On Friday afternoon, as the National Rifle Association's annual national gathering was getting ready to hear from the nation's president and vice president, Russian agent Maria Butina was sentenced by a federal judge to 18 months in prison. Butina, of course, intended to influence conservative politics and the Republican Party, and she did so largely by focusing her efforts on the NRA.
At face value, that seemed like the sort of development that might've left a cloud over the far-right group's convention. But as developments progressed, the Russian operative's prison sentence was just the tip of the iceberg. As the Washington Post reported, "The typically bland corporate fare this year exploded with strife, including allegations of extortion, financial mismanagement and a leadership battle that have publicly overtaken all else at the event."
Former NRA president Oliver North was ousted from the organization Saturday, one day after NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre issued a letter to the NRA's board, claiming that North tried to extort him. The battle, which LaPierre appears to have won, was centered on what some claim are exorbitant payments to the group's outside counsel and a lawsuit the NRA filed against its longtime public relations firm, Ackerman McQueen.
On his way out the door, North, whose resignation was not voluntary, said in his resignation letter that there's "a clear crisis" within the organization.
That seems like a fair assessment. Before his own ouster, North sought LaPierre's resignation, accusing the group's longtime leader of financial improprieties, including allegations LaPierre spent more than $200,000 on "wardrobe purchases ... that were charged to a vendor." There are reportedly additional questions surrounding the lack of transparency surrounding the NRA's contract with Ackerman McQueen.
LaPierre retaliated, told the board North was trying to divide the organization, and North clearly lost the fight. That does not, however, mean the drama is over.
Steve Hart, the NRA's longtime lawyer, was also suspended over the weekend, and that news coincided with an announcement from New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), whose office is now investigating the NRA's tax-exempt status.
The NRA's full board of directors is scheduled to meet today. Evidently, the board's 76 members will have quite a few decisions to make -- including choosing a new president to replace North.