NRA Trial Day 8: Former NRA Chief Lobbyist Chris Cox Takes the Stand
Today in Court
The trial began today with the conclusion of fact testimony from current NRA CFO Sonya Rowling (notes on her testimony from yesterday can be found here). However, the real excitement was when the NYAG then called former NRA chief lobbyist and one-time LaPierre heir apparent Chris Cox.
Quick Summary of Today’s Testimony
- The testimony from Chris Cox, the former longtime head of the NRA’s lobbying arm – the NRA-ILA, was particularly interesting since Cox, who was once seen as a potential successor to NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, has not spoken much publicly about the scandal that engulfed the NRA.
- By way of background, Mr. Cox was ousted from the NRA in June of 2019 amid allegations that he plotted against LaPierre. NRA regulatory filings indicate that the NRA paid out over $6.1 million to Cox and his lawyers in a subsequent litigation between the parties. Cox previously sat for a 2021 deposition in the NRA’s litigation with vendor Ackerman McQueen (transcript can be found here).
- Cox testified about his long relationship with LaPierre, who he said he first admired when he started at the NRA. Cox said that as he climbed the ladder at the NRA, his relationship with LaPierre became a partnership, but as he learned more about the inner-workings of the organization, he had growing concerns.
- Cox testified that some of LaPierre’s expenses had been being run through the NRA-ILA. When he asked about what these expenses were, he testified that he was told “nobody sees those.” He testified that he later learned some of these expenses were related to LaPierre’s use of the travel agent who booked his private jet travel.
- Cox said that he battled with longtime NRA vendor Ackerman McQueen. He believed the messaging Ackerman was presenting for the NRA was “tone deaf.” Cox indicated that LaPierre was a fierce advocate for Ackerman and that to go against Ackerman was perceived as going against LaPierre. Cox characterized Ackerman as “untouchable.”
- He testified about concerns he had about the NRA hiring “incompetent people,” citing chief of staff Josh Powell as one example and saying Powell had a background of failures. Cox also testified about losing confidence in certain people at the NRA-ILA. He said that when he informed LaPierre of those feelings, LaPierre would often then hire the individual in question at the NRA “mothership.” Cox specifically named Andrew Arulanandam – the interim successor to LaPierre – as one such individual.
- Cox became alarmed at the amount of borrowing at the NRA.
- Cox testified that he did not believe that routing of NRA executive expenses through Ackerman McQueen was necessary for security, noting that if it had been, then presumably he, as the second-most public face of the organization, would have had the same setup.
- With respect to NRA attorney Bill Brewer, Cox said that he was concerned about Brewer because he came from outside the Second Amendment legal community and had given money to candidates that supported gun safety reforms. He called Brewer’s bills to the NRA “crippling.” Cox supported the efforts from former NRA board president Oliver North for an audit of the invoices from the Brewer firm.
- In his testimony, Cox spoke of when he discovered that LaPierre had billed the NRA approximately $250,000 for Zegna suits, saying “It was one of the final straws for me” and “I was floored, I was extremely disgusted.” He testified that he wrote a letter of resignation after finding out about the suits, and gave it to Oliver North. Cox testified that people close to LaPierre viewed him as a threat because if he replaced LaPierre, their lucrative relationships at the NRA might end.
- Cox indicated that LaPierre actively worked to elect his preferred board candidates, including deploying NRA resources for a campaign for the 76th board member seat that was elected at the NRA annual meeting of members.
- With respect to the board, Cox echoed testimony heard earlier in the trial that board members who were disloyal to NRA leadership lost committee assignments and were not re-nominated for the board. Further, he testified that those who were “loyal” received a number of different benefits, such as invitations to events, car service, and first class tickets.
- Cox testified that it was LaPierre who negotiated board president Oliver North’s contract with Ackerman McQueen. He explained that North’s wife was ill, and he needed health insurance – that was the reason the NRA wanted him to become an Ackerman employee. Cox added the NRA wanted to “make Ollie whole.”
- Cox testified that he repeatedly considered resigning before he left the NRA in 2019. One interesting exhibit was a set of notes Cox had emailed himself in anticipation of a conversation with LaPierre. Cox was concerned that if he were to stay and take over for LaPierre that LaPierre would have left him handcuffed to arrangements he found problematic, writing, “if I stay, will I be able to change things.” Cox testified that he didn’t plan “to throw red meat to Americans.”
- Cox testified that he ultimately resigned from the organization because it came clear that the purported investigation that was pending and precipitated his suspension “was a fraud.”
- Cox testified that NRA money was sent to a charity, Youth for Tomorrow, that focused on abused children. Wayne LaPierre’s wife, Susan, was a board member of the charity. While noting he believed it was a worthy cause, Cox testified there were better places to be spending NRA money.
- The day began with brief testimony from NRA CFO and Treasurer, Sonya Rowling. She was only on the stand for a brief time. Points of note include:
- Rowling indicated that NRA General Counsel John Frazer was “actively involved” in the whistleblower process, and that she did not know of a time when she believed Frazer was not trying to do the right thing for the NRA.
- The NYAG elicited testimony that when Rowling’s whistleblower concerns were being presented to the Audit Committee, that NRA board officers Charles Cotton and Carolyn Meadows left the meeting early, and that she did not recall discussing her memo with the Audit Committee subsequent to that one meeting.
When the NYAG first filed its lawsuit in this matter, the response from the NRA and its counsel was that the suit was politically-motivated. In the words of NRA attorney Bill Brewer, “[t]he NRA believes the motivation for her [the NYAG]…campaign against the Association is clear: she desired to silence the organization and its Second Amendment advocacy.”
As we conclude day eight, the NYAG has largely put this purported defense to bed by offering up fact witnesses deeply committed to the NRA and Second Amendment advocacy. First the jury heard from NRA board members, and today from the NRA’s longtime chief lobbyist – all with the same underlying message: the NRA overspent, blew through internal controls, played favorites to certain vendors, and operated under the tight control of CEO Wayne LaPierre.
The testimony from Cox, who was in the innermost circle and heir apparent, carries special weight, especially since he has spoken little after his ouster at the NRA. He was plain spoken, direct, and obviously had a wide field of vision to the various issues at the NRA. In particular, Cox’s comments about financial borrowing, profligate spending, and incompetent hires paint a picture of a broken organization.
The trial will resume on Friday morning at 9:30am with continued testimony from Mr. Cox.