Stephen Bannon

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  • Trump Just Blew A Hole In Breitbart’s Case For Editorial Independence

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    President Donald Trump this morning urged supporters to watch a Fox News segment that was based on research overseen by White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon in his prior role as chief executive of the conservative group Government Accountability Institute (GAI).

    Last August, Bannon promoted the GAI report in an article he co-authored at Breitbart.com, which he was simultaneously running as chief executive. Breitbart is now fighting to gain permanent reporting credentials from the Senate Press Gallery in the face of criticism that the website lacks editorial independence because of its entwinement with GAI.

    This morning Trump tried to defuse criticism of his ties to Russia by encouraging his followers to “Watch @foxandfriends now on Podesta and Russia!”:

    During the segment in question, conservative activist Peter Schweizer detailed connections between former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and a Kremlin-backed bank.

    Schweizer is both president of GAI and a Breitbart senior editor-at-large, and he and Bannon promoted the Podesta allegations last year in their roles with both. Their story provides a case study in how top Breitbart editors use the website to promote the work of a conservative group that pays them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

    The Podesta claims were first raised in a July 31 GAI report titled “From Russia with Money: Hillary Clinton, the Russian Reset, and Cronyism,” which purported to detail unsavory connections between Clinton and her associates and Russia. On August 1, Bannon and Schweizer co-bylined a story breaking the news on Breitbart, and discussed it on the Bannon-hosted SiriusXM program Breitbart News Daily.

    “It’s gonna cause a firestorm because they’re going to have to answer the question, and Mr. Podesta’s gonna have to answer the question, why he failed to disclose this, and we’re going to drill down on what all this means,” Bannon commented at the time. “We’ve got a lot more of this coming.”

    The GAI report and Breitbart article were released amid a slew of news stories detailing the Trump campaign’s friendly stance toward the Kremlin, and just days after The New York Times reported that “American intelligence agencies have told the White House they now have ‘high confidence’ that the Russian government was behind the theft of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee.”

    Sixteen days after the GAI report was released, Bannon took a leave of absence from Breitbart to become the Trump presidential campaign’s chief executive.

    Between its initial promotion of the GAI report and Election Day, Breitbart produced at least six more reports on GAI’s Podesta story. Meanwhile, the Bannon-headed Trump campaign issued a statement calling on Podesta to provide more information or step down.

    Following Clinton’s defeat, conservatives largely dropped the story. But after FBI Director James Comey announced during a March 20 congressional hearing that the bureau is investigating “whether members of President Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election,” right-wing politicians and media outlets began casting about for angles they could take to mitigate that damaging narrative.

    The next day, fringe gadfly Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) called for a congressional investigation into Podesta, relying on information in the August GAI report. Over the past week, Breitbart has produced two reports on the allegations, both citing GAI’s August report as the original source of the claims. The story has apparently gained enough attention on the right to catch the eye of Fox & Friends producers, generating this morning’s Trump-promoted interview with Schweizer.

    The new revelation about Breitbart’s overlap with GAI comes at a bad time for the outlet.

    Yesterday, the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery announced that it would not approve Breitbart’s request for permanent Capitol Hill credentials, citing in part concerns that key editors on the masthead have received payments from GAI. This suggests that the website falls short of the Senate Press Gallery’s requirement that outlets be “editorially independent of any institution, foundation or interest group that lobbies the federal government.” The committee has sought more information from the conservative outlet, with a deadline of April 14.

    Schweizer received $778,000 from GAI between 2012 and 2015 while simultaneously appearing on Breitbart’s masthead. And while serving as chief executive of both institutions, Bannon received $376,000 from GAI.

    As the Podesta reports show, top editors at Breitbart are getting paid by another organization and using their platform to produce and oversee reporting based on that organization’s work. This violation of the press gallery’s bylaws should lead to the rejection of Breitbart’s application.

  • Breitbart Denied Permanent Senate Press Gallery Credentials

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The credentialing committee for Capitol Hill reporters announced today that it will not grant Breitbart.com’s request for permanent credentials at this time, citing the website’s failure to demonstrate editorial independence from key supporters of President Donald Trump.

