MSNBC's All In Discusses The Dark Money Billionaires Who Funded Trump's Campaign Propaganda Machine And Breitbart
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A new report from The Daily Beast reveals that a former writer for the extreme-right website Breitbart.com filed a complaint with the Department of Justice alleging the site “was acting as an illegal influence operation for its Washington, D.C. landlord,” the Egyptian businessman and politician Moustafa El-Gindy.
The Daily Beast reports that the complaint, which it uncovered through a Freedom of Information Act request, was filed by an unidentified ex-writer for Breitbart with the Justice Department’s National Security Division “as the 2016 presidential campaign kicked into gear.” As explained by The Daily Beast, the complaint alleges that “Breitbart was acting as a de facto foreign agent for El-Gindy by providing him with friendly coverage.” The complaint also alleges that Breitbart is likely “benefiting from some substantial discount in its leasing costs” for El-Gindy’s property, which The Daily Beast notes could amount to an in-kind payment from a foreign official for friendly media coverage.
Questions about Breitbart’s use of El-Gindy’s residential D.C. property as an office space were among the reasons cited when Breitbart was denied permanent press credentials to cover Capitol Hill earlier this week. 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. El-Gindy previously told an Egyptian reporter he is “just a landlord” and that he rents the house because tourism has slowed in Egypt and he needed additional income. But El-Gindy may stay at the town house sometimes (or at least is claiming the property as a primary residence for a tax deduction), and he has been cited positively in Breitbart -- without any disclosure of his landlord relationship -- at least four times. The Justice Department complaint adds further credibility to conflict-of-interest concerns about El-Gindy’s relationship with Breitbart as the outlet's attempts to receive permanent press credentials stall.
From the March 29 article (emphasis added):
Two sources with direct knowledge, including one former Breitbart writer, say a reporter for the pro-Trump news organization was behind a complaint to the Department of Justice implicating then-chairman Steve Bannon and Moustafa El-Gindy, an Egyptian businessman and former legislator and the owner of Breitbart’s Washington office.
Concerns about about (sic) that office, nicknamed the Embassy, dogged the organization Monday as it unsuccessfully sought permanent congressional press credentials. Breitbart faced conflict-of-interest questions regarding Bannon’s new role as one of President Donald Trump’s top advisers, a probe into its investors and corporate structure, and questions about El-Gindy and his property.
A complaint filed with the Justice Department’s National Security Division as the 2016 presidential campaign kicked into gear alleged that Breitbart was acting as a de facto foreign agent for El-Gindy by providing him with friendly coverage. The Daily Beast obtained a copy of the complaint through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Even as Breitbart gave him favorable coverage, the DOJ complaint alleged that the media site was likely paying El-Gindy below-market rental rates on the site. If true, that would have amounted to an in-kind payment and, taken with friendly coverage of El-Gindy, could be seen as payments from a foreign government official in exchange for supportive media coverage.
It “appears [Breitbart] has been disseminating what FARA [the Foreign Agent Registration Act] would regard as propaganda on behalf of a foreign principal for financial benefit, and not merely as a financially unconnected news source,” alleged the complaint, which was sent to DOJ from a FedEx Office franchise in Arlington, Virginia, on July 2, 2015. It named both Breitbart generally and Bannon individually as alleged perpetrators.
Since his election, President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed credit for private businesses’ decisions to invest in the United States. His flimsy and misleading boasts have been routinely amplified by compliant media outlets before the claims eventually collapse under scrutiny. Yet the response from mainstream journalists to the president’s latest jobs boast seems to indicate that perhaps some outlets have “caught on” to Trump’s exaggerated pronouncements and have stopped taking them at face value.
On March 27, The Detroit News broke the news that the Ford Motor Co. has announced an investment of “$1.2 billion in three Michigan facilities” and that most of the investment was brokered in 2015 as part of the company’s contract with the United Auto Workers union. Roughly $350 million of that total investment represents new money, but Ford is expected to “add or retain” only 130 jobs -- a marginal amount compared to the 201,000 people the company employs worldwide.
