Steve Bannon spent the better part of this past weekend in an odd position. For almost a year and a half, he was able to make Republicans grovel before him rather than face the wrath of Breitbart. But that was before Breitbart’s main sugar mama, Rebekah Mercer, publicly cut ties with him over his less-than-flattering remarks about Donald Trump’s family and close advisers in Michael Wolff’s new book, “Fire and Fury.” Reportedly, Mercer was angling to have Bannon dumped as Breitbart’s chairman.
By Sunday, facing a torrent of criticism from both his own base and other conservative megadonors, Bannon was forced to abase himself before Trump, pledging “unwavering” support from Trump and his agenda. But there was a time when the Bannon-Mercer axis’ support for Trump wasn’t exactly “unwavering.” Back in 2015, a right-wing think tank helmed by Bannon and funded by the Mercers shopped opposition research alleging that Trump was in bed with the mob.
Media reports have floated around about Trump’s mob ties as early as the 1980s. Granted, it was next to impossible for a New York real estate mogul to avoid dealing with the Mafia in the 1980s; at one point, the Five Families had a near-monopoly on major construction contracts in the city. And of course, the casino business in the 1980s had the mob’s fingerprints all over it.
In 2015, the Government Accountability Institute, a conservative think tank, compiled an oppo dossier detailing Trump’s links to organized crime. Who was the GAI’s chairman at the time? Steve Bannon. He’d co-founded the GAI in 2012, and helmed both it and Breitbart until leaving to join the Trump campaign in August 2016. The Mercers were the GAI’s main funders, and were supporting Ted Cruz at the time the dossier was compiled. Rebekah Mercer took over as GAI’s chairwoman after Bannon left.
For some time, the GAI and Breitbart have had a particularly close relationship–so close, in fact, that in many cases, Breitbart articles have been little more than GAI press releases. Indeed, the close ties between Breitbart and the GAI were a major reason that Breitbart has been unable to get full press credentials to cover Congress; the Senate Press Gallery has been concerned about the potential conflicts of interest.
The New York Times first reported on this document on Friday, and CNN’s Evan Perez obtained a copy from a Republican source over the weekend. Watch Perez talk about that document here.
Perez told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin that much of the research in the dossier has been “seen in other places,” and included a number of news accounts from past years. He noted that it was rather striking that just a year before Bannon became operating head of the Trump campaign, and later went on to his brief tenure as the head of the White House political operation, he was actively working to cut the ground out from under Trump’s feet.
According to a Republican source familiar with the GAI’s past work, Bannon and the Mercer family were not involved in the “day-to-day machinations” of the research into the GAI dossier on Trump. However, they were well aware of efforts to blast it out to the media, as well as those donating to Trump’s rivals.
The man behind the GAI dossier on Trump was Peter Schweitzer–whom we already know as the author of the scurrilous anti-Hillary Clinton tome “Clinton Cash.” Schweitzer told CNN that the GAI delves into figures from all political parties, “and our basic premise is ‘follow the money.'”
Still, it’s very telling that less than a year before Bannon anointed Trump as the torchbearer for his nationalist vision, his own think tank was actively peddling information that was intended to head off the Trump train.
(featured image courtesy Gage Skidmore, available under a Creative Commons BY-SA license)