows, Cotton, and Lee offered a different solution.
"We should end this petty bickering immediately," they said. "Now is the time for the NRA to return to its core mission: representing our members and defending the constitutional freedoms of America."