Steve Bannon recruiting rabble-rousers to take on GOP establishment

When Steve Bannon left the Trump administration in August, he said he could do more to shake up Washington from outside the White House than from inside.

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Now, it looks as if Bannon’s plan is coming together.

Bannon has been recruiting and promoting challengers to GOP incumbents and the party’s preferred candidates in next year’s midterm elections.

It’s an insurgency that could give Washington the jolt it needs to end years of stagnation and gridlock — and get the U.S. moving again.

But it could also imperil Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

The emerging Bannon class of rabble-rousers share limited ideological ties but have a common intent to upend Washington and knock out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., standard-bearer of the establishment.

It’s a crop of candidates that unnerves a GOP that lost seats — and a shot at the Senate majority — in 2010 and 2012 with political novices and controversial nominees and fears a stinging repeat in 2018.

“The main thing that binds them together is a rejection of the Republican Party establishment, a rejection of the political elites, the financial elites and the media elites,” said Andy Surabian, a former Bannon aide and senior adviser to the pro-Trump PAC Great America Alliance.

“The main thing that binds them together is a rejection of the Republican Party establishment, a rejection of the political elites, the financial elites and the media elites.”

– Andy Surabian, senior adviser to the Great America Alliance, a pro-Trump political action committee

Bannon helped elevate twice-suspended Judge Roy Moore, who won an Alabama runoff over McConnell’s pick, Sen. Luther Strange.

Moore was removed from office for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from Alabama’s judicial building and then suspended for insisting probate judges refuse same-sex couples marriage licenses.

Moore faces Democrat Doug Jones in a December election where polls show a single-digit lead for the Republican, a remarkable development in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ heavily GOP state.

“We don’t have leadership. We have followership,” Moore said Friday at the Values Voter Summit where he argued for scrapping the health care law with no replacement.

In West Virginia, the grassroots conservative group Tea Party Express endorsed Patrick Morrissey, also a Great America Alliance choice, over establishment favorite Rep. Evan Jenkins in a competitive race to unseat Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.

Senate Republicans had been upbeat about adding to their 52-48 majority, especially with Democrats defending more seats in 2018, including 10 in states Trump won in last year’s presidential election. But the Bannon challenge could cost them, leaving incumbents on the losing end in primaries or GOP candidates roughed up for the general election.

Consider Mississippi, where state Sen. Chris McDaniel lost to veteran Sen. Thad Cochran in 2014, but is weighing a bid next year against Roger Wicker, the state’s other senator in the national legislature.

McDaniel misdefined “mamacita,” the Spanish word for mommy as “hot mama,” and said he would withhold his tax payments if the government paid reparations for slavery. He also was forced to denounce a supporter who photographed and posted an image of Cochran’s bed-ridden wife.

He argued in court that his 2014 loss was due in part to African Americans fraudulently voting in the primary. He’s back again and speaking in Bannon terms.

“They will do anything, they will say anything, to just maintain a hold on power,” McDaniel said in an Associated Press interview about McConnell and his allies.

He’s already envisioning the theme of a challenge against Wicker.

“On one side, a liberty-minded, constitutional conservative. On the other side, Wicker and McConnell,” he said.

In Arizona, former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who is challenging Trump antagonist Sen. Jeff Flake, remains known for entertaining the debunked theory that jet aircraft are used to intentionally affect the weather or poison people.

In 2015, she gave conflicting answers about her beliefs after holding a public hearing she said was to answer constituents’ questions. But John McCain used it to marginalize her in his winning GOP Senate primary against her, and McConnell reprised it in August in a web ad which referred to her as “chemtrail Kelli.”

Former New York Rep. Michael Grimm, who spent eight months in prison for federal tax evasion, is challenging two-term Rep. Dan Donovan — with the encouragement of Bannon.

In announcing his candidacy, Grimm was apologetic for his conviction. Still out there are viral videos of him famously telling a television reporter during an on-camera interview at the U.S. Capitol after a question he didn’t like: “You ever do that to me again, I’ll throw you off this (expletive) balcony.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is sticking with the incumbent: “I support Dan Donovan, plain and simple,” Ryan said this week.

But he stopped short of suggesting Bannon stand down. “It’s a free country,” he said.

In Nevada, Bannon is encouraging Republican Danny Tarkanian in his challenge to GOP Sen. Dean Heller. Tarkanian, son of famed basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, is zero-for-five in state and federal elections.

These outsiders share strong opposition to increasing the nation’s debt even if it means an economy-rattling default and unsparing criticism of congressional Republicans, especially McConnell, for failing to dismantle the Obama-era health care law, an unfulfilled seven-year-old promise.

In Wyoming, Erik Prince, founder of security contractor Blackwater, is considering a Republican primary challenge to Sen. John Barrasso, a senior member of the Senate GOP leadership team. Bannon has urged Prince, brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, to run.

