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.