    Members of the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery referenced several concerns with Breitbart’s bid for permanent status at a hearing this morning. These included the lack of evidence proving that former Breitbart chief executive and current White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon had actually separated himself from the website; questions about whether Rebekah Mercer, who owns part of the outlet and was a key funder of Trump’s presidential campaign, also plays an editorial role; the fact that some on the masthead have also received payments from the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), a nonprofit group funded by Mercer and previously led by Bannon; and issues surrounding Breitbart’s apparent use of office space not zoned for commercial leases.

    The committee is requesting more information from Breitbart by April 14.

    For Breitbart to receive a permanent congressional press pass, its leaders must follow gallery rules by demonstrating that the website’s principal business is "the daily dissemination of original news and opinion of interest to a broad segment of the public" and that it is “editorially independent of any institution, foundation or interest group that lobbies the federal government.”

    Breitbart fails these standards in a number of ways, as Media Matters documented in a December letter urging the members of the standing committee to reject its application. Bannon’s position in particular raises significant concerns, as even if he did actually separate himself from the publication, the possibility that he could return to his position after serving in the Trump administration suggests that Breitbart News cannot be editorially independent. Moreover, Bannon, at-large editor Peter Schweizer, and managing editor Wynton Hall each have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary from GAI while simultaneously working for Breitbart.

    These ties between Bannon, Mercer, and GAI suggest that Breitbart is and will remain a propaganda arm for President Trump, not an editorially independent news outlet.

    The conservative operation’s status as a provider of “original news and opinion” is also in question -- according to a Media Matters review of Breitbart’s October 2016 content, only 17 percent was original; 78 percent of the website’s articles were wire copy, and the remainder were aggregated.

    Permanent congressional credentials would represent a substantial step forward for Breitbart. As BuzzFeed reported: “For newer outlets in Washington, winning permanent congressional press passes is a tedious process — but an important one. The hard passes are seen as the first step towards joining the White House Correspondents’ Association, where member news organizations rotate their reporters to travel with the president at home and abroad. Reporters also use the hard passes to get into other events around Washington.”

    Below is the full text of the letter Media Matters president Angelo Carusone sent the standing committee in December:

    To the members of the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery:

    Breitbart.com has reportedly come before the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery seeking permanent Capitol Hill credentials. We urge you to reject the request based on Breitbart’s disqualifying inability to demonstrate editorial independence as required by your rules.

    According to Rule 4 of the standards for issuing a permanent congressional press pass, if an outlet does not have General Publication periodicals mailing privileges under U.S. Postal Service rules and publishes daily, then the outlet's principal business must be "the daily dissemination of original news and opinion of interest to a broad segment of the public."

    Additionally, “publications must be editorially independent of any institution, foundation or interest group that lobbies the federal government.” In rejecting the application of the Supreme Court reporting outlet SCOTUSBlog, the committee explained that editorial firewalls are insufficient when personnel are inextricably connected between the federal government and an applying publication.

    Breitbart fails these standards in several ways:

    a. Media Matters analyzed all content published on Breitbart.com in the month of October and found that Breitbart published 82.7 percent unoriginal content. In fact, 78 percent of all Breitbart.com articles in October were wire copy. By contrast, just over 17 percent of Breitbart's content was original.

    b. Breitbart Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon is on leave while working as the top adviser for President-elect Donald Trump, and he has been appointed chief strategist and senior counselor to Trump once he is sworn in as president. Bannon also serves on the board of the data mining company Cambridge Analytica, which is reportedly seeking White House contracts.   

    c. Even if Bannon completely severs his position with Breitbart, his likely financial interest and the possibility that he could return to his position after serving in the Trump administration suggests that Breitbart News cannot be editorially independent.

    d. Many of Breitbart's top staff members have regularly been involved in other activities that raise questions about their editorial independence. They are intertwined with the Government Accountability Institute, a non-profit conservative research organization

    • Stephen Bannon served as chief executive of both institutions, receiving $376,000 from GAI from 2012-2015.  

    • At-large editor Peter Schweizer received $778,000 over that term to serve as GAI's president, secretary and treasurer.

