The National Rifle Association was worried the various Russia investigations could create an internal conflict of interest, according to board minutes filed in a ongoing lawsuit.
The NRA board approved in April a resolution allowing the gun rights organization to provide and pay for independent legal representation for its directors, officers and employees interviewed in the federal and congressional Russia investigations, according to a copy of the minutes of an April 29 NRA board meeting reviewed by TPM.
It’s not clear which aspect of the various Russia investigations the board was referring to when it approved the hiring of independent counsel.
But the resolution approving the potential move cited the need to “to avoid potential conflicts” between the NRA and its directors, officers and employees. The Justice Department and Congress have been investigating whether Russian money was routed to the gun group during the 2016 election.
“The DOJ and [Congressional] committees are interviewing various persons who could be potential witnesses, including officers, directors, and employees of the NRA,” the minutes read.
The minutes go on to note that “recent investigations of Russian matters have demonstrated that a potential witness could become a party to litigation,” creating a potential need for outside attorneys.
The NRA offered to provide “independent counsel based on the sound discretion of senior management” to “officers, directors, and employees” of the gun group, finding that it was “in the best interest of the NRA” to do so.
It’s not clear whether the NRA subsequently provided outside counsel to any directors, officers or employees.
White collar criminal attorneys familiar with the federal investigation process told TPM that the move is standard practice for groups facing a serious criminal investigation.
“It’s just best practice to have their own attorneys,” former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade told TPM, adding that the range of conduct that could create a conflicting interest between the NRA and its employees is broad.
“It could be that the employees have done something wrong, or done something that could expose the organization to liability,” she said. “The employee could want to say that they know something really bad about the organization, and want to blow the whistle.”
The resolution was passed weeks after the Mueller report was released, which detailed Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election.
The status of the DOJ’s investigation into the NRA is unknown. Russian national Maria Butina pleaded guilty last year to a count of conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent in a case that saw her attempt to infiltrate the NRA.
Congressional committees investigating the matter reportedly sought and secured interviews with NRA officials who traveled to Russia on a 2015 trip. The Senate Intelligence Committee reportedly interviewed David Keene, a former NRA president, this year, and sought a meeting with Pete Brownell, who was first vice president during the Moscow trip.
The document itself emerged from a separate battle that was engulfing the gun group at the time, featuring former NRA President and sometime Iran-Contra participant Oliver North.
After mounting a failed coup attempt against NRA chief Wayne LaPierre two days before the resolution was passed, North apparently received a document request from the Senate Finance Committee, and invoked the April resolution.
The NRA refused, and sued him in New York state in June. North filed a copy of the minutes in the case last week.
William Brewer, an outside attorney for the NRA, noted North’s alleged coup attempt in a statement issued when it first filed the lawsuit:
“The NRA views this as a misguided attempt to deflect from reality; Col. North played a central role in an extortion scheme that caused the issues for which he now seeks indemnification,” Brewer said. “The NRA will not look the other way when it appears that crimes against the [NRA] have been committed by people motivated by their own self-interests.”
Read the NRA board minutes below: