After Trump Names Him As A Source, Fox Anchor Says There Is "No Evidence ... So Far" Backing Up Trump's Lie
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White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano’s claim that the British intelligence service surveilled President Donald Trump on then-President Barack Obama’s behalf. Napolitano has promoted conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terror attacks and other events, and a British security official has denied the “absurd” claim, suggesting that Spicer is willing to imperil the “special relationship” with the United Kingdom to bail out the president.
Over the past 24 hours, the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have said that they have seen no evidence to support Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential election. In an effort to defuse the situation during today’s press briefing, Spicer read aloud from a series of news articles that he falsely claimed supported Trump’s statement. This included Napolitano’s March 13 statement on Fox & Friends that, according to “three intelligence sources,” Obama relied on “GCHQ,” the “British spying agency,” to obtain transcripts of “conversations involving President-elect Trump” with “no American fingerprints on this.”
Here is Spicer suggesting that our allies in the U.K. spied on the current president on behalf of his predecessor, based on Napolitano’s reporting:
And here is Napolitano telling Alex Jones, the founder of the 9/11 Truth movement -- which claims the U.S. government carried out the 2001 terror attacks -- that it is "hard for me to believe that" World Trade Center Building 7 "came down by itself," and that "twenty years from now, people will look at 9/11 the way we look at the assassination of JFK today. It couldn't possibly have been done the way the government told us":
Napolitano has pushed a wide array of conspiracy theories over the years, including floating the possibility that Osama bin Laden was still alive and the government was “pulling a fast one to save Obama's lousy presidency."
The suggestion that Obama asked British intelligence to surveil British intelligence appears to originate in part from conspiracy theorist and former CIA official Larry Johnson, who made the claim during an interview on state-sponsored Russian news network RT. The interview was widely circulated by hyperpartisan and conspiracy theory websites in the days before Napolitano’s appearance.
A British security official denied the claim on March 14, telling Reuters it was "totally untrue and quite frankly absurd." But now it’s been promoted from the podium by the president’s spokesman.
Spicer also cited commentary from Fox host Sean Hannity to support Trump’s claim. As he was speaking from the podium, Hannity was on his radio show suggesting that President Obama and U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson, who last night granted a temporary restraining order against Trump’s revised Muslim ban, may have been “best friends in Hawaii” and used drugs together.
Sebastian Gorka Has Denied The Report
Jewish news publication The Forward reported that Trump administration official Sebastian Gorka is a “formal member” of the Vitézi Rend, a far-right nationalist Hungarian group that, according to the State Department, operated under the direction of Nazi Germany during World War II. Gorka, a top counterterrorism adviser to President Donald Trump and former national security editor for “alt right” website Breitbart.com, denied that he was a member of the group when contacted by another publication.
The Forward spoke to two leaders of the Vitézi Rend, Gyula Soltész and Kornél Pintér, who said Gorka is a sworn member of their organization. From the March 16 article:
Gorka, who pledged his loyalty to the United States when he took American citizenship in 2012, is himself a sworn member of the Vitézi Rend, according to both Gyula Soltész -- a high-ranking member of the Vitézi Rend’s central apparatus -- and Kornél Pintér -- a leader of the Vitézi Rend in Western Hungary who befriended Gorka’s father through their activities in the Vitézi Rend.
Soltész, who holds a national-level leadership position at the Vitézi Rend, confirmed to the Forward in a phone conversation that Gorka is a full member of the organization.
“Of course he was sworn in,” Pintér said, in a phone interview. “I met with him in Sopron [a city near Hungary’s border with Austria]. His father introduced him.”