    • Managing Editor Wynton Hall received $600,000 from GAI over the same period to serve as its communications strategist.

    e. Additionally, Wyton Hall is the owner of Wynton Hall & Co., a celebrity ghostwriting agency. His website claims he has worked for "NBA stars, White House presidential officials, Hollywood producers and movie stars, Fortune 500 CEOs, college presidents, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks, NCAA Hall of Fame coaches, top international motivational speakers, TV celebrities, and fashion models," all of which could presumably be written about at Breitbart.

    f. Numerous media observers and former employees suggest that given Bannon’s position in the Trump administration, Breitbart could serve as a state-allied propaganda outlet.

    g. Rebekah Mercer, daughter of a major Breitbart investor, is reportedly serving on the executive committee of the Trump transition team, and could end up serving in the Trump administration.

    h. Breitbart has already engaged in similar conduct internationally. Notably, Breitbart London editor in chief Raheem Kassam left the website to become chief of staff to UK Independence Party’s Nigel Farage during the 2015 UK General Elections; rejoined the website following the elections and spent the next year using his editorial post to support and advocate for UKIP’s signature policy initiative, Brexit; then briefly ran for UKIP leader.

    It is simply not credible for an outlet to claim the editorial independence required under your rules given that their longtime executive chairman is about to become the closest advisor to the president.

    In addition to these documented, inextricable, and disqualifying links between the outlet and the Trump administration, Breitbart has secretive business ties that it refuses to disclose as a matter of policy, including financial ties to foreign businessmen that are kept equally secret. The Committee should also be wary of granting additional credibility to an extremist website -- Bannon himself called it “the platform of the alt-right,” an ideology that features white nationalism.

    Given these facts, I urge the Standing Committee to reject the Breitbart application.

    Respectfully,

    Angelo Carusone

    President, Media Matters for America

  • USA Today Report Raises New Questions About Stephen Bannon And The “Breitbart Embassy”

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    White House senior adviser Stephen Bannon’s housing and financial arrangements are unusually complicated. Many reporters have attempted to tackle the intricate and conflicting network of connections between Bannon, the extreme-right Breitbart.com site that he used to run, far-right billionaires, a tangle of small companies and financial holdings, and President Donald Trump. USA Today’s new report on the Washington, D.C., town house near Capitol Hill known as the “Breitbart Embassy” hints at another set of potential conflicts of interest for the senior White House official.

    The “Breitbart Embassy” has been a D.C. staple since Breitbart (then a fringe conservative site) began operating out of the residential property in 2011. As early as 2013, the town house was described as then-Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon’s house -- though it’s actually owned by an Egyptian businessman and politician named Moustafa El-Gindy. Until recently, there have been conflicting reports on the nature of any official relationships between Breitbart or Bannon and the actual owner of the property, including the nature of any financial or leasing agreements among the different parties.

    Now that Breitbart executive Larry Solov has said Bannon “resigned” from Breitbart “via phone” (though offering no proof, yet, of this separation), USA Today’s Paul Singer investigated potential current or past conflicts of interest and legal liabilities associated with the use of the “Breitbart Embassy” property -- and his findings pose some additional conflict-of-interest questions.

    Is Bannon Still Living At The “Breitbart Embassy”?

    In 2014, a writer for Vice visited the house, which he later described as “a handsome living quarters for Bannon and other company brass” at Breitbart as well as a “workspace for the website's D.C. reporters.” An October 2015 profile in Bloomberg News -- which featured original quotes and photographs of Bannon in the house -- similarly described the property’s dual usage as a workspace and Bannon’s living quarters. A week after the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported that the town house "holds offices sometimes used" by Breitbart but "isn't typically the site of the media organization's day-to-day operations." However, Bannon "would often hold team meetings around its elegant dining table” and “reportedly uses the upper levels of the four-bedroom residence as his Washington crash pad.”

    In his article, Singer implied Bannon no longer lives in the home, but he couldn’t locate documentation to back up Bannon’s living situation. When he knocked on the door of the “Embassy,” a staffer for one of Bannon’s film companies who has also written for Breitbart answered.

    If Bannon was previously living in the space -- which he does not own -- was he paying rent to either the owner or to Breitbart as a subletter? Did he continue to either pay rent to the media outlet or live there on the outlet’s dime after he joined the Trump campaign or even the administration? Could he still be doing so today?

    Did Breitbart Lease The Residential Space For Commercial Reasons?

    Though the residential property is reportedly “still the official address of Breitbart’s Washington bureau,” a Breitbart spokesperson told Singer the site was “transitioning people out of the house” and, soon, into what Singer described as “a regular office in downtown D.C.” He also noted that “the Embassy is in a residential neighborhood where it is generally not legal to run an office.” Singer also spoke with a locally elected official familiar with zoning rules, who explained what commercial uses are allowed in such a residential space and noted that Breitbart’s uses “appear to violate” the rules: 

    Breitbart CEO Larry Solov told the Senate press gallery that the company has a soon-to-expire lease in the building for corporate housing, offices and entertainment. But zoning rules for the block do not allow commercial leases.

