North to leave NRA as move on CEO back­fires

He’ll be a 1-term leader af­ter fail­ing to un­seat LaPierre

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Lisa Marie Pane

INDIANAPOL­IS — Re­tired Lt. Col. Oliver North, who sought to push out the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion’s long­time CEO in a bur­geon­ing di­vide over the group’s fi­nances and media op­er­a­tions, an­nounced to a hushed crowd Satur­day that he would not serve a sec­ond term as the gun lobby’s pres­i­dent af­ter he lost the sup­port of its lead­er­ship.

North’s an­nounce­ment came af­ter his failed at­tempt to force out Wayne LaPierre, who has been the pub­lic face of the group for decades. In a state­ment read to NRA mem­bers at the group’s an­nual con­ven­tion, North made it clear that the NRA’s board of di­rec­tors pushed him out.

“Please know I hoped to be with you today as NRA pres­i­dent en­dorsed for re­elec­tion. I’m now in­formed that will not hap­pen,” North said in a state­ment read by Richard Chil­dress, the NRA’s first vice pres­i­dent. North, who is near­ing the end of his first one-year term, did not show up for the meet­ing, and his spot on the stage was left empty, his name­plate still in its place.

It was a stun­ning con­clu­sion to a bat­tle be­tween two con­ser­va­tive and Sec­ond Amend­ment ti­tans — North, the re­tired Marine with a ram­rod de­meanor who was at the cen­ter of the Iran-Con­tra scan­dal of the 1980s, and LaPierre, who has been bat­tle-tested in the decades since he took up the man­tle of gun rights. He has fought back chal­lenges that have arisen over the decades, seem­ingly emerg­ing un­scathed each time. In this lat­est ef­fort, he pushed back against North, telling board mem­bers that North had threat­ened to re­lease “dam­ag­ing” in­for­ma­tion about him to them and say­ing it amounted to an “ex­tor­tion” at­tempt.

Hun­dreds of the NRA’s es­ti­mated 5 mil­lion mem­bers packed into the con­ven­tion cen­ter in Indianapol­is for the group’s an­nual meet­ings. While they gave LaPierre two stand­ing ova­tions, North’s state­ment was largely met with si­lence. Still, near the end of the two-hour meet­ing, some mem­bers chal­lenged ef­forts to ad­journ and pushed to ques­tion the board about con­tro­ver­sies in­volv­ing its fi­nan­cial man­age­ment, the re­la­tion­ship with its long­time pub­lic re­la­tions firm and de­tails of what North sought to raise about al­leged mis­spending, sex­ual ha­rass­ment and other mis­man­age­ment.

But those cries were drowned out as some board mem­bers urged such con­ver­sa­tions not to be held at such a large pub­lic fo­rum, even if the media were even­tu­ally dis­charged from the room.

“We don’t want to give the other side any more in­for­ma­tion than they al­ready have,” said Tom King, a board mem­ber from New York for more than a decade.

The in­ter­nal dis­pute first spilled out in pub­lic af­ter the NRA in re­cent weeks filed a law­suit against Ack­er­man McQueen, the Ok­la­homa-based pub­lic re­la­tions firm that has earned tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in the decades since it be­gan shap­ing the gun lobby’s fierce talk­ing points. The NRA’s law­suit ac­cuses Ack­er­man McQueen of re­fus­ing to hand over fi­nan­cial records to ac­count for its billings.

North has a $1 mil­lion con­tract with Ack­er­man McQueen, rais­ing alarm bells among some in the NRA about con­flicts of in­ter­est. He has a show called “Amer­i­can Heroes,” on NRATV, the online TV sta­tion cre­ated and op­er­ated by Ack­er­man McQueen. NRATV and Ack­er­man McQueen’s billings are at the cen­ter of the tur­moil, with some mem­bers and board mem­bers ques­tion­ing whether they were get­ting any value for the money de­voted to that part of the op­er­a­tion. In 2017 alone, the NRA paid the firm $40 mil­lion.

The NRA also has faced some fi­nan­cial and reg­u­la­tor strug­gles in re­cent years, and there re­main con­cerns that New York author­i­ties in par­tic­u­lar — the state where the NRA cre­ated its char­ter — are look­ing to strip it of its non­profit sta­tus.

In his state­ment, North said a com­mit­tee should be set up to re­view the NRA’s fi­nances and op­er­a­tions.

“There is a clear cri­sis and it needs to be dealt with” if the NRA is to sur­vive, he said.

In his speech later Satur­day, LaPierre stuck to stan­dard NRA talk­ing points, go­ing af­ter the main­stream media and law­mak­ers who seek to re­strict gun rights. He told the crowd that ef­forts to strip away gun rights will fail.

“We won’t ac­cept it. We will re­sist it. We won’t give an inch,” he said.

North, 75, was a mil­i­tary aide to the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil dur­ing the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion when he en­tered the spot­light for his role in ar­rang­ing the se­cret sale of weapons to Iran and the diversion of the pro­ceeds to the anti-com­mu­nist Con­tra rebels in Nicaragua.

He was con­victed in 1989 of ob­struct­ing Congress dur­ing its in­ves­ti­ga­tion, de­stroy­ing gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments and ac­cept­ing an il­le­gal gra­tu­ity. Those con­vic­tions were over­turned in 1991.

MICHAEL CONROY/AP

Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Lt. Col. Oliver North said Satur­day he will not serve a sec­ond one-year term. North said he was pushed out by the group’s board of di­rec­tors.

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