New York and DC Attorneys General Investigations

NRA Trial Day 11: Oliver North Speaks Out

January 23, 2024

Today in Court

The trial began today with the much anticipated testimony of former NRA board president Oliver North. The day ended with continued testimony from NRA President Charles Cotton.

Summary of Today’s Testimony

  • Oliver North is a longtime conservative political commentator, who first came to national attention for his role in the Iran Contra affair during the Regan presidency. He was elevated to president of the NRA after President Pete Brownell declined to run for another term in 2018. North was ousted as president a year later amid a conflict with Wayne LaPierre.
    • North testified that he and NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre had been “close friends,” having even attended LaPierre’s wedding, until recent events. He said that LaPierre had encouraged him to join the board of the NRA. North testified that before he was elected president in 2018, LaPierre told him that “I’ve got to have you as the next president of the NRA,” and that “only you can do this job for us.”
    • His testimony was at times quite personal, with him gesturing to LaPierre in the gallery when he spoke about him. At one point North said, pointing at LaPierre “I just wanted to help my friend” and “he’s now in a situation I never wanted to see him in.”
    • North corroborated previous testimony that he agreed to become NRA president, a volunteer position under the NRA’s bylaws, under the condition that he was employed and given health benefits. He repeatedly testified that LaPierre had told him, “I’ll take care of that.”
      • Confirming previous testimony, North testified that in order to access the benefits, he signed a contract with NRA vendor Ackerman McQueen, the costs of which would be reimbursed by the NRA. He said that he was “absolutely certain that [LaPierre] was fully aware” of the arrangement because LaPierre had the “original copy” of the contract and “it was his idea” to send the payments through Ackerman. North described a meeting at the Ackerman McQueen offices in which his contract was discussed, saying that both LaPierre and his aide Millie Hallow were present. According to a copy of the executed contract shown in court, North would be paid $2.1 million the first year, $2.3 million the second year, and $2.5 million the following year. North testified that LaPierre told then-1st Vice President Richard Childress to go to the audit committee and tell them that North was “worth every penny.”
      • He acknowledged that while the contract called for him to make 12 episodes of a show called “American Heroes”, only three were actually taped. 
      • The NYAG established, with documentary evidence, that the NRA Audit Committee did not review the Ackerman contract before he signed it in spring 2018. Audit committee minutes shown to the jury revealed that the contract was approved retroactively in September 2018.
    • North stated that once he became NRA president, he went to NRA headquarters often. He testified that as time went on, he had concern about finances, wondering how the NRA could be “burning this much on our budget.”
      • In response to his concerns about the NRA’s budget, North said he was “encouraging them to tighten their belts.” As part of that effort, he successfully sought a modified contract for himself which would reduce his pay to $1.75 million for each of the three years. North said that LaPierre responded to this move by telling North, “You can’t do this.”
    • In particular, North said he wondered about the high “legal expenses” and noticed that the cost of the Brewer law firm “had grown dramatically.” North testified that as he traveled the country, people were asking him about the NRA’s high legal bills. A memo he wrote questioning the Brewer invoices was shown to the jury, with the sum total of the billings being over $19 million.
      • North testified regarding multiple attempts he made in early 2019 to get access to the Brewer invoices that were repeatedly rebuffed by the NRA.  North said that he “was not allowed to do an audit.” 
      • North testified that LaPierre had told him that “Brewer is the only person who is gonna be able to keep me out of jail” and out of an “orange jumpsuit.”
    • Ahead of the 2019 NRA Annual Meeting, the NRA was the subject of an embarrassing public expose which alleged financial impropriety by management and a letter from Ackerman McQueen laying out apparently questionable purchases by NRA executives, including LaPierre, of which North testified in court today: “It’s called corruption.” North testified that he attempted to form a Crisis Management Committee.
    • North testified that as his conflict with LaPierre over the Brewer legal invoices grew, that “Wayne actively intervened” with the NRA Nominating Committee to ensure that he and Richard Childress were not renominated as president and 1st vice president at the 2019 NRA Annual Meeting. According to North, he and Childress were essentially “fired.”
    • North said that the NRA’s claim that he attempted a “coup” against LaPierre “never happened. It’s a boldfaced lie.” He denied that he was delivering an ultimatum when he warned LaPierre that Ackerman McQueen was preparing legal action, but instead said he was just trying to communicate the “threat.” North referenced a “circular firing squad” in the relationship between the NRA and Ackerman McQueen and said “this is devastating” for the NRA.
      • North repeatedly testified about his close relationship with LaPierre and that his actions were an attempt to protect both the NRA and LaPierre.
    • North testified that he considers himself a whistleblower. Further, he noted that before he raised concerns about the legal bills the NRA was incurring, no one with the NRA raised concerns about his contract with Ackerman.
  • On cross examination, the NRA’s lawyer focused on North’s failure to disclose the relationship with vendor Ackerman McQueen on an August 2018 conflicts disclosure form submitted to the NRA. North quickly pointed out, in the first page of the form, that it only required conflicts that existed in 2017 to be disclosed (his contract with Ackerman did not begin until 2018).
    • Counsel successfully established that under the Ackerman contract North was in a fiduciary relationship with Ackerman at the same time he had fiduciary responsibilities to the NRA. 
    • The lawyer also asked North several questions about whether the Brewer firm was providing a discount to the NRA, and if North considered whether any of the Brewer cases would result in money being paid to the NRA. North did not have any knowledge.
    • North acknowledged that he never sought an audit of any NRA vendor other than the Brewer law firm.
    • North testified that he served on the board for Youth for Tomorrow with Susan LaPierre. On previous trial days, the jury has heard testimony about NRA donations to this charity. North testified that he did not believe there was anything improper about NRA funds being directed to the charity. 
  • On redirect by the NYAG, North affirmatively stated he did not hide the Ackerman contract from the NRA, saying “I have nothing to hide.” He added this was especially true since “Wayne LaPierre helped draft” the contract.
    • Counsel for LaPierre tried to undermine North’s claims that LaPierre helped “draft” North’s contract with Ackerman by asking whether North had ever seen LaPierre work on a computer (previous testimony has indicated LaPierre does not email and typically takes handwritten notes). North stuck with his testimony that LaPierre helped draft the agreement during a meeting at Ackerman’s offices, and that LaPierre walked out of the meeting with a copy of the North-Ackerman contract.

