Taking a cue from its favorite thin-skinned presidential candidate, reality show billionaire Donald Trump, Breitbart News is threatening legal action against prominent critics who, until recently, worked for the right-wing populist website.
Unless they cease and desist from slamming Breitbart News on television and other media for the site’s allegedly unethical relationship with the Trump campaign, Breitbart’s management is vowing to sue the naysayers.
According to multiple sources, the saber-rattling letters arrived Monday from Breitbart’s outside counsel, Los Angeles attorney Harrison J. Dossick, to former employees-turned-detractors of the Trump-friendly site, including former public relations consultant Kurt Bardella, and ex-writers Ben Shapiro and Michelle Fields. Dossick didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.
In a public manifestation of internal turmoil at Breitbart—which some have called a civil war—the news site experienced two more high-profile resignations: that of national security reporter Jordan Shachtel and associate editor Jarrett Stepman, both of whom quit with bitter blasts at Breitbart’s leaders.
“Some of us have been fighting behind the scenes against the party-line Trump propaganda for some time, but without any success, unfortunately,” Schachtel said in a statement. “I signed my contract to work as a journalist, not as a member of the Donald J. Trump for President media network.”
Stepman, meanwhile, said: “I believe Breitbart News is becoming less of a news site and more of a propaganda organization dedicated to the Trump campaign.”
Bardella, Shapiro and Fields—who declined to comment on the legal threats—have made high-profile television appearances on CNN and the Fox News Channel in recent days, condemning Breitbart’s senior management, including Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon and Washington political editor Matthew Boyle, for their handling of an incident last Tuesday.
The night of the Michigan and Mississippi primaries, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski grabbed Fields and yanked her away from the candidate—leaving bruises on her left arm—as she was attempting to conduct an interview.
Recently released video of the encounter clearly shows the Trump campaign manager laying hands on the Breitbart reporter as he appears to pull her away from Trump while the candidate exited a victory rally/news conference at the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida.
After offering tepid public support for Fields—who ultimately filed a misdemeanor complaint against Lewandowski with the Jupiter police department—the site published stories questioning her account of what happened while Trump claimed she “made it up” and Lewandowski tweeted that she is an “attention-seeker” and “delusional.”
According to a witness to a conference call with Bannon last Wednesday, as the controversy was reaching a boiling point, the notoriously foul-mouthed Bannon erupted over a story in The Daily Beast that recounted a version of Boyle’s late-night communication with Lewandowski, in which the campaign manager admitted to the political editor that he had grabbed Fields, but didn’t realize she was Breitbart reporter.
“That f*****g c**t,” Bannon allegedly said, referring to Fields. Bannon, who until recently was responsive to Daily Beast inquiries, didn’t reply to a detailed text message outlining this anecdote.
Appearing with Shapiro Monday night on Fox News’s The Kelly File—her second interview with Megyn Kelly to discuss the incident—the 28-year-old Fields said she resigned from Breitbart on Monday because “I realized that my company didn’t have my back. I can’t stand with a company that won’t stand for me.”
She added: “They knew the truth from the very beginning. My editor as soon as it happened had spoken to Corey. He told me that Corey has admitted to it and I was getting an apology so I stayed quiet. I wasn’t going to make a big deal about it...I never got the apology. Instead they embarked on this smear campaign against me.”
When Kelly pointed out that Lewandowski has denied he ever had such a conversation with Boyle, and Boyle has gone out of his way to back up the Trump aide’s denial, Fields replied: “Well, let’s see what he says if, God forbid, we have to go to court and he’s subpoenaed and has to be on the stand testifying under oath.”
On the same broadcast, Shapiro, who was an editor at large for Breitbart, explained his resignation this way: “The fact is that Breitbart has unfortunately become a Trump Pravda site.”
He added that the incident’s aftermath showed that Breitbart was more loyal to Trump than to its own journalists.
“That is not something I can back, that’s not something anybody decent should back,” Shapiro continued, “and I’m disgusted by the fact that my mentor Andrew Breitbart”—the late founder for the site who died in 2012—“started this organization to fight bullies and, in my opinion, this organization has turned into an organization that actually promote bullies in order to get close contact with the bullying campaign.”
Bardella—who in an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon last week accused Breitbart of lying about the primary-night incident—appeared on Fox News earlier in the day, saying that “one of the key reasons why I decided to resign working with Breitbart last week is because of their allegiance to Donald Trump and Breitbart’s become a de facto Super PAC for the Donald Trump campaign.”