NRA v. Ackerman, Virginia

Deposition of Former NRA President Oliver L. North

December 18, 2019

Filing Summary

On December 18, 2019, retired U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel and former NRA President Oliver L. North sat for a deposition in the NRA’s litigation with its former vendor, Ackerman McQueen. That deposition was made public in a late December 2021 filing by Ackerman. NRA Watch reviewed the transcript and highlighted some testimony of note below.

Key Points

  • North contends that it was Wayne LaPierre who suggested he become a full-time employee of Ackerman McQueen in order to receive benefits, including health insurance for his ill wife. According to North, “Wayne LaPierre suggested as the means of making me the president of the NRA that I take the job with Ackerman McQueen. I didn’t make that suggestion, he did” (p. 46)
  • No one at the NRA, such as NRA board counsel Steve Hart or the Audit Committee, flagged North’s compensation as a potential conflict of interest, and no one told North that the NRA would be reimbursing Ackerman McQueen for it: “[A]t the time this was being negotiated, nobody came to me and said anything like, by the way, you’ve got to go out and raise the money for doing this, that, or the other thing because NRA is compensating Ackerman McQueen for this, that, or the other thing” (p. 61)
  • North testified that after faxing over his “deal points,” which raised no objections, the major players—including Wayne LaPierre, Millie Hallow, and Angus McQueen—met with North to discuss finalizing his contract at the 2018 NRA Annual Meetings in Dallas two weeks later. 
  • North claims that it was his idea to eventually reduce his pay from $2.1 million to $1.75 million because “I was asking other people to take a pay cut, to tighten our belts because expenses were just off the charts, donors were down” (p. 91). He testified “the parameters of the job had changed. I was doing a lot more as president of the NRA than I was doing for Ackerman McQueen in terms of the number of hours I was spending on things.”  
    • But LaPierre objected because “it was too big a pay cut” (p. 92). North later states that “Wayne went ballistic, said, ‘You can’t do that, I set the salaries around here,’ and I said, ‘You can’t tell me not to cut my own pay,’ you know” (p. 144).
  • Though North was fired by the NRA, North testified that Ackerman McQueen was still obligated to pay him $1.75 million for three years, starting in 2018, because his contract was never terminated (p. 94).
  • After raising concerns about the NRA’s finances for the first time, North “was basically told, hey, back off by Wayne LaPierre and Richard Childress.” North attempted to say to “Wayne we’re throwing you a life line because some of the things that you’re doing or allowing to be done are going to reflect very badly on this organization, and we’re here to help you solve the problem and one of those is the financial reports of all the kinds of things that we’re trying to do to raise money” (p. 112).
  • By October 2018, North had “asked for the paperwork on the initial engagement letter [contracting Bill Brewer’s law firm to represent the NRA in its case against Lockton Affinity], and it turns out that, holy mackerel, none of this stuff was done properly. None of the parameters that are supposed to exist for contracts over a hundred thousand dollars in arrangements and retainers and the like were done properly leading up to this. This all happened before I became president” (p. 118)
  • According to North, “[T]he board was actually briefed at several of the board meetings by Mr. Brewer, and every time I heard those briefings I was increasingly concerned about what was happening. And so eventually I got to the point where I started asking can I please see the initial engagement letters, can I see how much it’s costing us, which I thought was part of my fiduciary duties, dammit, and I was told initially, yeah, you can see the overall numbers [in October 2018] and even that was refused to me” (p. 118).
  • North’s concerns about Brewer’s expenses persisted: “Well, I asked for the numbers. I wasn’t trying to interfere in the [Lockton] case. I simply wanted to know the numbers because I’m the guy who’s out there raising money, right, and I’m getting challenged by various people as I go around, well, whiskey tango fox trot, why is—why is this costing so much” (p. 124). But North “never got to look at those numbers and, thus, eventually you see us recommending an independent, outside review, confidential, that would allow us to correct whatever problems we had, and by now there’s all kinds of them percolating out there. Correct them so that, one, I can protect you, Wayne, I can protect us as an institution, and it’s going to be good for us to self-correct before we end up with these investigations” (p. 127)