The Forward explained that the Vitézi Rend “is listed by the State Department as one of many groups in Germany and the countries it occupied as collaborationist ‘criminal organizations’ with the Nazis as determined by the post-war International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.” Soltész also told BuzzFeed that Gorka is a current member of the Vitézi Rend. Gorka denied these ties to Tablet magazine, telling a reporter, “I have never been a member of the Vitez Rend. I have never taken an oath of loyalty to the Vitez Rend. Since childhood, I have occasionally worn my father’s medal and used the ‘v.’ initial to honor his struggle against totalitarianism.” (Foward’s article described how Gorka has signed testimony submitted to Congress and other documents with a “v.,” which “is an initial used by members of the Vitézi Rend” after they have taken a sworn oath.)
Tablet added that Gorka’s father was “a dedicated member of the anti-Communist underground, and had risked his life to organize the Hungarian resistance and deliver vital information about the Soviets to western intelligence agencies, including the MI6. He was eventually arrested, badly tortured, spent two years in solitary confinement and some more in forced labor in the coal mines before eventually escaping to England.”
Back in February, foreign policy blog LobeLog confirmed with an expert that a medal Gorka had worn to an inaugural ball was from the Vitézi Rend. Breitbart.com editor Joel Pollak defended Gorka in a February 14 article, calling claims about his connections to the Vitézi Rend a “smear” and defending the group by calling it “anti-communist.”
USA Today reported that following Forward’s report, Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, said in a statement that “Sebastian Gorka must resign -- and President Trump must make it happen,” and that the National Jewish Democratic Council also urged Trump to fire Gorka. BuzzFeed quoted Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) calling the reports “deeply disturbing” and saying: “It’s shocking that with these revelations he’s not already fired by the president.” Representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Muslim Advocates, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Southern Poverty Law Center also told BuzzFeed that Gorka should resign or that Trump should fire him if the reports about his membership are further substantiated.
A reporter for Talking Points Memo later tweeted a statement from the Anti-Defamation League, which stated "If true, [Gorka] needs to renounce his membership immediately and disavow their exclusionary message of hate. At a time of rising anti-Semitism around the world, it is essential for Mr. Gorka to make clear that he rejects the policies of far-right and nativist organizations such as Vitézi Rend and Jobbik, which have a long history of stoking anti-Semitism and intolerance in Hungary."
Before he was hired by the Trump administration, Gorka worked for Breitbart.com as a national security editor and was a paid adviser to the Trump campaign. In the past he has used anti-Muslim rhetoric and backed conspiracy theories. For example, after the Washington National Cathedral hosted an event with two Muslim groups in 2014, Gorka wrote an article for Breitbart.com with the headline “Muslim Brotherhood Overruns National Cathedral In DC," arguing that “if a place of worship is used by Muslims for their prayers, that territory subsequently becomes part of Dar al Islam, sacred muslim (sic) land. Forever.” Gorka also defended Trump’s false campaign claim that former President Barack Obama was the “founder of ISIS,” saying he “is absolutely right” if he meant the Obama administration “facilitated the growth of ISIS.”
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Eight Of The 20 “Skype Seat” Questioners Have Been Right-Wing Commentators
When the White House press corps convenes today for press secretary Sean Spicer’s daily briefing, the journalists in the room will be joined via Skype by Bryan Crabtree, an Atlanta-based right-wing talk radio host who wrote last year that Donald Trump is “the future of this country” and that if he was not elected president, “America as we know it is ‘done.’”
In recent columns for the conservative website TownHall.com, Crabtree has called for the purge of federal employees in response to the “system-wide effort to sabotage President Trump's White House”; predicted that Trump will destroy the Democratic Party by “produc[ing] an economy that he has promised”; and claimed that protesters at the Women’s March on Washington were “stuck between delusional and mental instability.”
In late January, Spicer announced that he planned to occasionally provide “Skype Seats” to “a diverse group of journalists” who live outside of the Washington, D.C., area, in order to “benefit us all by giving a platform to voices that are not necessarily based here in the Beltway.” CNN media reporter Brian Stelter warned at the time that the development “could be a great thing, or it could be a way to stack the room with pro-Trump media outlets.”
