Barely a week into the job, Donald Trump’s new campaign CEO is already facing harsh scrutiny over a 20-year-old domestic-violence charge and an allegation of voter-registration fraud.
On Thursday night, the New York Post and other outlets reported that Stephen Bannon was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery, and dissuading a witness in 1996, after an altercation with his then-wife in Santa Monica, California. According to a police report, Bannon’s spouse said he pulled at her neck and wrist. A spokesman told Politico that Bannon was never questioned by police and pleaded not guilty. The charges were dropped around the time that the couple divorced later that year. In divorce proceedings, she outlined several vulgarities Bannon allegedly used.
Early Friday morning, Guardian US added its own bombshell: Bannon and another ex-wife are registered to vote at a vacant house in Florida, a key swing state. That registration could be a violation of election laws, representing voter fraud:
Stephen Bannon, the chief executive of Trump’s election campaign, has an active voter registration at the house in Miami-Dade County, Florida, which is vacant and due to be demolished to make way for a new development.
“I have emptied the property,” Luis Guevara, the owner of the house, which is in the Coconut Grove section of the city, said in an interview. “Nobody lives there … we are going to make a construction there.” Neighbors said the property had been abandoned for several months.
Bannon, 62, formerly rented the house for use by his ex-wife, Diane Clohesy, but did not live there himself. Clohesy, a Tea Party activist, moved out of the house earlier this year and has her own irregular voting registration arrangement. According to public records, Bannon and Clohesy divorced seven years ago.
The Trump campaign said simply that Bannon had moved to another location in Florida.
The fact that Bannon’s registration is not on the up-and-up is particularly damaging because Trump has in recent weeks been warning that “rigged” elections and voter fraud were “the only way we can lose” the election. Concerns about voter fraud, often with racial overtones, are a longstanding feature of American politics. More recently, a long string of states have worked to impose stricter voter requirements, eliminating or cutting same-day registration and early voting or requiring voters to show photo ID.
But voting experts point out that there are virtually no documented cases of in-person voter fraud, where someone shows up and votes in someone else’s name. More common are cases where someone is registered at an address where they don’t live—just like Bannon. It’s not altogether uncommon for people to have failed to update old registrations, but it’s particularly embarrassing for Bannon, since he is running a presidential campaign, no less one that is warning about widespread fraud. Moreover, the Guardian reports that Bannon may have previously registered at an address in Florida where he did not live. Wilfullly providing false voter-registration information in Florida is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Bannon also lives in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. According to tax records, the D.C. residence “is actually owned by Mostafa El-Gindy, an Egyptian businessman and former member of parliament. Gindy has received favorable coverage from Breitbart News, which styles him as a ‘senior statesman.’”
Not only is the whiff of voter fraud an embarrassing disclosure for a campaign that has railed against it, but the domestic-violence charges make Bannon the latest figure on the Trump campaign embroiled in misogyny and violence. Trump himself has been accused of misogyny over the years, and his ex-wife Ivana even alleged marital rape, though she has since withdrawn the claim. Roger Ailes, the former Fox News CEO who was recently ousted after a long string of allegations of sexual harassment emerged, has also reportedly become an adviser to Trump. The Republican nominee trails badly among women, with sky-high unfavorable ratings. A recent Quinnipiac poll showed Clinton leading among women 60-36, while an NBC/Survey Monkey poll showed a 56-35 Clinton lead.
Bannon, who until August 17 was CEO of the Breitbart news organization, was brought into the reeling Trump campaign to replace Paul Manafort. Manafort had become politically toxic, as an accelerating number of stories explored his work for Kremlin-aligned former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort may have violated U.S. law by failing to register as a foreign agent, some experts believe. While Manafort was initially said to be remaining as campaign chairman, Trump had reportedly lost faith in his strategic counsel and he resigned two days after Bannon’s appointment.
Manafort, in turn, was hired as a counterweight to and later a replacement for Corey Lewandowski, the political operative who joined the Trump campaign in its early days. But Lewandowski was pushed aside and later fired, beset by the campaign’s struggles at winning delegates but also by Lewandowski’s repeated physical altercations on the trail. In the most high-profile case, Lewandowski grabbed then-Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields at a rally in Florida, then denied he had done so. Although a prosecutor declined to bring charges, video evidence showed Lewandowski had lied about the encounter.
Bannon already seems to carry as much baggage as his predecessors. In addition to the domestic-violence charges and the voter-fraud allegation, Democrat Hillary Clinton made Bannon and Breitbart a central piece of her blistering indictment of Trump’s ties to white supremacists and nationalists and the “alt-right” in a speech Thursday. The good news for Trump is that by now he’s accustomed to dealing with campaign-manager controversies.