NRA v. Ackerman, Texas

Deposition of Former NRA Chief Lobbyist Chris Cox

July 27, 2021

Filing Summary

On July 27, 2021, former executive director of the NRA-ILA Chris Cox sat for a deposition in the NRA’s litigation with their former vendor Ackerman McQueen. That deposition transcript was made public in a November 29, 2021 filing. NRA Watch reviewed the transcript and highlighted some testimony of note below.

Key Points

  • Chris Cox testified about various allegations made against him by the NRA. He called the NRA’s accusation that he was part of an attempt to extort Wayne LaPierre to step down from his position at the organization “not only false, but offensive.” (p.18)
  • Cox said that in 2018, he received a briefing from Bill Brewer regarding the latter’s work for the NRA.  (p.70-71) Cox said that he invited former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement to the meeting “[b]ecause I believed it was important for me to have someone from the outside be there because I was not sure of what was going to be said and covered at that meeting. And I truthfully wanted someone representing me in that meeting.” (p.70) Cox said that at the meeting, Brewer accused him of unspecified wrongdoing, which he says was later shown to be false. (p. 76, 81)
  • Cox testified to the relationship he had had with Wayne LaPierre and how that relationship changed over time. Cox said that during his tenure at the NRA, LaPierre “was my boss. He was my friend. We went through a lot of legislative battles together, particularly in the early years.” (p.102) Cox said he had considered LaPierre “more like family for a long period of time. He — I believe that he cared about me and my family. I certainly cared about him and his family. I dedicated my — half of my life to the organization and to Wayne. […] And that obviously changed. That changed at the end in a way that was very painful for me and my family.” (p.103) 
    • Nevertheless, Cox said he “remained loyal to Wayne to the end and wanted to continue to help Wayne.” (p.103) In that vein, Cox denied that he sought to replace LaPierre, explaining that “I never would have pursued any attempt to challenge Wayne. As I told Wayne over the years repeatedly that I would rather lose my job than lose my friendship with Wayne.” (p.289)
  • Cox testified to the degree of control Wayne LaPierre wielded over the NRA board and staff. He said that “ultimately Wayne had, you know, hiring and firing control over the organization. He was also extremely involved in the board of directors and committees and those sorts of efforts as well. […] Wayne was certainly the boss and everyone knew it.” (p.110) Cox agreed that LaPierre had a “significant” amount of control over who was on the NRA board of directors. (p.111)
  • Cox also agreed with former NRA officials who have testified to similar experiences. When asked about previous testimony from a former NRA board member who alleged that “there are no decisions made pertaining to the board or the operation of the NRA that do no have Wayne’s blessings,” Cox responded that he “can’t speak to every board decision,” but “if the question is were major decisions made without Wayne’s blessing, the answer would be — I would agree with her.” (p.111-112) He also said he agreed with the sentiment of a former NRA board member who described the NRA as LaPierre’s “sole proprietorship.” (p.115-116) 
    • Cox was asked about Oliver North’s testimony in which North was quoted as saying, “Let’s not kid ourselves about how independent this board is. It’s not. There’s nobody on that board […] that Wayne doesn’t want on it.” Cox said “there are individual members that ran outside of the normal process or the favored process […] [b]ut certainly the point that [North’s] making I agree with.” (p.118-119)
  • In his testimony, Chris Cox expressed concern about how the negative press and public crises facing the NRA would affect its ability to function. He noted that in early 2019, “there were a lot of stories including a lot of […] what I would view as considered to be bad stories.” (p.121) 
  • When asked about the NRA’s declaration of bankruptcy, Cox said that he did “not believe that was good” for the NRA and that he couldn’t “imagine that that invokes great support for donors or other people.” (p.310) 
  • When asked about the allegations against Wayne LaPierre, Cox said he said thought “the allegations of financial impropriety, regardless of who they were directed at, are extremely problematic for the National Rifle Association across pretty much every economic demographic, membership demographic, and certainly the political spheres of influence.” (p.309) Cox testified that he had been “shocked” and “floored” when he heard the allegations that LaPierre had received thousands of dollars worth of suits from a Beverly Hills boutique, adding “The idea that it would be true was extremely disappointing to me.” (p.300) 
  • When asked about the various stories about the NRA’s concerning relationships with agents of the Russian government, Cox said that “at the time it was extremely frustrating” and “yet another distraction and bad story that was not good for the overall health of the organization.” (p.309) 
  • Cox explained that while he was not consulted beforehand, he had been concerned about how the NRA’s lawsuit against consulting firm Ackerman McQueen could affect his work at the NRA-ILA: “any time you’re fighting with someone you know well and have worked with well at any time, it starts to get, you know, more and more, you know, hostile and more and more public, then that spills into the arena that I was responsible dealing with, not only fundraising, member services, but also, you know, the political and legislative arena, you know, going into what would end up being, you know, what we knew was going to be a tough and extensive 2020 election cycle, particularly coming off of the 2018 cycle that was not the best for the Second Amendment.” (p.124)
  • Cox testified about his experience at the 2019 NRA Annual Meeting, where the NRA later alleged Cox joined a plot to extort Wayne LaPierre into stepping down as head of the NRA. Cox said that days before the start of the 2019 annual meeting, then-board member Dan Boren informed him that he had spoken to someone at Ackerman McQueen, against which the NRA had recently filed suit, and “there was bad stuff coming” from the firm in the form of additional allegations of malfeasance that could further embarrass the NRA. (p.146) 