Two months later, it is clear that Spicer is using this innovation to pack the briefings with what SiriusXM White House correspondent Jared Rizzi has termed “Skypeophants”: “super-friendly questioner[s] used to burn up briefing time.”
Twenty people have been hand-picked by Spicer to ask questions at briefings via Skype thus far. Twelve were mainstream journalists from regional outlets, like WMUR political director Josh McElveen, KXTX-Dallas news anchor Norma Garcia, and Hearst Connecticut Media Group reporter Neil Vigdor.
The other eight were right-wing political commentators who have provided Spicer with a way to reward supporters while ensuring that he has a respite from tough questions. At least one right-wing talking head has asked a question at each “Skype Seats” session.
In the first of these briefings, conservative talk radio host Lars Larson and newspaper publisher Jeff Jobe, a Trump endorser who has run for office as a Republican, were among the lucky recipients. Larson asked whether Trump could “tell the Forest Service to start logging our forest aggressively again to provide jobs for Americans.” Jobe prefaced his question by saying that “anyone paying attention will see that President Trump is aggressively acting on his campaign promise” before asking when the president plans to reverse coal mining restrictions.
Boston Herald Radio columnist Adriana Cohen is a Trump supporter perhaps best known for blowing up a CNN segment during the Republican primary by citing the National Enquirer to accuse fellow panelist Amanda Carpenter of having had an affair with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). On February 8, Spicer rewarded her with a Skype Seat, and she asked about Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s “vow to house illegal immigrants in Boston City Hall to shield them from the Trump administration.”
The next week, Jason Stevens, an author for the hyperpartisan right-wing website the Federalist Papers Project, had the privilege to attend via Skype. After stating that his readers want to return “the country to the first principles of republican government as understood by the American founders,” he asked, “What are the president’s future plans for rolling back the expensive and burdensome regulations of the administrative state, most of which are the product of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who never received the consent of the governed to do anything, let alone make law?”
Spicer isn’t simply creating the space for more geographic and ideological diversity in the White House press briefing room -- as SiriusXM’s Rizzi told The New Yorker, he’s creating “diversity of journalistic practice” by hand-picking friendly commentators, rather than reporters, to ask questions at the briefings.
The press secretary’s actions seem geared toward creating an equivalence between those right-wing voices and the reporters in the press briefing. In doing so, Spicer suggests that he is simply providing a counterpoint to purportedly left-wing reporters for outlets like The New York Times and CNN.
Trump and his officials are at war with the media, lashing out at journalists on a near-daily basis for providing information critical of the president. At the same time, they are encouraging pro-Trump outlets to attend the briefings to troll journalists; handing out passes to “alt-right” figures; and, at times, calling solely on right-wing outlets at press conferences.
As the administration flounders and the president pushes absurd conspiracy theories, Spicer is defending the indefensible on a daily basis. It helps to be able to phone a friend.
UPDATE: After being grilled with a series of questions about Trump's baseless claim that President Barack Obama tapped his phones, Spicer bailed out by calling on Crabtree, who thanked him for "taking questions from a talk radio host right here in Georgia, and not in the D.C. swamp." While earlier press briefings featured multiple "Skype Seat" recipients, this was the second time in a row that a conservative radio host was the only hand-picked person to call in.
Media Matters Research Analyst Rob Savillo provided data for this piece.
At a campaign rally in Nashville, Tennessee on March 15, President Donald Trump repeatedly attacked the press, saying, “They’re bad people, folks!” and calling the press “the fake, fake media.” Minutes after the rally, Trump appeared in a pre-taped interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and praised the hosts of the network’s morning show, Fox & Friends. In the past, Trump has credited Fox & Friends as a significant aide in his becoming president.
DONALD TRUMP: I saw this morning on Fox & Friends, I watch -- I like that group of three people, but they had a man who was saying "Trump is the greatest president ever, and there will never be one like him." Now, the thing is, I've only been there for like 50 days, but he was very enthusiastic, but he was talking -- he is a manufacturer, and I have taken off regulations by the thousands. And we are just -- we are just starting. We are just starting. So, there is great optimism about the economy, but we have to get the taxes reduced.