    “That area of Capitol Hill is zoned only for residential uses, with a very narrow set of ‘home occupation’ exceptions allowing a resident (as opposed to a rotating group of occasional visitors) to work as an in-home tailor, music tutor, doctor, or the like, or to run a small bed & breakfast,” said Mark Eckenwiler, longtime chair of the zoning committee for the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the city government unit for that area.

    The uses Solov described to the press gallery “appear to violate the D.C. zoning regulations applicable to that location,” Eckenwiler said. Since the lease is not public, it is impossible to know whether the terms meet the neighborhoods restrictions.

    Does El-Gindy Maintain Residence At The “Embassy,” In Accordance With The Tax Deduction Requirements?

    As the USA Today report also notes, the Capitol Hill home is not technically Bannon’s -- it’s actually owned by an Egyptian politician and businessman named Moustafa El-Gindy. Washington, D.C.’s public records show that El-Gindy purchased the property in 2009 and appears to have been renting to Breitbart since 2011. As reported by BuzzFeed in August, El-Gindy told an Egyptian reporter he is “just a landlord” and that he rents the house because tourism has slowed in Egypt. But the article points out that El-Gindy may stay at the town house sometimes, and appears to get friendly coverage from Breitbart. He’s been quoted in Breitbart articles without any disclosure of his relationship to Bannon or the outlet at least four separate times.

    The nature of any type of lease between El-Gindy and Breitbart -- or Bannon himself, for that matter -- is not clear. Singer’s investigation adds an interesting wrinkle in the story:

    El-Gindy is receiving a homestead deduction on the property, a $72,000 tax credit that requires the owner to maintain residence in the building. He could not be located for comment on this story.

    In Washington, D.C., individuals qualify for this tax deduction if the property is their “permanent home” or if they own the property and consider it to be their “principal residence.” The Washington, D.C., Office of Tax and Revenue website indicates that violations of this tax rule could result in the property owner owing back taxes, interest, and a penalty to the district.

    There are still more questions than answers when it comes to the connections between Bannon, Breitbart, and El-Gindy -- maybe because the answers could point to questionable legal practices, tax violations, and conflicts of interest. 

  • Breitbart Helped Boost A Man Vying To Become The Next Dutch Prime Minister: Geert Wilders, Dubbed The "Dutch Trump"

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    Breitbart.com provided a platform for far-right Dutch political leader Geert Wilders, who is running for prime minister of the Netherlands in the March 15 election, by publishing columns he wrote. Wilders used Breitbart to boost his anti-Muslim brand among factions of the white nationalist “alt-right” in 2016.

    Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), has been labeled “the Netherlands' Donald Trump.” Like President Trump, Wilders gained prominence with a candidacy driven by anti-Muslim rhetoric and populist sentiment, courting key figures among the far-right factions overtaking conservative politics globally. Recent I&O Research polling showed Wilders trailing among voters, but NBC News noted that Wilders successfully pulled mainstream Dutch politicians toward the extreme right -- a dangerous victory for anti-immigrant populists in Europe.

    In 2016, Wilders’ anti-immigrant rhetoric found a platform on Breitbart under Stephen Bannon, who later left the site to run Trump’s presidential campaign and who now serves as chief strategist and senior counselor to the president. Wilders' columns have been published on both the American version of Breitbart.com and the "Breitbart London" site, which is apparently in charge of the outlet's desired expansion into other European markets.

    In a column published by Breitbart in February 2016, Wilders described the growth of Islamic faith as “an existential threat to our Western freedoms and our Judeo-Christian civilization.” Wilders argued that Western nations have a “duty” to “stop Islam … as a matter of survival” and advocated a Western freeze on “all immigration from Islamic countries.”

    The columns Wilders published at Breitbart all contained similar inflammatory anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant commentary. In another column published in September 2016, Wilders stated that Muslim immigrants “carry our passports, but they do not belong to us” because they “spit on” Dutch identity “and behave like conquerors.” Wilders went on to describe Islam as “an existential threat to” the Netherlands’ “survival as a free nation.”