Trump moved early the next day to take credit, tweeting that Ford would announce an investment “in three Michigan plants” and that “car companies [are] coming back to the U.S.” before concluding, “JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!” Later in the day, White House press secretary Sean Spicer pointed to the Ford announcement as proof that “the president’s economic agenda is what American businesses have been waiting for.”
Big announcement by Ford today. Major investment to be made in three Michigan plants. Car companies coming back to U.S. JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2017
In the past few months, Media Matters has chronicled dozens of occasions when outlets stumbled over themselves to credit Trump for creating new American jobs based on his misleading claims of playing a role in private sector business decisions that he had little to do with. (See: Alibaba, Carrier, Ford, SoftBank.)
Trump’s tweet about Ford seemed poised to inspire more of the same media fawning, but journalists who covered the news largely downplayed Trump’s role rather than falling for his boast. The Washington Post, USA Today, Bloomberg, and Reuters all reported that the majority of the Ford investment plan far predated the Trump administration and was part of the company’s long-term restructuring plan for its American factories.
New York Times columnist and MSNBC contributor Steven Rattner noted that “The big news ended up being only 130 jobs” and asked of the president, “When will he stop misleading [people]?” CNBC reporter Jacob Pramuk reported that the “White House on Tuesday promoted a Ford investment in American plants” even though “most of [the money] was part of a plan the automaker first announced in 2015.” Vox senior correspondent Matt Yglesias highlighted that CNBC article on Twitter and commented that reporters were “catching on” to Trump’s game. Washington Post reporter Michelle Ye Hee Lee pointed out that the Ford investment “had nothing to do [with] Trump’s election.” Meanwhile, New York Times correspondent Binyamin Appelbaum mocked Trump by writing that the president’s tweet contained “three more exclamation points … than the number of new jobs that Ford created today.” In his write-up of Trump’s announcement, CNNMoney senior writer Chris Isidore added that “Ford isn't bringing any work back to the United States from Mexico, or any other foreign country” -- a blow to Trump’s claim that automakers are “coming back to the U.S.”
In contrast to the sober reporting from mainstream media, right-wing outlets that are aligned with Trump continued to promote his unsubstantiated role in creating jobs for American workers. The “alt-right” website Breitbart.com promoted the Ford story under the banner “TRUMP JOBS BOOM CONTINUES” while the sycophants at Fox News called the investment deal “another win for American workers” and Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy hyped the investment plan by stating, “Oh, it’s so much winning.” From the March 28 edition of Fox & Friends:
As the White House has become embroiled in scandal and legislative failure, Trump has flooded the news cycle with lies far more outrageous than his attempt to take credit for jobs he didn’t create. Journalists, therefore, still need to be mindful of the administration’s attempts to build up the myth of Trump as a unique dealmaker and economic leader.
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.
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.
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.
President, Media Matters for America
Internal Divisions Flare Up At Fox, Breitbart, The Blaze, IJR
Peering into his laptop camera while filming a fidgety monologue for his Periscope audience last week, Breitbart.com investigative reporter Lee Stranahan spelled out an internal crisis that was unfolding at the "alt-right," pro-Trump media hub.
Convinced he was sitting on "the biggest political story in the world," Stranahan announced that his boss, Washington political editor Matthew Boyle, had ordered him to stay away from future White House briefings, which meant Stranahan couldn’t ask press secretary Sean Spicer about the supposed blockbuster. (Short version: Stranahan has strung together a conspiracy theory that would suggest the Russian hacking narrative is a complete fabrication by so-called deep state actors and a firm called Crowdstrike.)
“I’m probably going to lose my job,” Stranahan lamented during his televised update, noting “I have five kids to feed. … But I’m not going to let this story get killed.”
Indeed, by week's end, Stranahan was gone from Breitbart. He said he will now team up with The Gateway Pundit, the hyper-dishonest “alt-right” site that now boasts a White House press pass and commits itself to trolling journalists on the presidential beat.