Fox host Tucker Carlson is scheduled to interview President Donald Trump for an interview to air tonight on Fox News. The interview comes after Carlson legitimized Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower -- an assertion that the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has rejected. Carlson has admitted that Trump’s claim was not “literally accurate,” but called it “plausible” and said there was “a lot of evidence” supporting it.
Fox News host Jesse Watters will interview President Donald Trump for his show Watters World. Watters, who originally appeared on Fox as a correspondent for The O’Reilly Factor, has a track record of disparaging segments about immigrants, women, Asian-Americans and African-Americans. He has also produced reports in which he shamed homeless Americans, mocked members of the LGBTQ community, and “followed, harassed, and ambushed” a journalist.
The only reporter traveling with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during this week’s trip to Asia recently authored a puff piece on Tillerson’s close relationship with President Donald Trump that was based almost entirely on an anonymous Tillerson aide.
Last week, the State Department announced that Tillerson would not allow the press to travel with him on his government plane during his trip to Japan, South Korea, and China, an extremely unusual step that will reportedly make it “exceedingly difficult, if not impossible” for journalists to cover the proceedings.
D.C. bureau chiefs from a host of major news outlets sent a letter to the State Department last Tuesday protesting Tillerson’s decision. According to the letter, “Not only does this situation leave the public narrative of the meetings up to the Chinese foreign ministry as well as Korea’s and Japan’s, but it gives the American people no window whatsoever into the views and actions of the nation’s leaders.”
At yesterday’s State Department press briefing, just hours before Tillerson was scheduled to take off, spokesperson Mark Toner was still unwilling to divulge whether any reporters would be traveling on the plane. But eventually, news broke that one reporter would be on board when the plane lifted off: Erin McPike, the White House correspondent for the conservative website Independent Journal Review.
According to IJR founder Alex Skatell, who previously worked for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican Governors Association, McPike got the spot because of her “tenacious, detailed brand of reporting.” According to the State Department’s Toner, the agency wanted to “take a journalist from an outlet that doesn’t normally travel with the Secretary of State, as part of an effort to include a broader representation of US media.”
But it sure seems likely the State Department rewarded McPike because she was willing to help a Tillerson aide burnish the secretary's reputation.
The glowing beat-sweetener, published two weeks ago, is a rebuttal to the widespread narrative that Tillerson has been largely sidelined by the White House, lacks influence with the president, and is unwilling to engage with the press or the public. Based on her interview with an unnamed “aide to the nation’s top diplomat,” who boasts that Tillerson frequently speaks with Trump on the phone, McPike decides that this is all Tillerson’s “strategy to keep his head down while he sets out to make the State Department more efficient.”
McPike grants the aide anonymity to give quotes like, “If Trump closes the deal, Rex is the person who makes the deal.” She goes on to praise the aide’s statement: “It's a comment that suggests Tillerson may have figured out how to ingratiate himself well with his TV star boss: eschew the cameras and make the boss look better.”
McPike appears to have figured out how to ingratiate herself with the State Department: Make the boss look better.
The State Department Correspondents Association responded by saying that that it was "disappointed" Tillerson chose to travel to Asia “without a full contingent of the diplomatic press corps or even a pool reporter.” According to the association, several reporters “have traveled commercially to meet Secretary Tillerson on the ground in Asia.”
“I covered State for more than nine years,” The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler said on Twitter in response to the statement. “What just happened is shocking -- and counterproductive for US diplomacy.”
For its part, IJR is not interested in solidarity with the rest of the press corps; McPike reportedly is not filing pool reports from the plane. It’s the second time this month the site has been rewarded with exclusive access while the rest of the press was shut out; when Trump ditched the press for a dinner at the Trump Hotel, the website’s Benny Johnson had been tipped off and filed a fawning report after sitting at a nearby table.