    • Cox explained that the stakes of the annual meeting were high: “this was a showcase of NRA’s strength. That the NRA was to have the President and the Vice President.” (p.166) Following his conversation with Boren, Cox worried “this could all blow up” and he “was desperate to not have our members hurt by it, our donors hurt by it, our political clout hurt by it, and the image of [the] National Rifle Association hurt by all of this.” (p.166) Cox said he wanted “to do everything I could to not have the President of the United States pull out of our event.”(p.165) 
  • Cox testified that the day after his conversation with Boren, he asked to meet with LaPierre because “I had not talked to Wayne about all of these things that were breaking with regards, you know, to the clothing charges and all these other things and I wanted to have a conversation with my boss and also with my friend to find out […] what was going on.” (p.165) 
    • Cox: “I remember asking Wayne directly, ‘is it true? Did you have an Ackerman McQueen credit card? Did you charge suits at Zegna?’” (p.166) Cox said that he hoped to convince LaPierre to “engage in a conversation” with Ackerman McQueen in order to “buy time” so that whatever material they were poised to make public did not “blow up at our meeting.” (p.167)
  • Cox contradicted testimony from LaPierre and former NRA president Carolyn Meadows about his meeting with the two of them at the 2019 NRA Annual Meeting. LaPierre testified in a deposition that in his meeting with Meadows and Cox at the 2019 annual meeting, Cox had insisted that LaPierre “withdraw the lawsuit against Ackerman” McQueen and “go along with these guys.” (p.170) Asked if LaPierre’s testimony was consistent with his recollection, Cox replied, “Overall, no” because he “never would’ve said withdraw a lawsuit against Ackerman [McQueen]. Because, truthfully, I believed based on my knowledge of what was being asked that there was nothing wrong with asking for documents.” (p.170) 
    • Cox denied LaPierre’s claim in testimony that he (Cox) was part of the criminal conspiracy to extort LaPierre into stepping down: “It bothers me on a personal level and a professional level. I dedicated half of my life to not only that organization but to Wayne LaPierre. And the suggestion that I would have participated in a conspiracy, let alone a criminal conspiracy, it’s offensive. It’s hurtful. But it’s absolutely not true.” (p.177) 
    • Cox contradicted then-NRA president Carolyn Meadows’s testimony that Cox told LaPierre he needed to resign: “I never told Wayne that I thought he should resign as executive vice president of the NRA.” (p.168, 180) Cox said that it was “possible that there were things that were misinterpreted” when the message from Boren was communicated to LaPierre that made the latter believe there was a conspiracy among other NRA leaders to extort him, but “there are certain things that weren’t misinterpreted. There were certain things that were just flat out not said. […] I don’t know if there was a complete narrative that was built to cause problems for me or others. I can’t say what happened.” (p.208-209)
  • Cox testified to the depth and importance of the NRA and LaPierre’s relationship with Ackerman McQueen. Cox said that “[f]or as long as I can remember […] Ackerman was intimately involved in NRA messaging campaigns.” (p.189) Cox explained that LaPierre was the firm’s “most vocal supporter both internally and externally, including not only the staff, but the board. And it was well known that […] they were Wayne’s team. I mean, and to go against them is to go against Wayne.” (p.189) 
    • Cox said that he thought LaPierre and Ackerman McQueen’s relationship was “mutually beneficial” in the sense that “Wayne valued Ackerman McQueen and the work that Ackerman did” and “Ackerman was extremely well compensated for the work that they did.” (p.190)
  • Admitting that he couldn’t “speak for” former NRA 1st Vice President Richard Childress, Cox testified that he believed he did not ascend to the presidency after the departure of Oliver North because Childress “was troubled by what he had seen” with North’s ouster. (p.197)
  • Cox testified that in March 2018, he was “giving serious contemplation to leaving and having conversations with Wayne about me leaving.” (p.247) He later added that by 2019, his wife “was not at all okay with me moving up in the organization. She wanted me to leave years before then.” (p.289)
  • Chris Cox testified regarding the problems he had with the programming on NRATV. Cox said that “from time to time” there was content on NRATV that he was “befuddled by, shocked by” and “thought were outside of the scope of common sense and reality.” (p.306) He said that he was “extremely angry, offended, embarrassed” by the infamous segment on Dana Loesch’s NRATV show in which Ku Klux Klan hoods were photoshopped onto characters from the children’s television show Thomas the Tank Engine. (p.261)
    •  Cox explained that “as the person responsible for engaging with elected officials and other people, that it was not helpful.” (p.264) Worried it was “a PR and donor member embarrassment and debacle,” Cox said he “shared those concerns with Wayne as I did when I had other concerns.” (p.308)
  • Cox testified that while he thought that longtime NRA board member Marion Hammer had “provided a valuable service as the first female president of the National Rifle Association back in the ’90s or whenever that happened,” he “grew to believe that Marion was not being honest with me and was committed to causing me problems. Towards the end I believe that her compensation far outweighed the value that certainly ILA was getting or the organization was getting.” (p.287)
  • Cox testified about what he said were concerns internally at the NRA about the retention of Bill Brewer’s law firm. He said that such concerns were “a conversation that was happening amongst a lot of people over an extended period of time. I had multiple conversations with board members. There were staff asking questions. This was a hot topic.” (p.93) 
    • He also said that some board members had been asking whether the Brewer firm’s retention went “through the proper board process to engage with a vendor of over X amount, whatever the amount was 50,000 or $100,000 according to the board situation or the board policies.” (p.212) Cox explained that on the Brewer firm’s invoices, “The concern was both over scope and over amounts was my recollection. And it was shared not just by Colonel North, but by — I don’t want to say countless but a lot of other people, a lot of other board members, a lot of other staff people, a lot of other people who became aware of how much money was being spent.” (p.213)