Politico Magazine reported that figures within President Donald Trump’s inner circle, Roger Stone and Stephen Bannon, helped former Fox News chief Roger Ailes monitor and smear his adversaries, a practice Ailes engaged in for years.
Bannon, the former head of Breitbart who now serves as Trump's chief strategist, has a history of using his online platform to launch smear campaigns against his political opponents, including helping Breitbart staffer Peter Schweizer push the widely debunked Clinton Cash. Breitbart has also proved to be combative without Bannon at the helm, even going after Trump’s son-in-law to defend Bannon.
Stone, a long time Trump ally and former campaign staffer has a history of racist, misogynistic, and conspiratorial commentary. Stone is also under investigation for possible ties to Russia after law enforcement and intelligence officials “intercepted communications” between Stone and Russian officials.
Ailes left Fox News in 2016 after Gretchen Carlson and several other women who worked there said he had sexually harassed them. While at the network’s helm, Ailes had a history of spying on his employees and smearing his adversaries.
According to a Politico Magazine report Stone “was paid for off-air work that included keeping tabs on [New York magazine’s Gabriel] Sherman and publicly criticizing Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy” while Bannon “coordinated with Fox in Breitbart’s publication of negative stories about Sherman.” From the May 14 Politico Magazine report:
The network of operatives allegedly used by Ailes and other Fox executives to monitor and demean perceived threats also extends to Trump’s inner circle, according to several people with knowledge of those relationships. Trump’s longtime confidant Stone, a veteran practitioner of political dark arts, was paid for off-air work that included keeping tabs on Sherman and publicly criticizing Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, according to three people familiar with the arrangement.
“Stone would just write public articles when Ailes told him,” one of those people explained. In a March 2015 article for the Daily Caller, Stone accused Ruddy of being “in bed with the Clintons.” In an April 2015 piece for the publication, Stone attacked Ruddy for criticizing a Fox News special about the Clintons.
Stone said that his paid work for Fox consisted of writing Ailes “a shitload” of strategy memos about attracting more libertarian viewers and that his broadsides against Ruddy were motivated by anger over Ruddy’s donations to the Clinton Foundation, not monetary inducements.
Ailes’ lawyer said her client was unaware of any paid work performed by Stone. “Roger doesn’t know anything about payments to Mr. Stone, and believes the allegations are untrue,” she wrote in an email.
But three people familiar with the arrangement said Stone was also paid to keep tabs on Sherman as he worked on his biography of the Fox News chief. Stone said he was not paid to monitor Sherman but instead was motivated by friendship to act as a liaison between the two. “I would try to keep the two of them from killing each other because they’re both friends of mine,” he said. “They became obsessed with each other. It was really unhealthy. I think Gabe’s a great journalist. I think Roger Ailes is a genius.”
The network of allies Ailes employed to neutralize threats also extends into the White House itself, according to three people familiar with the situation who said White House chief strategist Steve Bannon coordinated with Fox in Breitbart’s publication of negative stories about Sherman.
In the weeks before the release of Sherman’s biography, 2014’s “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” Bannon huddled inside a Fox News conference room with Ailes, Ailes’ personal attorney Peter Johnson Jr., pollster Pat Caddell and former Fox journalist Peter Boyer to discuss discrediting the book, according to two people familiar with the meetings. (None of the participants would comment on the record.) True to form, Bannon advocated an all-out “go to war” approach during these sessions, while Boyer advised a hands-off approach, according to one of those people. Bannon described the resulting attacks on Sherman as “love taps,” according to an acquaintance he later told about the meetings.
There is no indication that Bannon was paid to do this, though at the time he enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with Fox, which promoted his conservative documentaries. Ailes’ lawyer said that Breitbart’s coverage of Sherman was taken of its own initiative. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Bannon has also collaborated with Jim Pinkerton, a former Fox News contributor who for years authored the anonymous blog “The Cable Game” to tout Fox and attack its rivals on behalf of Ailes.