  • North alleges that after he started asking questions about Bill Brewer’s expenses, any correspondence from LaPierre to North was actually written by Brewer: “It’s my understanding that everything from let’s say the point in time when I start to raise questions about Mr. Brewer and why we were employing a man with his ethical lapses, about the cost of it, that all of those were written by Mr. Brewer for Mr. LaPierre.” How? North states, “Well, first of all, I well recognize a lot of the other things that Wayne LaPierre wrote or were written for him, and these letters are full of the kind —look it, I do have some experience with terminology used by lawyers, right, and it’s very clear to me that this was written for Mr. LaPierre by Mr. Brewer” (p. 149).
  • Regarding Brewer, North “had questions about his integrity, his greed, his ability to do the job, and the fact that the outcomes were rarely what we expected, and one of those outcomes was the Lockton deal, which was totally upside down from what had been originally forecast.” (p. 152).
  • North states that he never received any information from Ackerman McQueen regarding Brewer. He was never told to investigate Brewer’s costs, for example. He did it on his own because “I was very concerned about my fiduciary duty and the responsibilities I had to the board of directors and the leadership of the NRA. Never once did I ever discuss any of that with anyone from Ackerman McQueen or Mercury Group” (p. 157).
  • “Richard Childress and I repeatedly told [LaPierre] we’re handing you a lifeline, a lifeline, we’re going to save you, you’re swimming in a pool of sharks, and Wayne LaPierre would say Bill Brewer’s the best thing in the world” (p. 171).
  • After learning that Brewer’s law firm had been paid over $19 million in 11 months, North wrote to LaPierre and expressed his concern. He also felt demoralized by that figure, which amounted to roughly $60,000 per day. “[T]hat kind of money was what I was supposed to be out there raising. And I would come back to my hotel room on a three-day trip or a two-day trip in which I’d have addressed four or five different entities, gone to meet with donors, gone to meet with the Friends of the NRA, gone to meet with the Safari Club, and come back to the hotel and say, ‘I didn’t raise enough money today,’ and look myself in the mirror and say, ‘I’ve got to try harder tomorrow’ because I didn’t cover Mr. Brewer’s bills for that day. That’s what was happening” (p. 183).
  • North was never made aware of the NRA’s plan to sue Ackerman McQueen until it made headlines on April 12, 2019—even though he asked to have his contract with Ackerman reviewed by the NRA’s Audit Committee the day before. “I’ve got nothing. I have no guidance, I have no information, and it turns out that peripherally I’m part of the problem, which we end up finding out…sometime later on. I mean, there’s probably no better example of the management problem, the corporate governance problem than what you just described,” (p. 201) with the president of the NRA not knowing its own dealings.
  • “Wayne totally rejected any idea that Brewer could not walk on water—I’m paraphrasing—and instructed me very clearly to get out of his business, back off, cease and desist” (p. 205).
  • North recounts that at the 2019 NRA show, he learned of LaPierre’s alleged corruption from NRA Board Member Daniel Boren. But North told Boren, “[I]f you’re in touch with Angus McQueen, tell him to stop because Wayne LaPierre’s not going to quit the NRA because of accusations” (p. 230).
    • North then tried to call LaPierre and Millie Hallow several times to relay the information that would eventually leak to the press. “I wasn’t trying to hide a damn thing. I was not making accusations. I was trying to inform him of what was coming and offer to volunteer to do whatever I could to have this pass” (p. 231).
    • According to North, his call with Daniel Boren was “the first sense that I had that Wayne LaPierre might actually be corrupt” (p. 232). Nonetheless, North holds that he “tried to faithfully and accurately reflect what Mr. [Boren] had told me, and I think others have intentionally mislabeled that as a threat or as—what did they call it, a coup. It’s anything but. I was trying to save—still trying to save Wayne LaPierre but deeply concerned that what was being said was corruption” (p. 233-234).
  • Shortly thereafter, North learned that he would essentially be fired: “When Wayne first arrived at the meeting, Richard confronted him with an accusation. He said, ‘You’ve basically told the nominating committee that they’re not to nominate North and Childress again,’ and Wayne lied about it. I mean, Wayne just flat lied. He said, ‘I don’t know what the nominating committee is going to be,’ but everybody knows in the NRA that if Wayne LaPierre doesn’t want you on a committee, doesn’t want you anymore, he controls that committee.”
    • North: “Let’s not kid ourselves about how independent this board is. It’s not. There’s nobody on that board that Wayne LaPierre doesn’t want on it, and it’s pretty clear to me that the whole controversy over Mr. Brewer was actually much bigger than I had originally foreseen it to be” (p. 229-230).
  • North rejected the notion that he had orchestrated a “coup” against LaPierre, saying “a coup is something run against a head of state. I mean, I know, I ran a few, right, and we succeeded. I mean, this is—this is so far beyond reality, John Grisham would have a hard time laying it out in a novel and yet it happened.” (p. 241)