Moving to clean house amid an organizational crisis, the National Rifle Association cut ties with its second-in-command, Christopher W. Cox; severed its relationship with Ackerman McQueen, its estranged advertising firm; and shut down live production at its online media arm, NRATV.
The steps took place within a brief span on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
The resignation of Mr. Cox, the gun group’s top lobbyist and the architect of its legislative strategy, was communicated to the N.R.A.’s board and employees on Wednesday. The news comes days after a court filing by the N.R.A. implicated him in a failed plot to oust Wayne LaPierre, the organization’s chief executive, an allegation Mr. Cox has disputed. Last week, The New York Times reported that the N.R.A. had suspended Mr. Cox.
Mr. LaPierre, in a message sent Wednesday to employees and board members, said he had accepted Mr. Cox’s resignation and wanted “to thank Chris for his service to the N.R.A. and for his efforts to advocate for the Second Amendment.” He noted that Mr. Cox had been “placed on administrative leave” pending an investigation into the claims against him, and said, “Naturally, that pursuit will continue in the interest of the N.R.A. and our members.”
The development is the latest in an already tumultuous year for the N.R.A. The gun group has struggled to right its finances; faced investigations in Congress and by the New York attorney general; and witnessed a leadership struggle that pitted Oliver North, until recently the N.R.A.’s president, against Mr. LaPierre.
Mr. Cox could not be immediately reached for comment. In a statement last week, he said that “the allegations against me are offensive and patently false. For over 24 years I have been a loyal and effective leader in this organization. My efforts have always been focused on serving the members of the National Rifle Association, and I will continue to focus all of my energy on carrying out our core mission of defending the Second Amendment.”
The series of moves leaves the N.R.A., a crucial ally of President Trump, in flux, particularly in the leadership of its legislative agenda. On Twitter in April, Mr. Trump urged the N.R.A. to “stop the internal fighting, & get back to GREATNESS — FAST!” Mr. LaPierre told the board and employees he would soon name an interim leader for the organization’s lobbying arm.
By ending production at NRATV, the N.R.A. is also ceasing its relationship with a number of high-profile representatives of the organization, since its on-air personalities — Ackerman employees including Dana Loesch — will no longer be the public faces of the N.R.A. It remained unclear whether the N.R.A. would try to hire some of those employees, but there was no indication it was negotiating to do so.
The move comes amid a flurry of lawsuits between the N.R.A. and Ackerman, and increasing acrimony that surfaced after two prominent N.R.A. board members first criticized NRATV in an article in The Times in March. The separation had become inevitable: The two sides said last month that they were ending their partnership of more than three decades.
“Many members expressed concern about the messaging on NRATV becoming too far removed from our core mission: defending the Second Amendment,” Mr. LaPierre wrote in a message to members on Wednesday. “So, after careful consideration, I am announcing that starting today, we are undergoing a significant change in our communications strategy. We are no longer airing ‘live TV’ programming.”
In a notice to Ackerman’s chief executive, Revan McQueen, sent Tuesday night, the N.R.A. said it “regrets that a longstanding, formerly productive relationship comes to an end in this fashion.”
Ackerman, in its own statement, said it was “not surprised that the N.R.A. is unwilling to honor its agreement to end our contract and our longstanding relationship in an orderly and amicable manner.”
“When given the opportunity to do the right thing, the N.R.A. once again has taken action that we believe is intended to harm our company even at the expense of the N.R.A. itself,” Ackerman added. It said it would “continue to fight against the N.R.A.’s repeated violations of its agreement with our company with every legal remedy available to us.”
A legal filing last week by Ackerman, which is based in Oklahoma City, underscored the dire risk to its business, which derived 41 percent of its gross revenue from the N.R.A. last year. The company accused the N.R.A. of failing to pay $1.6 million in invoices and to post a $3 million letter of credit that it said it was due, moves that Ackerman said would force it to “terminate or put on unpaid leave” roughly 40 percent of its work force within days, and shutter Mercury Group, its Northern Virginia subsidiary.
N.R.A. officials had grown leery of the cost of creating so much live content for NRATV, which was started in 2016, and wondered whether the return on its investment was worth the effort. The site’s web traffic was minuscule, with 49,000 unique visitors in January, according to a report provided by Comscore.
Some N.R.A. board members and officials were also unnerved by the breadth of the channel’s content, which strayed far beyond gun rights and encompassed several right-wing talking points, including criticism of immigration and broadsides against the F.B.I. A show hosted by Ms. Loesch that put Ku Klux Klan hoods on talking trains from the popular children’s program “Thomas & Friends” drew outrage from some within the organization.
But the dispute between the N.R.A. and Ackerman goes deeper than NRATV. It has its origins in threats last summer by Letitia James, now the New York attorney general, to investigate the N.R.A.’s tax-exempt status. The N.R.A. began an audit of its contractors, and has said that Ackerman, which it paid roughly $40 million a year, refused to comply. Ackerman has disputed that allegation.
The advertising firm has assailed the role of the N.R.A.’s outside lawyer, William A. Brewer III, over the size of his legal fees, and has seen him as its chief antagonist. The contention has a bitter family twist because Mr. Brewer is the brother-in-law of Mr. McQueen, Ackerman’s chief executive.
The schism between the organizations has been shocking. They had a closely intertwined partnership going back to the “I’m the N.R.A.” campaign in the 1980s, and Ackerman came to be known as the voice of the N.R.A.
But by Tuesday night, splitting up was seen as inevitable.
“This is just an affirmation of what we’ve known is going to happen,” Joel Friedman, an N.R.A. board member, said in an interview.