    This isn't the first time Breitbart has gone to bat for far-right European parties and politicians. The site has consistently promoted Marine Le Pen and The National Front, France's most prominent far-right political party; Germany's Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, a far-right, anti-immigrant, nativist political party; and the United Kingdom's UK Independence Party, a group that has been denounced for pushing "open, explicit racism."

    Breitbart under Bannon and beyond also played an instrumental role in the success of Trump’s candidacy, acting as the de facto propaganda arm of the Trump campaign. In the year leading up to the 2016 election, Breitbart defended Trump’s claim that Mexicans were “rapists,” attacked a Mexican-American federal judge on behalf of Trump, and smeared Gold Star father Khizr Khan. Trump often repeated conspiracy theories published on Breitbart during his campaign, and Trump’s administration has continued to give special access to Breitbart in the White House.

  • Rep. King Finds Safe Haven For His White Nationalism On Jan Mickelson’s Radio Show

    Iowa Radio Host Mickelson Is Notorious For His Bigotry Against Muslims, LGBTQ Individuals, And Immigrants

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    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.”

    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.

  • Legal Questions Abound For Stephen Bannon’s Shady Address Book

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    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.

    Make America Number 1's Payments To Cambridge Analytica Went To … Bannon’s Beverly Hills Office

    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.

    Campaign Legal Center Filed Complaint Alleging “Illegal Compensation To Stephen Bannon By Mercer-Backed Super PAC”

    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.

  • Trump's Desire To Track “Honor Killings” Echoes The Xenophobia Of Breitbart And Bannon, And It’s Not Grounded In Reality

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    President Donald Trump’s new Muslim ban calls on the government to publish information regarding “acts of gender-based violence against women, including so-called ‘honor killings,’ in the United States by foreign nationals.” This order adopts an Islamophobic narrative pushed by conservative outlet Breitbart.com, which was overseen by Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon, but reports suggest that honor killings are not at all common in the United States. 

  • NBC Nightly News Thinks Kicking Out One White Nationalist Absolves CPAC's Promotion Of The "Alt-Right"

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET


    NBC Nightly News
    ’ White House correspondent Hallie Jackson whitewashed CPAC’s promotion of “alt-right” nationalism by uncritically reporting that CPAC attempted to distance itself from white nationalist Richard Spencer, ignoring CPACs speaking invitations to “alt-right” provocateurs Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos.

    In a February 23 report, Jackson described Stephen Bannon as “the power behind the populist brand” promoted by President Trump and argued that CPAC was filled with “talk of economic nationalism” by Bannon and other CPAC speakers. Jackson claimed that CPAC had “no tolerance for a different kind of nationalism … the white nationalism popularized by Richard Spencer, who was kicked out today”:

    LESTER HOLT (HOST): Just outside the nation's capitol, members of the Trump administration dominated the stage at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, ahead of the president's appearance tomorrow. On stage today, a rare public appearance by Steve Bannon, the architect of the Trump campaign, who has quietly worked behind the scenes as the president’s chief strategist. Today, however, he spoke out. NBC News White House correspondent Hallie Jackson has details.

    HALLIE JACKSON: Today, a Trump team take over at a conservative conference, and stepping out of shadows of the West Wing, one of the president's most trusted advisors in a rare public appearance.

    STEPHEN BANNON: I want to thank you for finally inviting me to CPAC. JACKSON: That's controversial chief strategist Steve Bannon, the power behind the populist brand that propelled Donald Trump to victory.

    [...]

    JACKSON: For all the talk of economic nationalism on stage, no tolerance for a different kind of nationalism off it, the white nationalism popularized by Richard Spencer, who was kicked out today. CPAC organizers explicitly denouncing the fringe movement he helps lead.

    DAN SCHNEIDER: They are anti-semites, they are racists, they are sexists. They are not an extension of the conservatism. 

    But CPAC was filled with far right zealots who have promoted “alt-right” ideology. Steve Bannon, the former executive chair for Breitbart.com, had a prominent speech at the conference despite Breitbart’s history of promoting white-nationalists. Bannon even said during his time as executive chair that Breitbart.com had become “the platform for the alt-right” under his leadership.