And there’s little reason to think that this will be the last time Tillerson -- or another member of the administration -- ditches the press in favor of hand-picking a reporter from a right-wing outlet who has proved willing to play ball.
“I want to make the point going forward that we’re going to make every effort in future trips to have a contingent of press onboard that plane,” State Department spokesperson Toner said at the press briefing yesterday.
Why should reporters believe this?
If the administration wanted to have the diplomatic press corps accompany Tillerson to Asia, officials could have arranged that. But they haven’t.
According to the State Department, while the secretary has access to an Air Force Boeing 757, Tillerson “prefers to travel on a smaller plane” which has no room for the press corps. That personal preference apparently outweighed any responsibility the secretary feels about providing the press with access. Part of the rationale is that this is “a cost-saving measure” because news outlets only “pay a degree” of the costs associated with sending journalists to travel with the secretary.
None of this will change the next time Tillerson leaves the country on the nation’s business. His personal preferences about the size of his plane presumably will remain the same. So will the cost structure for bringing the press.
There are only two plausible options. Either circumstances will remain the same, and the press will still have limited access to Tillerson when he travels.
Or Tillerson will switch back to a plane that can accommodate the diplomatic press corps, suggesting that the decision with regard to the Asia trip was arbitrary, intended to send a message to journalists: Act more like McPike, and you, too, can have access to the secretary.
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Iowa Radio Host Mickelson Is Notorious For His Bigotry Against Muslims, LGBTQ Individuals, And Immigrants
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) appeared on Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson’s show to address the outrage over his racist tweet in which he claimed that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Mickelson, who is notorious for his bigotry against Muslims and LGBTQ Americans, as well as for calling for undocumented immigrants to be enslaved, helped King defend his tweet, and the interview ended with King urging Mickelson’s listeners to read the novel The Camp of the Saints, which The Huffington Post called “breathtakingly racist.”
On March 12, King drew fire after tweeting, “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” in apparent support of a prominent anti-Muslim Dutch politician, Geert Wilders. King’s tweet was cheered on by white nationalists and neo-Nazis, who rallied around the Republican congressman, calling him a “hero” for “openly endorsing White nationalism.”
Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies. https://t.co/4nxLipafWO
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) March 12, 2017
King defended his tweet during a CNN interview with Chris Cuomo on Monday, saying, “I meant exactly what I said,” and again on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, where the host agreed with King’s tweet. King additionally appeared on Mickelson’s show for a nearly 20-minute interview in which Mickelson offered defenses of King’s tweet by quoting John Jay, the country's first chief justice of the Supreme Court, criticizing diversity. Later Mickelson said, “You were accused of being a white supremist” (sic), but “you’re not talking about race, are you, at all?” CNN’s KFile first reported on this interview by highlighting a comment King made in which he predicted that “Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other” before they outnumber white people in America.
Despite his claim that the tweet had nothing to do with race, at the end of the interview King recommended that Mickelson’s listeners read a novel titled The Camp of the Saints. The Huffington Post reported earlier this month that Stephen Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, has spent years telling people that this novel explains the European refugee crisis. The article explained why it’s so alarming that someone in power is citing this book:
The book is a cult favorite on the far right, yet it’s never found a wider audience. There’s a good reason for that: It’s breathtakingly racist.
“[This book is] racist in the literal sense of the term. It uses race as the main characterization of characters,” said Cécile Alduy, professor of French at Stanford University and an expert on the contemporary French far right. “It describes the takeover of Europe by waves of immigrants that wash ashore like the plague.”
The book, she said, “reframes everything as the fight to death between races.”
Upon the novel’s release in the United States in 1975, the influential book review magazine Kirkus Reviews pulled no punches: “The publishers are presenting The Camp of the Saints as a major event, and it probably is, in much the same sense that Mein Kampf was a major event.”
Linda Chavez, a Republican commentator who has worked for GOP presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush but opposed Trump’s election, also reviewed the book back then. Forty years later, she hasn’t forgotten it.