The weird public Stranahan meltdown was just the latest example of far-right media outlets seemingly cracking under the strain of the Trump era. Along with at Breitbart, internal dramas have recently played out publicly at Fox News, TheBlaze and Independent Journal Review, as right-wing media sources struggle to find their footing with Trump now in charge, and with the attention that comes with that.
Accustomed to robotically blaming Democrats for all the supposed evils in the world, conservatives now have to deal with a political landscape where Republicans control the White House, the Senate, the House, and, possibly soon, the Supreme Court.
Is dissent allowed? Or is the new role to simply cheer whatever Republicans do, and serve as a convenient shield for the administration?
“For years, conservatives breathlessly accused the media of being too easy on President Barack Obama and acting like a bunch of sycophantic boot-lickers for his administration. Turns out, some only wanted the chance to try it out for themselves once a Republican was in office,” conservative commentator Amanda Carpenter wrote in Politico. “Some of those who used to be the conservative movement’s most loyal government watchdogs are nothing but lapdogs now for Trump.”
At Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze, popular conservative host Tomi Lahren was temporarily suspended after she went on The View and made comments critical of anti-abortion activists. (Lahren: “I can’t sit here and be a hypocrite and say I’m for limited government but I think that the government should decide what women do with their bodies.”)
In an usual display of newsroom friendly fire, Lahren’s comment was immediately condemned by her own colleagues at TheBlaze:
Beck himself soon joined the pile-on. “It takes intellectual honesty, and it takes a willingness to actually think these things through and to do more than just read Twitter or Facebook to get your news and your political opinions,” Beck said on his radio show while denouncing Lahren, according to The Daily Caller.
Beck has now reportedly fired the host. “Glenn is reminding the world of his conservative principles by sidelining Tomi after she insulted conservatives by calling them hypocrites,” one Beck "insider" told the New York Post.
Over at Fox News, executives were recently left scrambling when the White House pointed to Fox senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano as a source for the inexplicable claim that former President Barack Obama had asked British intelligence to spy on Trump during the campaign. It was part of the White House’s larger failed attempt to support Trump’s baseless claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election.
The claim of British involvement sparked an international incident.
Initially, a Fox News spokeswoman reported that Napolitano “stands by his report on FOX & Friends,” but then the full-on retreat began. By March 20, Fox had taken the extraordinary step of yanking Napolitano off the air “indefinitely.”
Vanity Fair's Sarah Ellison spoke with a "Fox News insider" who told her: “The key thing Judge Napolitano did was to say ‘Fox News is reporting that ... ,’ and he can’t say that.' That breaks the trust, and you saw what it cost him. He is not a reporter and knows he's not a reporter." The source claimed that Napolitano’s comments, and Trump’s championing of them, had created what Ellison described as "an internal headache" for Fox News: “It’s a disaster," said the source. "It’s a nightmare.”
Speaking of headaches, Independent Journal Review (IJR) handed out suspensions last week after the GOP-friendly news site published a bizarre column suggesting Obama might have pressured the federal judge in Hawaii whose ruling halted Trump’s latest attempt to establish a travel ban for six Muslim-majority countries. (IJR column headline: "Fmr President Obama Made 'Surprise Visit' to Hawaii, Days Before Judge Issued Travel Ban Ruling.")
IJR editors later apologized for and retracted the story, but not before one staffer reportedly quit over the embarrassing episode. The site then suspended its chief content officer and two editors. (On March 27, Politico’s Hadas Gold reported that IJR video producer Colin Chocola also reportedly quit, citing issues he had with the “direction” of IJR that predated the Hawaii conspiracy theory flap.)
The dust-up was significant because the conservative-leaning IJR, founded in 2012 by former Republican operative Alex Skatell, was the only media outlet allowed to accompany Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his recent trip to Asia -- a trip that yielded a laudatory puff piece published by IJR.
