Just when you think things can’t possibly get any weirder. Not to mention, when you thought you put to bed one of the stranger Senate election campaigns in recent memory…The Washington Post reports (if you are denied access by a firewall, try this link) that during the Roy Moore Senate campaign, Breitbart News was an accessory to an attempt to bribe an Alabama lawyer representing one of Moore’s female victims. Leigh Corfman was one of the first women to come forward to recount her experiences at Moore’s hands when she was a teenage girl. She told her story to the Washington Post, which broke the original story with several women who came forward to report Moore’s abusive behavior. Corfman, who knew the attorney, Eddie Sexton, hired him to handle the media inquiries expected after her she went public.
After agreeing to take her on as a client, Sexton was approached by two local businessmen who owned a construction company. The two partners played an instrumental role in the Moore campaign and accompanied the candidate to many of his appearances. One of the businessmen had previously hired Sexton to represent him during bankruptcy proceedings and a lawsuit. The former approached the attorney and asked to meet him.
Sexton didn’t know what the subject of the meeting would be. When he arrived, he expected to see the two individuals he knew. Instead, he found them in the room along with two individuals he didn’t know. They turned out to be two journalists working for Breitbart News. One of them was Aaron Klein, Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief. Klein has reported for various legitimate, semi-legitimate and illegitimate publications including the NY Daily News, the far-right crackpot site, Word News Daily (WND), and Time Magazine. His Israel-related reporting consists of lurid, heavily embellished reports of Islamist terrorism targeting Israel.
Media Matters wrote this about Klein’s work:
Klein is utterly devoid of credibility — he’s a conspiracy theorist who claims President Obama has an “eligibility problem,” says Obama may be a Muslim who “might be with” Al-Qaeda given his “Islamic background,” and previously authored books about Obama being a “Manchurian President” deserving of impeachment.
I’ve written several posts referencing Klein’s journalistic misadventures here for anyone wanting more.
It’s no surprise that when Steve Bannon announced his ambitious expansion involving opening “bureaus” in several international cities, Jerusalem was one of them. As the media outlet which specialized in trumpeting the threat Islam posed to western civilization, Jerusalem was naturally on the front lines of this crusade. And who better to lead the charge than Klein, whose reporting focused on just such yellow Islamophobic journalism. But what was Klein doing in Alabama? I’ve tweeted asking him some of these questions. Unsurprisingly, he hasn’t replied.
When Sexton arrived at the meeting, he was shown a handwritten statement which the participants asked him to sign. It said that he had dropped Corfman as a client and no longer believed she was a credible source regarding the accusations. Sexton left the meeting with the statement in his pocket and without agreeing to sign it. Over the next few weeks, the local business partners barraged him with requests and reminders to sign the statement, which he refused to do. His main reason for doing so involved the danger it would pose to his law license. Lawyers are supposed to represent their client’s best interest. Dropping one and then bad mouthing her to the media posed a potential ethical violation that might endanger Sexton’s ability to practice law. Unfortunately, his loyalty to his client didn’t appear to play a major direct role in his decision.
Breitbart, which subsequent to the campaign, fired Bannon, released a response to the Post which stretches credulity:
A spokeswoman for Breitbart said the two reporters were not aware of any offer to pay Sexton or provide him with legal work and did not know who penned a handwritten statement he says he was asked to sign.
It beggars belief that two reporters sent to secure a major scoop and save Roy Moore’s skin would believe that Sexton was going to jeopardize his career for nothing. The local Moore supporters certainly knew that a bribe was being offered:
During a 20-minute interview at a construction site in Birmingham, Davi parried questions about money, saying his partner would know details of what was offered to Sexton. “That was between Eddie and Gary,” Davi said. Asked where the money would have come from, he said, “Probably Gary.”
Sexton also recorded a call with one of the men discussing the Breitbart reporters, who were surprise guests at the meeting, and the bribe:
“That’s the first time I met them today, and we just been talking with Bannon and then with Roy Moore and then with Rand Paul. We never met those guys until today,” Lantrip said in the recorded call, a copy of which was obtained by The Post. (A spokesman for Rand Paul said the senator does not know Davi or Lantrip and had no involvement in seeking the statement.)
“I mean, have y’all — have they already paid y’all money?” Sexton asked.
“No, just what I’m about to give you,” Lantrip replied.
We got the 10,” Lantrip said, pausing briefly, “dollars. We got that, but it, it don’t matter.”
It seems highly unlikely that two key figures in the Moore campaign, which was strongly endorsed by Steve Bannon and Breitbart News, would invent contacts with both Moore and Bannon. That casts doubt on the Breitbart denial. These journalists were in Alabama to cover the Moore campaign and crown him Steve Bannon’s made-senator after his victory. When the campaign was beset by rumors of Moore’s indiscretions, Breitbart swung into action. This was no longer journalism. This had become a hybrid between being an election “fixer” and a journalistic huckster. It might be territory familiar to Citizen Kane’s hero, Charles Foster Kane. But not to much of contemporary American journalism.
It also seems suspicious that a businessman would offer to pay a $10,000 bribe out of his own pocket, unless he’d been promised his “investment” would be profitable to him in the future. The only way for that to happen is if Moore or Bannon greased his palm in return. My guess is that the original source of the funds would be either one of them, but more likely Bannon. Or that they promised them ‘in-kind’ returns on his investment in the form of construction contracts, etc.
It seems preposterous that Sexton reported the bribe offer to the U.S. attorney in Birmingham, whose response was: ““We don’t find any applicable criminal provision in federal election law.” A lawyer is offered a bribe in order to save a U.S. Senate election campaign and the Justice Department doesn’t believe this would violate federal law? One wonders what it would take for the U.S. attorney to find there was such a violation? Perhaps a videotape of money changing hands? Or maybe even that wouldn’t be enough. I suspect that given the national attention devoted to this campaign, the feds wanted to avoid Sexton and his charges like a ten foot pole. If they announced an investigation it would further erode Moore’s campaign. As Republican appointees, that would not look good in Washington.
Whatever the reasons for inaction, the decision not to pursue the matter is reprehensible, though entirely understandable given how riven the Trump administration is by charges of malfeasance and corruption.