Billionaire GOP megadoner Rebekah Mercer on Thursday issued a rare rebuke of onetime chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, who was formerly a major beneficiary of the Mercer family’s sprawling investments.
"I support President [Donald] Trump and the platform upon which he was elected," Mercer said in a statement, the Washington Post reports. "My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements.”
SCOOP: The Mercers split from Steve Bannon was so complete — & so bitter — that they cut off funding for Bannon's p… https://t.co/VBS3dwcW5q— Kenneth P. Vogel (@Kenneth P. Vogel) 1515108042.0
Mercer’s decision to publicly distance her family from Bannon comes amid a firestorm of headlines generated by the forthcoming Michael Wolff book, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” In that book, Bannon made a number of explosive comments about Trump, his family and his administration, prompting the White House to issue a statement calling the president’s former top aide “crazy.”
Mercer said she still supports—and will retain her minority stake in—Breitbart News, the conservative website that propelled Bannon to the forefront of American politics. According to the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart’s board is likewise considering ousting the site’s executive chairman.
This is not not the first time a member of the Mercer family has moved to publicly disavow Bannon. Rebekah Mercer obtained her minority stake in Breitbart News back in November, after she purchased it from her father, Robert Mercer. That decision came after BuzzFeed published a detailed account linking Bannon, Breitbart and far-right agent provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos to white nationalists.
"I have great respect for Mr. Bannon, and from time to time I do discuss politics with him," Robert Mercer wrote in a letter to his colleagues explaining his decision to sell his stake in Breitbart to his daughters. "However, I make my own decisions with respect to whom I support politically. Those decisions do not always align with Mr. Bannon's."
On the surface, the Mercer machine’s slow disavowal of Bannon appears prompted by isolated and unpredictable incidents: BuzzFeed’s exposé, Wolff’s “Fire and Fury.” But as Wolff reports in his forthcoming book, the Mercer’s public distancing from Bannon comes as billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel is reportedly mulling the creation of a conservative news network—and discussing that idea with the Mercers. Thiel and the Mercers were major donors to Trump’s presidential campaign. Similarly, Thiel and Rebekah Mercer both served on Trump’s transition team following the election
According to two sources, Thiel—who sits on the board of Facebook—has been looking into creating a media organization to rival Fox News since that network’s former chairman Roger Ailes died in May 2017.
“The plan, according to Wolff, was that Thiel — a rare tech mogul who openly supported Trump — would pay for the network. Ailes would come along and bring loyal Fox News talent Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, who was forced out at Fox last year following reports about settlements he had reached with multiple women.
… One person close to Thiel said he was not aware of his plans to create a news network, and was surprised when asked about the plan. That person noted that Thiel had said in private conversations that media companies were traditionally bad investments.”
But it wouldn’t be the first time Thiel made an investment in an attempt to shape the media landscape. In May 2016, Forbes reported that Thiel secretly bankrolled Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against the now-defunct Gawker in retaliation for the website having outed him as gay in 2007. That lawsuit eventually crippled the cult website and forced it into bankruptcy; the Paypal cofounder later declared his decision to fun Gawker’s demise, “one of my greater philanthropic things that I’ve done.”
In November 2017, Thiel filed a motion in the bankruptcy court of the Southern District of New York, arguing the court is unfairly excluding him from the sale of Gawker. The court filing makes clear Thiel’s interest in purchasing the now-defunct website, insisting he’s the “most able and logical purchaser.”
Meanwhile, the Mercers have donated to a number of conservative research organizations that fund and produce digital and printed media, including the Media Research Center (which runs the conservative websites CNSNEws.com and Newsbusters), the Government Accountability Institute (which produces the Clinton Cash series and has links to Breitbart), and of course, Breitbart itself.
In November, it was also reported that Robert Mercer has donated to James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, a shady activist organization known for deceptively editing videos that target progressive organizations. Breitbart often hypes videos published by Project Veritas and O'Keefe.