    CPAC also invited former Breitbart.com editor Milo Yiannopoulos as a keynote speaker at the conference, before disinviting Yiannopoulos when videos emerged showing Yiannopoulos justifying the sexual abuse of a minor by an adult. Yiannopoulos himself described Richard Spencer and other white nationalists as “dangerously bright,” and ACU's Matt Schlapp promoted Yiannopoulos’ keynote speech by tweeting “We think free speech includes hearing Milo’s important perspective.”

  • CPAC Is Trying To Wash The “Alt-Right” Stench Off Breitbart

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The term “alt-right” is toxic. It should be. The loose confederation of neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and misogynists have spent the last year spreading fear, hatred, and conspiracy theories.

    The problem for conservatives is that the movement is directly connected to the major right-wing news outlet Breitbart.com; its former executive chairman, Stephen Bannon; and Bannon’s new boss, President Donald Trump.

    “The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump Campaign represents a landmark achievement for the ‘Alt-Right,’” Hillary Clinton said last year after Bannon was hired by the Trump campaign, highlighting the website’s promotion of “race-baiting ideas, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas, anti-woman [ideas].” “A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican Party,” she added.

    That “fringe element” is now in the White House. But direct association with racists and misogynists isn’t great for the conservative movement’s brand -- or Breitbart’s bottom line. So the organizers of this week’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) are working hard to redefine the term “alt-right” in order to retroactively separate that movement from the White House and the website.

    In cable news interviews and speeches from the conference lectern, CPAC’s organizers have condemned the “alt-right” -- even having security very publicly remove from the premises Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who originally coined the term.

    But at the same time, they have vouched for Bannon, are hosting seven Breitbart staffers and accepting a sizable donation from the website, and they even claimed that the “alt-right” is really made up of liberals. Bannon’s “alt-right” ties went unmentioned this afternoon when he sat alongside White House chief of staff Reince Priebus for a fawning “conversation” with Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC.

    In a speech this morning titled “The Alt Right Ain’t Right at All,” the ACU’s Dan Schneider claimed that the term “alt-right,” which he claimed had previously “been used for a long time, in a very good and normal way,” had been “hijacked” by a “hate-filled, left-wing fascist group” that “stole the term specifically to confuse us.”

    The ACU is having trouble getting its story straight -- Schlapp claimed during an MSNBC interview this morning that he had never heard of the term before last year -- according to him, it is a “new term.”

    But Schlapp did want everyone to know that Bannon is definitely not associated with the “alt-right.” “Today, [Bannon] would repudiate what these people stand for,” he said. “He’s a good man, and he’s a tolerant man.”

    “I know Steve Bannon well. He's a good man; he is not a racist,” Schlapp added on CNN. “Yes, the conservative movement and voices in the conservative movement are changing. But I do not believe that he is associated with the ‘alt-right’ at all.”

    This is all bullshit. Bannon himself described Breitbart last year as “the platform for the alt-right,” and he led the website in an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, misogynistic, ethno-nationalist direction that appealed to that movement. He hired Milo Yiannopoulos and had no apparent problem with the despicable commentary and activism he wrought -- or the way he championed the “alt-right.”

    Notably, when Breitbart produced a list of “20 lies” in Clinton’s speech on the “alt-right,” it made no effort to distance itself from the movement or suggest that she erred in linking it to the website and its former leader.

    When Bannon was hired by Trump’s presidential campaign, white nationalists cheered. When his move to the White House was announced, they were ecstatic.

    Bannon was very happy to be associated with the movement when it was boosting Breitbart’s traffic, influence, and revenue. But now things have changed, as companies and ad vendors have pulled their advertising from the site in huge numbers due to its association with racism and misogyny.

    And so CPAC is helping the website out, repeatedly condemning the “alt-right” while very deliberately separating it from Bannon and Breitbart.

  • The Breitbartification Of CPAC

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    “My biggest fear is that later this week I will be among the legions at CPAC rearranging the furniture,” wrote Andrew Breitbart just days before the first Conservative Political Action Conference of President Barack Obama’s administration. “Instead, the conservative movement needs to think in revolutionary terms.”

    Eight years later, Breitbart has passed away, but the revolution he started is at its peak: the media company he founded is everywhere at CPAC, and his successor is in the White House working for Breitbart.com’s chosen candidate.

    Former editor Milo Yiannopoulos is no longer on the program, but seven Breitbart editors and reporters will participate in panels and or give speeches at the conference this week. (In an almost certainly related note, Breitbart is a “Partnering Sponsor” of the event, the highest level.)