“It is really shockingly racist,” Chavez told The Huffington Post, “and to have the counselor to the president see this as one of his touchstones, I think, says volumes about his attitude.”
Mickelson’s show is an interesting choice for King to defend himself from accusations of racism, given the radio host’s own bigoted statements. In late 2015, Mickelson repeatedly characterized Muslims in America as not culturally compatible with the country. Mickelson also called LGBTQ advocates “same-gender Nazis” and said they are part of a “gay Taliban,” agreed with ex-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that homosexuality is “ugly behavior,” and, years earlier, suggested that God invented AIDS to punish homosexuality. In August 2015, Mickelson suggested that the U.S. enslave undocumented immigrants who don’t leave America.
Stephen Bannon has led an itinerant life -- living at various points in either Southern California or Florida or New York or Washington, D.C., or London. But one address -- 8383 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1000 in Beverly Hills, CA -- has been a fixture in Bannon’s business and financial transactions.
According to California public records and media reports, the white nationalist website Breitbart was at one point registered at that address. So, too, was Glittering Steel, a film production company helmed by Bannon. As were Freemark Financial, a business management firm that handled Bannon’s financials; the Government Accountability Institute, a Bannon-tied right-wing group that purports to investigate government corruption; and a handful of other Bannon-connected companies, including Bannon Strategic Advisors Inc., and Bannon Film Industries Inc.
According to The Daily Beast, Freemark Financial, run in part by Steves Rodriguez, “is managing the money of” Bannon and has also worked for Breitbart, as well as the London-based data modeling firm Cambridge Analytica (on whose board Bannon once sat) and Glittering Steel. Bannon has reportedly told utility officials in the past to mail “bills to the office of his business manager on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills,” according to The Washington Post.
Seemingly, all Bannon-connected companies are currently -- or were, until recently -- registered to the same Beverly Hills address, and the financials are managed by Rodriguez and his partners at Freemark Financial.
Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports also show Make America Number 1 -- a pro-Trump super PAC ran by Bannon and Trump confidante Rebekah Mercer -- paid millions of dollars both to Glittering Steel and to Cambridge Analytica, which was also used by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. And though Cambridge Analytica has no publicly listed address in California, the super PAC payments were curiously sent to the Bannon-centered Beverly Hills address, prompting legal complaints of campaign finance violations. Newly amended FEC reports show Make America Number 1 continued to pay Cambridge Analytica at the Wilshire Boulevard address throughout the fall, raising a host of questions about whether financial transactions centered around Bannon's office are all above board.
Rebekah Mercer is a multimillionaire GOP mega-donor with ties to Bannon and several other allies in Trump’s inner circle, including Kellyanne Conway, David Bossie, and Trump himself. She and her father Robert are major investors in Breitbart News (to the tune of $10 million) and the Government Accountability Institute, and they’ve employed Glittering Steel -- all Bannon-affiliated groups.
Robert Mercer is also the principal owner of Cambridge Analytica, which specializes in “political microtargeting,” and Rebekah Mercer reportedly “used her influence in Trump’s circle to ensure that Cambridge Analytica … would be brought on board by Trump’s campaign team.” The Trump campaign ultimately utilized Cambridge Analytica’s services directly.
Rebekah Mercer in September assumed all control of the pro-Trump Make America Number 1 super PAC, which was previously run by Kellyanne Conway and later David Bossie, before each joined the Trump campaign. The super PAC’s biggest donor was Robert Mercer.
FEC filings for June, August, September, and October from the Make America Number 1 super PAC (run by Rebekah Mercer and largely funded by Robert Mercer) show millions of dollars going to Cambridge Analytica (owned and invested in by the Mercers) for “survey research,” “data acquisition,” “media” and “campaign management consulting [services].” These filings also show Make America Number 1 made regular payments to Glittering Steel for “video production.”
