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Inside Bannon's next campaign: Keep the House to save Trump

Michael Isikoff
Chief Investigative Correspondent
Yahoo News
Sam Nunberg, Steve Bannon (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Zach Gibson/Getty Images, Sean Gallup/Getty Images, AP)

Former Trump campaign chief Steve Bannon is set to roll out a political nonprofit aimed at rallying the president’s political base with the message that if Democrats capture control of the House in this fall’s midterms, “they’re going to impeach him,” says a Bannon associate.

Sam Nunberg, a onetime Trump political adviser who is now working with Bannon on the project, says in an interview for the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery” that the goal of the new organization is to “educate the public” that the real Democratic goal is to “undo the outcome” of the 2016 election.

“The message is: This is Donald Trump’s reelect, in a nutshell,” Nunberg says in the interview with this reporter and Yahoo News Editor in Chief Daniel Klaidman. “They [the Democrats] will undo your election. Adam Schiff, Robert Mueller — they will undo the outcome, and they will make it a crime for the Republican to win.”

The new group will be announced late next week on the anniversary of Bannon’s departure from the White House. He left after a series of provocative comments that annoyed the president — such as his prediction that Mueller’s prosecutors will “crack” Donald Trump Jr. “like an egg” — and made his position as a senior presidential adviser untenable.

Much about the new organization — including its name and, more important, its financial resources  — remains unclear. But Bannon previewed the new setup in a recent Vanity Fair interview  that revealed the existence of a “shadow political operation” of Trump advisers in regular communication with the president — including, besides Nunberg, former deputy campaign chief David Bossie and ex-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. (Echoing Nunberg, Bannon, who does not speak directly to the president, told the magazine: “This election is very simple. It’s an up or down vote on impeachment.”)

Nunberg fleshed out some of the details in the Skullduggery interview. The group has been formed as a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization that can spend money on political “issue ads” without publicly identifying its donors, so long as the ads don’t explicitly say to “vote for” or “vote against” a particular candidate. (Under a new Treasury Department ruling, such groups will no longer even have to identify donors in tax returns filed with the IRS.)

“We are an umbrella organization where we can provide guidance and education, and help these other [political] groups understand the way they should be campaigning and helping,” Nunberg explained.

Underlying the group’s thinking is that the Republican Congress can’t run on its accomplishments — because there haven’t been any, at least any that have traction with most Trump voters.

“This should not be a referendum on the Republican House and how they have done,” Nunberg said. “This should not be a referendum on the Republican Senate because, trust me, if it is, they’re going to lose. This is a referendum on Donald Trump.”

Download or subscribe on iTunes: “Skullduggery” by Yahoo News

As Nunberg and Bannon see it, the Democrats’ secret goal — to impeach the president but avoid talking about it for now — was revealed in a recent “Skullduggery” interview with Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a leading critic of Trump’s role in the Russia scandal.

In the interview,  Schiff expressed his reluctance to talk about impeachment, in part because of concerns that it would fire up Trump’s supporters for the fall elections. “There is a reason Donald Trump is the foremost advocate of his own impeachment,” Schiff said. “And the reason is he knows it energizes his base.” (You can listen to the clip from Schiff’s interview here.)

Nunberg’s role in the new pro-Trump organization is especially ironic. Although he was an early political adviser to the Trump campaign and helped orchestrate the president’s attention-getting announcement of his candidacy, he was fired by the candidate four times. Trump even sued Nunberg for $10 million in 2016, claiming he leaked information to the media in violation of a confidentiality agreement. (The suit was settled out of court.)

Nunberg has since been hauled by special counsel Robert Mueller before a federal grand jury and grilled for six hours, largely about his association with another longtime Trump adviser, Roger Stone, who seemed to possess advance knowledge of leaks that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “He’s going to get indicted,” Nunberg predicted about Stone. “I could be wrong, but I think they’ll make him somehow part of … the conspiracy charge.”

Nunberg at times expressed regret about his long association with Trump. “I looked at him as an uncle. And he just threw me under the bus,” he said about his on-again, off-again relationship with the Trump campaign and Trump’s repeated firings. “It was a traumatic experience. I had lived to do that campaign.”

But Nunberg said it also gave him a bond with Bannon, who was also fired by Trump. “After the way he treated Steve, I called Steve up the next day,” he said. “And I said, ‘How you doing, Steve? [Trump] is such a disloyal piece of s***.’”

“And Steve said to me, ‘Listen, he got us here. He’s the only one that could’ve won on what we believe in, and I don’t take it personally. Don’t worry about it. Let’s move on and see what we can do.’”

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More “Skullduggery” from Yahoo News:

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