Politics

Non-Partisan, but Not Neutral

Entertainment

Binge This

Half Full

Eat. Drink. Think.

Photo illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast
THE BEST PEOPLE

Team Trump Finally Disavows Pizzagate Theorist Who Boasted of Being on 2020 Board

Ann Vandersteel is way out there, even by Trumpland standards. But it still took 40 days for Team Trump to deny she was a part of the re-elect board.

A Pizzagate conspiracy theorist who believes that Hillary Clinton abuses children and that four out of five world leaders are pedophiles has spent the last few weeks promoting herself as a member of Donald Trump’s 2020 advisory board.

And for more than a month, Team Trump let Ann Vandersteel’s boasts stand. For more than 40 days, board members and campaign officials repeatedly refused to confirm or deny whether she was in fact affiliated.

Then, just as The Daily Beast was set to publish a story about her claims, a response from the board materialized.

At 10:32 p.m. on Tuesday, Mark Serrano, identifying himself as a “Trump Campaign Advisor,” sent a brief statement.

“We formed our advisory board in April of 2017, which now includes 19 tremendous advocates for President Trump,” the statement said. “Ann has not been, nor is she currently on the board.”

There was no word on why the response had taken so long, if there was a misunderstanding of some kind, or if anyone from the board or campaign has asked Vandersteel to cease and desist.

Vandersteel did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But her biography is riddled with reasons for Team Trump to run for the hills.

Vandersteel, president of the far-right media outlet YourVoice America, is firmly on the fringe.

She has tweeted that the nonsensical Pizzagate conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton and other high-ranking Democrats operate a pedophile sex dungeon out of a Washington, D.C. pizzeria is “all true” and “real.” Vandersteel has also promoted debunked 9/11 conspiracy theories, suggesting in January that a bomb brought down the World Trade Center’s Building 7 site. She has championed QAnon, the bizarre conspiracy theory that posits that Trump is engaged in a secret war with a global cabal of Democratic pedophiles. And she has claimed that nearly 80 percent of world leaders are pedophiles.

Even for Team Trump, which has attracted some interesting characters along the way, her views are extreme. But for over a month, the Trump campaign and its advisory board of media surrogates remained silent as she insisted she was an official part of the #MAGA team.  

Vandersteel, an associate of Trump sycophantic radio personality Bill Mitchell, has repeatedly claimed on-air to be a hand-picked member of the advisory board. Her LinkedIn page says that she’s part of the board. Vandersteel had also listed her presence on the board on her Twitter bio, only to delete that mention a few weeks ago.

The repeated references to board membership drew the attention of some outlets, including Right Wing Watch, when she began making them in mid-December. She made the same claim again this month in an appearance on a YouTube show devoted to analyzing QAnon, saying that she had been “selected” to be a “surrogate for the Trump campaign” and to do “these public television hits every now and then.”

The Daily Beast’s initial inquiries about Vandersteel were sent to Serrano, who acts as a point of contact for board members, as well as several senior 2020 Trump campaign officials, on December 12.

In the time since and up until this week, The Daily Beast has repeatedly reached out to seven people for this story and sent at least two dozen emails, phone calls, and messages asking for information and for comment. Almost all declined to comment on the record, ignored inquiries, or would not give a straight answer on if, at any point, Vandersteel had been a member or approached to be a part of the board.

On Tuesday afternoon, Marc Lotter, Vice President Mike Pence’s former press secretary and a prominent member of the 2020 board, told The Daily Beast that he was “not familiar with this person [Vandersteel], and not aware of their participation on the board.” Lotter stressed that he is not a spokesman for the Trump advisory board and directed further inquiries to Serrano.

Finally, on Tuesday evening, a person familiar with the Trump campaign’s operations—who would not agree to let their affiliation or name be made publicly known in this story—simply wrote: “The campaign’s advisory board was launched in April 2017, made up of tremendous advocates for President Trump, and currently consists of the following members below. Anyone else claiming to be a board member or official surrogate for the campaign at this time is mistaken.”

The source sent along a chart showing 19 members such as Pastor Darrell Scott, former governor of Arizona Jan Brewer, Jerry Falwell Jr., and former Trump economic adviser Steve Moore. Vandersteel is not listed.

Only hours later that night did Serrano ultimately decide to send a more definitive, on-the-record statement that actually addressed “Ann.”

The shambolic nature of the response to questions regarding the pro-Trump, Pizzagate-promoting online commentator is in part indicative of the fact that the Trump 2020 operation does not yet have an in-house, up-and-running communications and press apparatus. The top campaign brass are working to build out staff early this year, though no personnel announcements are forthcoming at this time.

However, former White House spokesman Raj Shah had preliminary discussions last year with Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner and campaign manager Brad Parscale about aiding the 2020 comms shop, two sources told The Daily Beast.

So far, it does not appear Shah has made the jump back to Team Trump. Earlier this month, he announced he had just landed a new gig at lobbying firm Ballard Partners.

Latest