The move to invite IJR was "part of an effort to include a broader representation of U.S. media,” according to the State Department.
“If willingness to tar a former president with conspiratorial garbage constitutes an element of media diversity, then the State Department succeeded,” quipped Erik Wemple at The Washington Post, after IJR published its conspiratorial column about Obama.
Last week, Business Insider provided a detailed look at the internal dissension swirling within IJR since Trump’s election, as editorial factions battle over how far to the right the site should tilt. “It's basically becoming a giant native ad for the Trump administration," one former IJR staffer complained.
For eight years, Obama bashing largely unified the right-wing media in America. Now without that security blanket to cling to, they’re finding life in the spotlight’s much more complicated.
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.
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?
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.
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.
In an interview, President Donald Trump claimed that a January New York Times article proved his false claim that former President Barack Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower and suggested that the newspaper later changed the article's headline to remove the word "wiretap." Both claims about the article come from fringe and right-wing media. In fact, the Times article does not prove Trump’s claim, and its headline was never altered.
Trump Was Not Referring To “Incidental” Legal Surveillance
Right-wing media figures are claiming that House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) statement that President Donald Trump’s transition aides were surveilled “vindicates” Trump and prove he “was right” about his unfounded claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. But Nunes’ report -- that Trump aides were caught in “incidental collection” while surveilling other targets -- was already widely suspected, and Nunes himself admitted it does not prove Trump’s false claim is correct. Multiple current and former government officials have said Trump’s claim is false.
Breitbart’s xenophobic “Sweden YES” tag is a dog whistle to the “alt-right,” and the misleading articles marked with the label serve as the foundation for the outlet’s anti-immigrant campaign in both Europe and the United States.
In a March 17 interview with NBC News, Breitbart.com’ Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow attempted to distance his site from the “alt-right,” claiming that it’s “not a hate site.” But one of the website’s new favorite content tags -- “Sweden YES!” -- is an “alt-right” catchphrase that began as an effort to mock Sweden’s multiculturalism, gender equality, and positive stance on immigration.
According to Know Your Meme, “Sweden Yes” began on a German international messageboard, Krautchan/int/, in 2012. From there, it became a subreddit, which is currently “quarantined” due to its “shocking or highly offensive content.” The phrase is also popular on the anonymous online message board 4chan, where there is currently an archived Sweden Yes thread on the /pol/ page, with activity as recent as March 20. The meme is associated with Captain Sweden, a series of Swedish webcomics named for an anthropomorphized multicultural Sweden, often depicted engaging in interracial intercourse or featuring immigrants engaged in criminal behavior.
The Breitbart content organized under the “Sweden Yes” tag is written almost exclusively by Chris Tomlinson, a Breitbart London contributor who often retweets far-right French political leader Marine Le Pen and far-right, anti-Muslim Dutch political leader Geert Wilders, as well as Lauren Southern, an “alt-right” media figure who was recently allowed into a White House press briefing. Virginia Hale, a white nationalist Breitbart reporter with a history of using anti-Muslim rhetoric, has also written “Sweden Yes” content in recent weeks.
The first Breitbart content tagged “Sweden Yes” was published in November 2015. But that article was one of only five pieces of content given the tag before President Donald Trump’s February 18 speech in which he instructed the audience to “look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” which he said “took in large numbers” of Muslim immigrants and refugees. Trump followed up his remarks about Sweden by mentioning three French and Belgian cities attacked by domestic terrorists over the past two years. Trump’s comment was a clear suggestion that Muslims and refugees are responsible for a so-called “crime wave” in Sweden. Multiple fact-checkers have debunked both Trump’s seeming implication of an attack the night before he spoke and his claim about migrant crime in Sweden. But the damage had already been done. Since his speech, Breitbart has labeled 32 pieces of content (of a total of 37) with the “Sweden Yes” tag.
