The National Rifle Association has suspended its longtime head of political operations, Chris Cox, after filing a lawsuit in New York Supreme Court that fingers Cox as a participant in the failed April coup attempt against the gun lobby’s CEO, Wayne LaPierre.
Cox is a towering figure in the gun world. He has been the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, the explicitly political arm of the gun lobby, since 2002, and according to the NRA’s latest IRS filing his pay package topped $1.1 million in 2017. Cox has often stood shoulder to shoulder with LaPierre, including as the NRA fought attempts to regulate AR-15s in the aftermath of the 2017 Las Vegas concert massacre. He had been seen as a successor-in-waiting to the 69-year-old LaPierre.
Cox’s suspension was first reported by Danny Hakim of the New York Times. Neither the NRA nor the NRA-ILA responded to Rolling Stone requests for comment. Cox released a statement to the Times in which he insisted: “The allegations against me are offensive and patently false.” He cited his two dozen years of “loyal and effective” service to the NRA. (Scott Christman, a top Cox deputy was also reportedly suspended.)
By elbowing Cox aside, LaPierre appears to be consolidating unprecedented power within the gun organization he has guided since 1991.
The latest NRA litigation, which was filed Wednesday, includes an exhibit of text messages between Cox and NRA Board member Dan Boren, an alleged leader of the coup attempt. Pointing to these texts as evidence Cox “participated” in the “conspiracy,” the NRA blasts him as “an errant NRA fiduciary.” Both the lawsuit and the text messages, obtained from the New York State Supreme Court, are embedded below.
While the lawsuit’s allegation against Cox is a bombshell, the primary purpose of the litigation is to force past-NRA president (and alleged coup leader) Oliver North to pay his own legal bills. According to the complaint, North has called on the NRA to pay his lawyers, as North has gotten roped into the NRA’s legal battle with its former top PR firm, Ackerman McQueen, over incomplete financial disclosures and alleged breach of contract. North has also received demands from the Senate Finance Committee to produce documents relating to his alleged knowledge of financial misfeasance at the NRA.
Under normal circumstances, an officer of a nonprofit might expect the organization to pick up his legal fees. But the NRA claims that North brought the trouble on himself. In addition to his ceremonial role at the NRA, North was employed by Ackerman McQueen under what the NRA describes as a “seven-figure contract” to produce content for NRATV. The NRA accuses North of conspiring with Ackerman McQueen, Boren, and Cox “to unseat the NRA’s executive leadership and give Ackerman lucrative, de facto control over its largest client.”
The NRA argues that North should therefore cover the legal consequences of his own actions. “North engaged in extortion and other wrongful conduct,” the NRA complaint reads. “He acted in bad faith, adversely to the NRA, and in breach of his fiduciary duties to the NRA.” The complaint adds: “The NRA cannot, and will not, expend its donors’ funds to pay North’s legal fees after he chose to pursue his own financial interests at the direct expense of the NRA.”
The lawsuit spells out, in now-familiar detail, the coup attempt against LaPierre. North, allegedly working on behalf of Ackerman McQueen, called LaPierre’s assistant in late April, threatening that Ackerman McQueen would soon spill secrets about LaPierre and the NRA’s finances “in a manner calculated to cause maximum reputational harm,” according to the complaint.
LaPierre was given an alternative: resign and withdraw the NRA’s litigation against Ackerman McQueen. “If LaPierre cooperated, North indicated that he could ‘negotiate with’ Ackerman’s co-founder to secure an ‘excellent retirement’ for Mr. LaPierre,” the complaint alleges, adding: “Of course, Mr. LaPierre rejected North’s offer.”
The complaint introduces an email exhibit from Boren, a former GOP congressman, who serves on the NRA board and as President of Corporate Development for the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma — another client of Ackerman McQueen. In its lawsuit against Ackerman McQueen, the NRA alleges the PR firm may have been charging the NRA for work it did for other clients. In the email to another Chickasaw executive, referencing that lawsuit, Bowen writes: “I bet Ackerman is in trouble on this one. They can’t produce the backup to the invoices and were allocating full salary to these employees that may have been working on our accounts.”
According to the latest lawsuit, Boren “helped to choreograph the ultimatum” that North presented to LaPierre’s assistant. The conspiracy was also “orchestrated,” the NRA alleges, through “a string of text messages,” including some to and from Cox. According to the complaint: “The same text messages … demonstrate that another errant NRA fiduciary, Chris Cox — once thought by some to be a likely successor for Mr. LaPierre — participated in the Ackerman/North/Boren conspiracy.”
The texts, allegedly between Boren and Cox, are more suggestive than explosive, but appear to link Cox to key figures in the plot to overthrow LaPierre. In exchanges dated April 24th, the date of the alleged “extortion” threat, “Dan” and “Chris,” communicate about “Ollie” and a woman named “Millie” — who appears to be LaPierre’s assistant Millie Hallow, who received the alleged threat from North:
The court exhibit consists of grainy screenshots from an iPhone. This is a transcription of the texts:
Timestamp: 10:35 am
DAN: Chris. I need to visit with you as soon as possible. Thank you. Dan
CHRIS: In federal subcommittee but will call as soon as I can slip out.
DAN: Good, I have something that is very timely. You will want to step out. I really need to visit with you.
CHRIS: Calling in 30 seconds.
DAN: [thumbs up emoji]
Break in text chain
CHRIS: Hope you connected
DAN: Yes we did. She was informing Wayne in the exec meeting going on.
CHRIS: Thx. I’ll call you later today. What a tragic mess.
DAN: [thumbs up emoji] I have things held for a few more hours awaiting what happens.
Timestamp 1:28 pm [the last digit is hard to decipher]
CHRIS: Ollie calling you. Millie didn’t give any details just the ultimatum. Not trustworthy.
DAN: Understood I will await Ollie’s call.
CHRIS: Thx. Let me know how it goes
Neither Boren nor North responded to Rolling Stone interview requests.
The text-message exhibit and the NRA’s full complaint appear below.