    White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who took over the website following its founder’s death, will appear alongside White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp today for a “conversation” intended to show that the Republican Party establishment and the fringe outsiders who pushed President Donald Trump to victory in the 2016 presidential primaries are united.

    And of course, after he pulled out of speaking at last year’s conference following a backlash from conservative critics, Trump himself will loom over the conference, with an address scheduled for Friday morning.

    Andrew Breitbart himself dominated CPAC in the early years of the decade. He strode through the conference like a rock star, granting media interviews, greeting cheering supporters, confronting liberal provocateurs, and scouting for new talent. His annual speech-screeds drew large audiences far more interested in hearing his rants against journalists and other elites than they were a sober speech from a Republican politician or think-tanker.

    “I'm old, so I remember CPAC before Andrew Breitbart: Quiet,” wrote David Weigel in 2012. “Since 2010, the first CPAC after Breibart's Big Government released James O'Keefe's ACORN video investigations, Breitbart's appearances at the conference have begun with media interviews, continued with assorted people confronting him on video, and ended with his own speeches, full of nostalgia for the stuff that just happened.”

    Weeks after his 2012 CPAC appearance, at which he famously freaked out at liberal protestors, Breitbart suddenly passed away. Bannon took the reins, and began turning the website Andrew Breitbart founded into “the platform for the alt-right.”

    The following year, CPAC celebrated the first anniversary of Breitbart’s passing. Hundreds of CPAC attendees showed up for events intended to remember the right-wing media mogul. A standing-room-only showing of his final documentary was followed by a panel featuring his former colleagues and friends, followed by a cocktail party. In 2014, the paeans continued as CPAC rolled out the Andrew Breitbart First Amendment Award (radio host Mark Levin was the first recipient; Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson was the second).

    But even as CPAC showered love on Andrew Breitbart’s memory, under Bannon’s leadership, the website he founded was suggesting that the conference was too politically correct and overly dominated by the establishment. In 2013 and 2014, Breitbart.com hosted “The Uninvited” sessions during CPAC featuring anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, and fringe figures that were not welcome at the conference itself.

    Notably, The Uninvited sessions featured Frank Gaffney, the founder of the Center for Security Policy -- which the Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes as “a conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.”

    Andrew Breitbart once hired Gaffney to help run his national security website; he still contributes to Breitbart.com. And Bannon loves Gaffney, calling him “one of the senior thought leaders and men of action in this whole war against Islamic radical jihad.” But Gaffney was persona non grata at CPAC for years because he is a paranoid conspiracy theorist who accused two members of CPAC’s board of being secret supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood (he has returned in recent years and is on the 2017 agenda).

    The situation was bad enough that after he became chairman of the American Conservative Union, which oversees CPAC, Matt Schlapp invited Breitbart editor Matt Boyle to the ACU’s headquarters for a lengthy interview in February 2015. Schlapp and his staff, in fairly obsequious fashion, pitched Boyle on how that year’s CPAC would be more responsive to Breitbart.com’s concerns.

    CPAC had “drifted away from the core values of conservatism” but now, “concerted efforts by the ACU to listen to grassroots concerns about the direction of the landmark conference, the organization is now emerging as stronger, more conservative and more united,” Boyle concluded following the presentation.

    In the two years since, the Republican establishment has been routed by the Breitbart-led forces who pushed Trump to the front of the Republican presidential primary field and supported him at every step of the way. Bannon moved seamlessly from head of Breitbart, to head of Trump’s campaign, to Trump’s top White House aide.

    In addition to Trump and Bannon, attendees at this year’s CPAC will have the opportunity to see Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow interview a Republican congressman on tax reform. They can watch Breitbart UK chief Raheem Kassam introduce Nigel Farage, his former boss at the right-wing UK Independence Party. Breitbart’s Frances Martel and John Carney will be moderating panels on “China’s Expansion” and “Repealing Obama’s Banking Monstrosity,” while Joel Pollak and Sonnie Johnson are on panels discussing trade policy and how the left hates cops. James Delingpole will be leading “CPAC Conversations” on energy.

    Breitbart.com spent years shilling for Trump’s candidacy. Now Trump will swagger through the conference that Andrew Breitbart once owned, while the news site he created is a dominant force at CPAC. An ascendent Breitbart.com and President Trump are truly Andrew Breitbart’s greatest legacy.