The site’s “Sweden Yes” content often makes evidence-free claims, exaggerates unrelated past incidents of crime to report on recent events, or exploits incidents in other countries to stoke fear about immigrant crime in Sweden. For example, a March 8 Breitbart article fearmongered about the takeover of Malmö due to “mass migration, predominantly from Middle Eastern nations” to claim that the the city’s longtime residents are leaving the city, possibly due to an “explosion in crime” and “warring gangs.” But the words “warring gangs” are hyperlinked to another Breitbart article about these so-called gangs, which cites a Reuters article. Reuters makes no mention of whether the perpetrator of the gang shooting of a 16-year-old boy in Malmö was an immigrant.
Another Breitbart article, about a Swedish program to train asylum seekers from the Middle East to work in correctional facilities, acknowledges that “so far the program has not run into a glaring issue that plagues many prisons across Europe, the growth of radical Islam and radicalization of inmates,” before claiming that French and British prisons have becoming a “breeding ground for radical Islamic indoctrination.” But the training program is in Sweden, not France or Britain, and while it places recently arrived immigrants in jobs within prisons, these program participants are guards, not inmates. The article also claims, “In HMP Gartree, a maximum security prison in the UK, entire cell blocks are run under a variation of Islamic sharia law according to reports.” The words “Islamic sharia law” link to another Breitbart article, which cites a Sun article to claim “Muslim extremists … are running an entire [cell] block under sharia law.” However, the Sun quotes a prison spokesman in the U.K. saying, “There is no evidence to back-up any of these claims about HMP Gartree."
The exploitation of longstanding anti-Muslim tropes in the context of Swedish crime is merely the latest iteration of Breitbart’s anti-immigrant crusade in Europe. A false report Breitbart published in January alleging that a "mob" of Muslims attacked a German church spurred the German government to investigate what it deemed the “unprecedented proliferation” of fake news, a phenomenon which the Swedish prime minister recently mentioned as a concern his government is committed to investigating.
The Trump administration has drawn criticism for its seeming embrace of the anti-immigrant "alt-right" movement. The incoming Trump administration was criticized in December 2016 because "A senior member of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team and a delegation of US Republican and European lawmakers canceled a briefing  with Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely over a refusal to allow a Swedish far-right member of the group into the meeting[.]" Nevertheless, President Trump in January gave former Breitbart head Stephen Bannon a seat on the National Security Council's principals committee, which affords him access to meetings with senior-most national security officials. While Bannon is no longer formally associated with the outlet, according to a former Breitbart spokesperson, the site is still heavily influenced by Bannon’s editorial guidance.
Trump’s baseless February 18 claim about immigrants committing crimes in Sweden is just one more example of how his administration both validates outlets like Breitbart and mainstreams “alt-right” narratives under the guise of keeping Americans safe.
Investigators Are “Exploring Whether The Far-Right News Operations Took Any Actions To Assist Russia’s Operatives”
According to a report from McClatchy, the FBI is investigating Russia’s use of “bots” to push pro-Trump news stories on Facebook and Twitter from conservative websites and “Kremlin-backed RT News and Sputnik News.”
The March 20 article from McClatchy reported that “[o]peratives for Russia appear to have strategically timed the computer commands, known as ‘bots,’ to blitz social media with links to pro-Trump stories.” The “bots” pushed stories that mixed fact and fiction from “conservative sites such as Breitbart News and Infowars, as well as on the Kremlin-backed RT News and Sputnik News.” From the March 20 report:
Federal investigators are examining whether far-right news sites played any role last year in a Russian cyber operation that dramatically widened the reach of news stories — some fictional — that favored Donald Trump’s presidential bid, two people familiar with the inquiry say.
Operatives for Russia appear to have strategically timed the computer commands, known as “bots,” to blitz social media with links to the pro-Trump stories at times when the billionaire businessman was on the defensive in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, these sources said.
The bots’ end products were largely millions of Twitter and Facebook posts carrying links to stories on conservative internet sites such as Breitbart News and InfoWars, as well as on the Kremlin-backed RT News and Sputnik News, the sources said. Some of the stories were false or mixed fact and fiction, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the bot attacks are part of an FBI-led investigation into a multifaceted Russian operation to influence last year’s elections.
