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NRA sues to sit in on Oliver North testimony about gun group’s finances

2019-08-17

Nation Rifle Association President Col. Oliver North speaks at the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Friday, April 26, 2019. ( (Michael Conroy/AP)

A state judge on Friday blocked an attempt by the National Rifle Association to muzzle Oliver North when its ousted president answers tough questions next week from the state attorney general about the gun group’s finances.

The NRA, at war with North over a rumored coup, was trying to lay down legal cover fire to keep him from going off half-cocked about its inner operations.

The gun group filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court against state Attorney General Letitia James on Friday, asking a judge for a temporary restraining order to block North’s appearance at a deposition about the NRA’s spending and income sources.

Short of squashing North’s participation entirely, the group wants the court to permit its lawyers to sit in with North, who fell out with the NRA last year after he was accused of trying to take over the organization.

North is scheduled to be deposed on Tuesday.

“By virtue of his positions as President and Board member at the NRA, North was afforded access to and learned of information, communications, and documents that are protected by the attorney-client privilege, the work product doctrine, and as trial preparation materials,” the lawsuit said. “He, however, is not the holder of the privileges.”

Judge Melissa Ann Crane declined to issue a temporary restraining order as the NRA wanted, but hasn’t decided yet if the gun group can attend the deposition.

“I’m not inclined to grant the TRO,” Crane said. “The risk of disclosure here is speculative.”

NRA attorney Svetlana M. Eisenberg, left, argues for a temporary restraining order to keep Oliver North from being deposed on Friday, August 16, 2019 in Manhattan, New York. (Center and Right) Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York attorneys Emily Stern and Monica Connell listen to Eisenberg.
NRA attorney Svetlana M. Eisenberg, left, argues for a temporary restraining order to keep Oliver North from being deposed on Friday, August 16, 2019 in Manhattan, New York. (Center and Right) Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York attorneys Emily Stern and Monica Connell listen to Eisenberg. (Barry Williams/for New York Daily News)

North was subpoenaed as part of an investigation into the NRA’s tax-exempt status that James’ launched in April.

Her investigation coincided with an internal clash within the NRA pitting North against CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.

North, the Iran-Contra scandal figure who served for just one year as the NRA’s president, was pushed out after an alleged extortion scheme against LaPierre that came to a head in April, just ahead of the group’s annual convention.

Soon after, the NRA sued North in New York. In North’s response, he said he was concerned about the NRA’s spending on legal fees and other financial mismanagement that he said might jeopardize the NRA’s nonprofit status. North also alleged that LaPierre had made more than $200,000 in wardrobe purchases and charged them to a vendor.

His term was allowed to expire after LaPierre accused North of threatening to release damaging information about him.

The NRA had asked for a chance to review any documents North was planning to share with the attorney general’s office. An internal review determined that additional redactions may be necessary.

“Mr. North is not an attorney and, in answering these questions, he may — wittingly or unwittingly — reveal the substance of protected communications and information,“ NRA lawyer Svetlana Eisenber said in a letter to James on Thursday.

The two sides presented their arguments Friday. North was not at the hearing.

A copy of the letter was attached to the group’s filing.

James issued North a subpoena last month. She said the retired Marine colonel didn’t need any babysitters.

“The NRA’s scare tactics simply won’t work here,” James said in a statement.. “Our investigation is proceeding with the same focus and fairness we apply to any case. Whether it’s deposing NRA leaders or fact finding through other investigative tools, we will ensure that justice is served because no one is above the law.”

On Monday, Crane will continue to hear about arguments before deciding if the NRA lawyers can attend the deposition.