Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North — former National Rifle Association president, retired Marine, and no stranger to courtroom controversy — took the stand at the NRA’s corruption trial on Tuesday and told prosecutors for the New York Attorney General’s Office that he repeatedly urged CEO Wayne LaPierre and “anyone else who’d listen” to conduct an independent investigation of the nonprofit’s finances. His goal, he said, was not to ostracize or oust LaPierre, a longtime friend, but to save LaPierre’s job and the gun rights organization that North had joined as a kid. Several times over his yearlong tenure as president, North asked to see detailed invoices for exorbitant payments to the NRA’s outside counsel, Bill Brewer — including $19 million in an 11-month period. Right before North’s 2019 ouster, LaPierre had an answer for him.
“Wayne told me to stay in my own lane,” North testified.
“He actually told you to ‘stay in your lane,’ he used that phrase?” Monica Connell, the prosecutor, asked.
If she sounded surprised, it’s perhaps because the NRA had told trauma surgeons pushing for gun control to “stay in their lane” in 2018, sparking a viral hashtag and a public health backlash against the gun group.
North said he didn’t heed LaPierre’s advice, demanding an outside audit of the NRA’s expenditures even as he suspected it would get him fired. He cut costs and even took a 30 percent pay cut, which seemed to anger LaPierre. “What we were trying to do was throw him a lifeline,” North said as a frail-looking LaPierre listened from the front row.
North has testified about this before, but Tuesday’s testimony revealed more detail about how he came to work for the NRA and what was expected of him. In North’s telling, LaPierre courted him for the largely ceremonial NRA presidency in 2018, when he was still at Fox News. He said he was hesitant at first — he needed a full-time job with health insurance because his wife has a chronic illness, and the presidential post is a voluntary position.
LaPierre responded by creating a $2 million-a-year position for North that would be paid for by the NRA’s longtime ad agency Ackerman McQueen, a first for an NRA president, North testified. The contract would be three years (another historical anomaly within the nonprofit, as its presidents are typically elected to one-year terms). Those payments were allegedly submitted to the NRA for reimbursement, an example of the kind of third-party payment arrangement — used to mask private jet travel, designer clothes, safaris, and lifetime compensation for LaPierre and several top executives — that’s at the heart of the New York AG’s case.
North said that LaPierre had told him to focus his role on generating money and members, and creating content for NRATV, but that North had a fiduciary responsibility as both NRA president and as a board member to investigate something that “smacks of corruption.” He was especially alarmed by The Trace’s 2019 investigation with The New Yorker, he said, and demanded the creation of a “crisis management committee” to look into the allegations unearthed by senior staff writer Mike Spies, which formed the basis for the attorney general’s initial complaint.
North’s probing cost him his post in 2019. It also presumably cost him his friendship with LaPierre, who’d included his hand-picked president in his 1998 wedding. But LaPierre’s loyalty, North said, was ultimately to Brewer.
“Wayne would say things like, ‘Bill Brewer’s the only person who’s going to keep me out of jail. Brewer’s the only person who’s going to make sure I don’t spend my life in an orange jumpsuit,’” North testified. —Jennifer Mascia
What to Know Today
The Boston-based 1st Circuit revived Mexico’s unprecedented lawsuit against several major American firearms manufacturers, ruling that the Mexican government “plausibly alleges a type of claim” that is exempt from the special legal immunity granted to the gun industry under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Jonathan Lowy, whose organization Global Action on Gun Violence is representing Mexico, told The Trace last week that a successful challenge would benefit the U.S. as well: “While Mexico is subject to this flood of crime guns as a result of trafficking and reckless gun industry practices, the U.S. is even more subject to those harms.” [Reuters]
Eight people were killed and one was injured in a two-day gun rampage in suburban Joliet, Illinois, that included what the local chief of police described as “probably the worst crime scene” he’d ever encountered. The suspected shooter died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound as federal authorities pursued him near San Antonio, Texas. [Chicago Sun-Times]
Washington, D.C.’s Department of Forensic Sciences, which has been banned from doing its primary job of processing evidence for criminal cases since 2021, made some progress in its efforts to regain professional accreditation: Its forensic biology and chemistry units were reaccredited late last month. But as gun violence continues to roil the district, it’s still not clear when the crime lab’s firearms unit will be able to resume working. [The AFRO/WTOP]
A federal appeals court upheld an ordinance in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, that requires gun sellers to distribute literature related to firearm safety, suicide prevention, and mental health to customers. Four Maryland firearms dealers and a state gun rights group had challenged the rule on First Amendment grounds. [Bloomberg Law/ABC Baltimore]
It’s been one year and one day since a shooter killed seven people across two mushroom farms in Half Moon Bay, California. After being forced to leave their homes as law enforcement agencies conducted their investigation, many of the survivors are still looking for permanent housing. [KQED]
An Idaho lawmaker introduced legislation that would allow teachers with “enhanced” licenses to carry concealed firearms on campus, with no requirement to gain permission from administrators or school boards. It would also shield information about armed staffers from public records requests, offer armed staffers some liability protections, and force schools to remove all “gun-free zone” signs or face a fine. [Idaho Statesman]
Ahead of his state’s pivotal primary, New Hampshire gun shop owner Ben Beauchemin explained why he remained undecided about who to vote for. While he respects the Second Amendment, he wishes the political conversation around guns was more nuanced. Overall, Beauchemin said, he doesn’t “fit on any one side” — and he believes there are many other voters like him in the U.S. [The New York Times]
Guns Recovered by Mexico’s Military Come Mostly From U.S. Makers: Data shows American companies produce the weapons driving cartel violence. (October 2022)
This edition of The Bulletin was compiled by Sunny Sone.