Investigators examining the bot attacks are exploring whether the far-right news operations took any actions to assist Russia’s operatives. Their participation, however, wasn’t necessary for the bots to amplify their news through Twitter and Facebook.
As for the bots, they carried links not only to news stories but also to Democratic emails posted on WikiLeaks, especially those hacked from Podesta and made public in October, said Philip Howard, a professor at the Oxford University Internet Institute who has researched the bot attacks.
Howard said that, as an example, bots had spread links to fictional stories that accused Clinton of involvement in running a child-sex ring in the basement of a Washington pizza parlor. The posts inspired a North Carolina man to drive to Washington and fire an assault weapon in the restaurant, according to police reports.
Howard’s study of bot-generated Twitter traffic during last fall’s Trump-Clinton campaign debates showed that bot messages favorable to Trump significantly outnumbered those sympathetic to Clinton.
The Thomas Reuters Foundation spotlighted the State Department’s decision to send a representative of an anti-LGBTQ hate group as one of the U.S.’s public delegates to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
The State Department announced on March 13 that one of the U.S.’s two public delegates to the 61st session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women would be Lisa Correnti, executive vice president for the Center for Family & Human Rights (C-FAM). The commission -- described on its website as “the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women” -- is being held at the U.N. headquarters in New York, NY, from March 13 through 24.
Founded in 1997 to “monitor and affect the social policy debate at the United Nations,” C-FAM -- formerly known as the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute -- has been designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for five years due to its extreme rhetoric and spread of demonizing lies about LGBTQ people. C-FAM president Austin Ruse has proven himself so extreme that another anti-gay hate group cut ties with him in 2014 after Ruse said that liberal academics "should all be taken out and shot." Ruse has also served as a resident anti-gay columnist for Breitbart.com, where he voiced his support for laws criminalizing homosexuality, peddled the debunked conspiracy theory that the hate crime murder of gay teen Matthew Shepard was a hoax, and used the anti-transgender slur “trannies” to mock a 15-year-old transgender girl.
Thomas Reuters Foundation -- the charitable arm of the Thomas Reuters news wire -- spotlighted C-FAM’s extremism and hate group designation in a March 15 article detailing C-FAM’s delegate status at the U.N. commission. The article also noted fears about the rollback of LGBTQ equality under President Donald Trump, who has surrounded himself with anti-LGBTQ extremists and hate group leaders. While not mentioned by the Reuters Foundation, the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group in the U.S. -- the Alliance Defending Freedom -- has had special consultative status at the U.N. since 2010.
From the March 15 Reuters Foundation article:
The Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM) was named this week by the U.S. State Department to attend the U.N.'s Commission on the Status of Women, an annual set of high-level meetings on women's equality and empowerment.
C-FAM has been listed as an anti-LGBT hate group by nonprofit civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for at least five years, said Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project.
The move comes as decisions by President Donald Trump's new administration raise fears of a rollback of LGBT rights.
Trump has voiced support for LGBT rights, but his administration has revoked federal guidelines that let transgender students to use bathrooms of their choice. Vice President Mike Pence has expressed staunch opposition to gay rights.
Beirich said the inclusion of C-FAM "is taking the State Department in a very ugly direction" and failing to address the violence and discrimination faced by LGBT people in some places.
Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, an LGBTI rights group, said C-FAM "regularly releases homophobic vitriol" on its website.
"Maybe the violent mentality that got C-FAM labeled a hate group successfully panders to their base, but the U.S. government must ensure protection for the world's most vulnerable people," Stern said in a statement. [Thomas Reuters Foundation, 3/15/17]
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.
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And By Trump's Fans, I Mostly Mean Breitbart
Breitbart.com is coming for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), and it's using the GOP health care bill that President Donald Trump supports to attack him.