Analysis

In his first public testimony since being ousted as NRA president, Oliver North described how when he took the helm, he quickly developed concerns about the financial state of the organization and particularly, the NRA’s legal spending. North’s testimony indicated that his multiple attempts to understand the NRA’s relationship with outside attorneys Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors were rebuffed by Wayne LaPierre. One letter referenced in court showed that a firm that had audited the Brewer firm’s bills concluded that while they were “high, [but] not unheard of,” that “[i]t may well be in the association’s interest to obtain a full accounting of” the fees. Remarkably, North is now the third LaPierre associate to claim under oath that LaPierre had told them that the head of the Brewer firm was the only person who could keep LaPierre out of jail and an “orange jumpsuit.”

But North is a more complicated witness than some of the other whistleblowers that have previously testified. He is not only another example of someone who asked too many questions, only to find themselves on the outside looking in – but he is also emblematic of the opaque spending that NRA leaders partook in. North also acknowledged that he had only agreed to be the NRA’s president if he could receive employment with benefits, despite the fact that the NRA’s bylaws describe the presidency as a volunteer position. He said that LaPierre had the idea to pass the costs of his contract, which exceeded $6 million over three years. The NRA cross examination attempted to paint a picture of North as deeply conflicted and hiding information about his arrangement with Ackerman. And undoubtedly, a $6.9 million contract over three years with the organization’s largest vendor is a fairly hard arrangement for a board member to explain. 

In short, North’s testimony largely contributed to the picture of the NRA as an organization wherein those who blew the whistle were stymied and ostracized, even if they were the president of the organization.

What’s Next?

After North testified, the NYAG picked up its examination of current NRA board president Charles Cotton. The trial will resume on Wednesday morning with additional testimony from Cotton. The NYAG has indicated it may call CEO Wayne LaPierre as early as tomorrow. The court will be in session on Wednesday and Friday, but off on Thursday.

Disclaimer: The following summaries and analysis are prepared by individuals at the courthouse listening to the testimony being offered in the New York Attorney General’s case against the NRA. These summaries do not purport to cover every fact or occurrence discussed during the trial. The posts may be updated as soon as transcripts are available from the court, including to cross-reference specific testimony.