The attorney general for Washington D.C. has issued subpoenas to the National Rifle Association and its related charitable foundation as part of an investigation into allegations of financial misconduct inside the powerful gun lobbying organization.
The subpoenas add to a host of difficulties for the NRA, which is facing internal turmoil and multiple external inquiries as it gears up for a 2020 election push in support of President Donald Trump.
Attorney General Karl Racine said in a statement that his office is examining both the NRA and the NRA Foundation.
"We are seeking documents from these two nonprofits detailing, among other things, their financial records, payments to vendors, and payments to officers and directors," Racine said.
Marrisa Geller, a spokeswoman for Racine's office, said the subpoenas were "early investigative" queries that were focusing on "potential misuse of funds" inside the NRA.
Racine's office has limited powers. All felony cases in the District of Columbia are handled by the U.S. Attorney's office. However, his office enforces a Washington law governing the behavior of nonprofit organizations. Racine recently used this authority to open an own investigation of alleged sexual abuse inside Washington's Catholic Archdiocese.
William A. Brewer III, the NRA's lead lawyer, said in a statement that the organization intended to cooperate fully.
"The NRA has full confidence in its accounting practices and commitment to good governance," Brewer said. "The association's financials are audited and its tax filings are verified by one of the most reputable firms in the world. Internally, the association has an appropriate conflict of interest policy, which provides that all potential conflicts are reviewed and scrutinized by the audit committee."
The NRA is involved in a number of legal tangles, some that threaten its very future. The New York attorney general's office is similarly investigating to determine if it has run afoul of laws that govern its nonprofit status. The NRA is chartered out of New York, while the NRA Foundation is chartered out of Washington.
The U.S. Senate Finance Committee also has launched an investigation into the NRA's operations.
At the same time, there is an ongoing factional war within the NRA, pitting some of its most ardent gun-rights supporters and loyalists against one another. The NRA has traded lawsuits with Ackerman McQueen, its longtime marketing firm that crafted some of its most prominent messages for decades. Months after filing its first lawsuit against the Oklahoma-based firm, the NRA officially severed ties last month.
It also has sued its former president, Oliver North, seeking to block his efforts to be reimbursed for legal expenses related to various investigations and lawsuits involving the NRA. On Thursday, North said in court papers that Brewer, the head lawyer, and NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, thwarted multiple efforts to independently review the NRA's expenses and operations. He accused LaPierre of exerting "dictatorial" control over the NRA.
Among the issues being raised are hundreds of thousands of dollars in clothing expenditures by LaPierre from a Beverly Hills clothier and travel on private jets. Some board members also have questioned whether the amount the NRA has spent over decades for Ackerman McQueen's marketing services were worth what it cost and whether its NRATV, an online TV station since put on hold, veered too far from its core Second Amendment advocacy work.
The various legal battles come as NRA is girding for the 2020 elections. It was a force in the 2016 campaign, spending $30 million to help elect President Donald Trump, the most gun-friendly president in modern U.S. history.
The turmoil spilled out into public view this past spring just ahead of the NRA's annual meeting. It was during those meetings that LaPierre said North had sought to extort him and force him out. North was denied the traditional second term as president but remains on the board.
Some rank-and-file members loudly protested at the meetings, seeking a full airing of their grievances and an accounting of the NRA's spending. But those concerns were cast aside by board members who said internal committees were reviewing the issues.