Last night, the sycophantic pro-Trump site previously run by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon published audio of a House GOP conference call from last October in which Ryan said he was “not going to defend Donald Trump -- not now, not in the future.” Ryan was responding to the release of the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women.
Breitbart Washington bureau chief Matt Boyle’s write-up suggests that the audio was published to convince the president that he doesn’t owe Ryan anything. Boyle suggests the speaker “misled President Trump into believing that Ryan’s bill can pass Congress” and asserts that the legislation’s floundering “calls into question” whether Ryan “really understands how Trump won and how to win in general.”
Boyle further claims that “in conversations Breitbart News has had with no fewer than 15 other White House aides, including many on the press team, it is clear that the President and the senior Trump administration team are not happy with this bill’s lack of conservative support." He grants anonymity to one source, whom he quotes as saying: “The President gave Ryan a chance. If he doesn’t get his act together soon, the President will have no choice but to step in and fix this on his own. He’s the best negotiator on the planet, and if this were his bill not Ryan’s it would not be this much of a mess.”
In short, a right-wing Trump support site is providing the bill’s critics in the White House with a platform to push Trump away from the legislation he publicly supports by blaming it all on Ryan.
Last week, Business Insider reported that Boyle had defended a previous salvo against the health care bill by telling colleagues, “We are Breitbart. This is war. There are no sacred cows in war.” But a review of Breitbart’s reporting on the bill indicates that there is one sacred cow: the site’s support for Trump.
Trump and his administration officials have repeatedly expressed their fervent support for the House bill, which would result in tens of millions of Americans losing access to health insurance, according to a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. On Friday, the president devoted his weekly radio address to extolling the legislation’s virtues, and his aides fanned out across the Sunday morning political shows to talk up the bill and talk down its then-forthcoming CBO score. Trump has even reportedly threatened to back primary challenges against members of Congress who oppose it.
But as Boyle’s Monday night article indicates, Breitbart’s reporting has depicted the bill as Ryan’s creation and suggests that Ryan tricked Trump into supporting the GOP health care legislation.
Breitbart’s reporters are seeking out conservative opponents of the bill and giving them an opportunity to savage the legislation -- and Ryan. Their headlines include “Exclusive — Sarah Palin on Paul Ryan’s ‘RINO-Care’: ‘Socialized Medicine’; President Trump Will ‘Step In and Fix It’”; “Honeymoon Over: Speaker Paul Ryan Targets His Own Republicans, Not Democrats, with Ads on Health Care”; and “Exclusive — House Freedom Caucus Not Budging, Official Position Is for Full Repeal Alternative to Paul Ryan’s Obamacare 2.0.”
Breitbart’s framing accomplishes several goals. It allows the website to continue its long war against Ryan under the imprimatur of trying to protect Trump. Its reporters have free rein to go after legislation that their audience hates, without tarnishing the image of the president their audience loves. And this line of attack neatly sidesteps the fundamental reality that conservatives want to repeal Obamacare and their only potential plans to replace it would necessarily deprive tens of millions of people of access to health care.
Breitbart may be paving the way, but many of the president’s other leading media allies have adopted the same argument.
On yesterday’s The Five, Fox News' Eric Bolling said that it’s time to “scrap” the health care bill, claiming that “Paul Ryan and the rest of the leadership pulled the wool over President Trump’s eyes.”
Last night, Fox News' Sean Hannity claimed that Trump “has not really been well served by the Republican party in the House or the Senate, and this public civil war that is going on makes the G.O.P. Congress -- after having eight years to get their act together -- look like they were ill-prepared for this big moment.” He called on all Republican factions to “hammer out a consensus bill.”
Over on Fox Business, Lou Dobbs fulminated that “This piece of junk won’t accomplish a single thing that the president has promised the American people. And only Paul Ryan would have the affrontery, the arrogance, and the incompetence to put a bill like that in front of the president.” He added that Trump “has got to overcome this kind of idiocy in the leadership of the House of Representatives and the Republican Party. I mean, come on!”
Donald Trump cannot fail. He can only be failed.