Bannon has given at least one Senate incumbent — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — a pass, but others are in his cross-hairs.

“Nobody’s safe. We’re coming after all of them,” Bannon said during a Fox News interview Wednesday. “And we’re going to win.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Courtesy: Fox News

Moral outrage shrouds reality of Russian hacking case

Moral outrage shrouds reality of Russian hacking case
© Getty

In a time of virtually complete political polarization, there is one point upon which both parties appear to agree: moral outrage at the notion of Russian attempts to influence our election.

There are bipartisan demands for a special prosecutor and a full criminal investigation.  However, while the outrage is most evident, the alleged crime is more difficult to discern.  Before we order a massive independent investigation, it might be useful to examine both the basis for the self-evident outrage and the less-than-evident crime.

Moral outrage as political necessity

As our politicians went on the air to vent their disgust over Russians trying to influence our election, there was an interesting study published this month on moral outrage in an academic journal, Motivation and Emotion.  The researchers found that moral outrage is rooted, not in altruism, but self-interest — often to affirm one’s own status and avoiding responsibilities or guilt.

“Individuals,” the study notes, “respond to reminders of their group’s moral culpability with feelings of outrage at third-party harm-doing.”  The most astonishing aspect of this study is that it was not done entirely on Capitol Hill.

Many other countries can be forgiven if they are a bit confused by the expressions of outrage at the notion that Russia hacked emails or tried to influence our election.  The United States objecting to hacking or influencing elections is akin to Bernie Sanders expressing disgust over accounting irregularities.

The United States has not only extensively engaged in surveillance in other countries but hacked the accounts of our closest allies, including the personal communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  Moreover, our country has a long history of direct interference in foreign elections from overthrowing governments to funding opposition movements.

One study found 81 different instances of the United States interfering with the elections of other countries between 1946 and 2000. We learned from the best; foreign interference in our country goes back to 1700s when France and Britain actively sought to influence our early governments.

Democratic leadership have a particular interest in expressing moral outrage over the election. The extent to which the election becomes an example of “third-party harm-doing,” the less attention will be drawn toward the party establishment which virtually anointed Hillary Clinton as their candidate despite polls showing that voters wanted someone outside of the establishment.

Not only did they select the single greatest establishment figure, but someone with record negative polling.  “The Russians did it” is a much better narrative.

Of course, the Russians did not “hack the election.”  No votes were fabricated.  Indeed, there is no proof of emails being fabricated (despite the claims of some Democratic leaders like Donna Brazile at the time).  The reason the public has not risen up in anger is that it is hard to get the public outraged over being shown the duplicitous and dishonest character of their leaders — even if the release was clearly one-sided against Democrats.

The public has every right to be outraged, but the outrage of our government officials would make Claude Reins blush.

Moral outrage in search of a crime

In the end, Russian attempts to influence our election should be a matter of national concern and investigation, though we would be in a far superior position if we acknowledged our own checkered past in such efforts.  However, the call for a “Special Counsel” or “independent prosecutor” seems a bit premature since we do not have a clear crime other than the hacking itself (which has already been confirmed).

Clearly the Russians hacked DNC emails but we do not need a special counsel to confirm extensive hacking operations by a host of different countries. It is like complaining about the weather.

Dana Boente, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia (and the acting deputy attorney general), could determine that an investigation by the Justice Department would still present a conflict of interest even after the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  The process for the appointment of special counsels through the courts lapsed in 1999.  Thus, the current standard would involve Boente determining that the “criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted” and must be done outside of the Department.  But what is the crime under investigation?

The suggestions that Sessions committed perjury are far-fetched and unsupported.

Some have suggested violations of the Logan Act. However, that 1799 law concerns calls for the fine or imprisonment of private citizens who attempt to intervene in disputes or controversies between the United States and foreign governments.  It has never been used to convict a United States citizen and does not appear material to these allegations.  If there were monetary payments to influence the election, that would constitute a crime but there has yet to be evidence such crimes.

Finally, there do appear to have been criminal leaks during and after the election.  However, those are insular, conventional matters for investigation by the Justice Department.

We generally do not start special counsel investigations absent a clear articulated and supportable criminal allegation.  There are a host of obvious political or policy concerns that could be the subject of an independent investigation by a commission or joint legislative/executive effort.  There are real concerns over conflicts in the current administration given the focus on the presidential election.

Yet, we are simply likely to confirm much of what we know: we were hacked.  We are also likely to confront what many do not want to discuss: we have hacked others for years.

Until there is more evidence of a crime by United States citizens, there is little reason for a special counsel as opposed to the current investigations.  We should investigate the hacking and efforts to influence our elections, certainly. But our politicians may want to leave the moral outrage and hypocrisy behind.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and teaches a course on the Constitution and the Supreme Court.


The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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