Cambridge Analytica’s website lists U.S.-based addresses in Washington, D.C., and New York. A California business public records search returns no results for Cambridge Analytica, and a Delaware business public records search (that lists Cambridge Analytica’s registration) does not provide address registration. Yet, the FEC filings show the Mercer super PAC’s payments to Cambridge Analytica were all sent to the Bannon-centered 8383 Wilshire Boulevard address. It is unclear where or if Cambridge Analytica publicly lists this Beverly Hills address as its own.
According to The New York Times, Bannon sat on Cambridge Analytica’s board until last August, “when he joined the Trump campaign.” Bannon’s spokesperson told the Times that Bannon no longer has “‘financial involvement’” with the firm.
So, why were Mercer-approved payments for a Mercer-invested company sent to an address that’s affiliated with Bannon -- and has seemingly no public connections to Cambridge Analytica itself? Were the payments (especially the ones made after August) earmarked for Bannon, though his own spokesperson said he stepped away from Cambridge’s board in August? The shady web of connections among the Make America Number 1 super PAC, Cambridge Analytica, and Stephen Bannon prompted an FEC complaint that raises more questions than answers.
On October 6, the campaign finance watchdog Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a complaint with the FEC alleging that the Make America Number 1 super PAC violated FEC laws by making illegal “in-kind contributions to Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. in the form of compensation for personal services rendered to the campaign ... and ‘coordinated communications.’” The complaint also noted:
- The individuals who formed, fund and lead Make America Number 1 were
responsible for Trump hiring as campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, previous
president of the super PAC; hiring Stephen K. Bannon as campaign CEO, whose
projects have long been funded by the individuals who formed, fund and lead
Make America Number 1; and Make America Number 1 appears to have covered
the salaries for both Conway and Bannon as they work for the Trump campaign.
- At the request of Make America Number 1’s founders and funders, the Trump
campaign has begun contracting with a data firm owned by Make America
Number 1’s founders and funders and whose board includes Bannon, running
afoul of the “common vendor” rule designed to preserve the independence of
campaigns and political committees.
Then, in December, the CLC “presented new evidence to the Federal Election Commission alleging that the super PAC Make America Number 1 illegally compensated Steve Bannon’s work as Donald Trump’s campaign CEO.” Specifically, the CLC’s new evidence claimed that the super PAC’s payments to Cambridge Analytica were meant as payment for Bannon, not the company at large.
"If a Mercer-backed super PAC subsidized Bannon’s work for the Trump campaign," the complaint notes, "it violates federal campaign finance law."
Importantly, before the October CLC complaint was filed, Make America Number 1’s July monthly and August monthly FEC filings showed that payments to Cambridge Analytica were sent to the Wilshire Boulevard address. Then, after the CLC filed its initial complaint, the super PAC’s payments to Cambridge Analytica (and Glittering Steel) in its September monthly, October monthly, and pre-general election filings started going to new addresses in Virginia. But when the Make America Number 1 super PAC later amended those reports after the presidential election, it changed the Virginia addresses back to the Wilshire Boulevard address.
In line with the Campaign Legal Center’s FEC complaint, the Make America Number 1 payments to Cambridge Analytica increasingly look like (potentially illegal) payments to Bannon.
When considering that the FEC reports were amended (as recently as February 21, no less), more questions arise: Why did the super PAC start sending Cambridge Analytica payments to a Virginia address (after the CLC complaint), only to change them back later to Bannon's address? If those payments were earmarked for Bannon, as the CLC alleges, did they continue after he stepped down from the board, given that the amended FEC reports show payments to Cambridge Analytica (at the Wilshire Boulevard address) well past August? What business ties, if any, does Bannon still have with Mercer-backed companies, and if so, do conflict-of-interest laws apply, given that he is a senior White House official?
Though it’s been documented that Bannon has “lived as a virtual nomad … with no fixed address,” as described by The Washington Post, questions abound about what, if any, legal violations may be looming over the millions of dollars coming into his shady Beverly Hills address.