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Reports: New Trump Campaign CEO Faced Domestic Violence Charge In 1996

Stephen Bannon, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign CEO, at Trump's Hispanic advisory roundtable meeting in New York on Saturday.
Gerald Herbert
Stephen Bannon, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign CEO, at Trump's Hispanic advisory roundtable meeting in New York on Saturday.

Reports out Thursday night reveal yet another principal of the Trump campaign in trouble.

Newly appointed CEO Stephen K. Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, was charged in 1996 with domestic violence against his second wife, several news outlets reported. The charges were eventually dropped, and Bannon pleaded "not guilty."

The New York Times noted that, according to the police report of the incident, there were "allegations that he threatened his then wife, the accuser, with retribution if she testified in the criminal case. ... "

The New York Post first reported the news. NPR has not independently confirmed the charges, but Politico posted the full police report here.

Here's part of Politico's write-up:

"The Santa Monica, Calif., police report says that Bannon's then-wife claimed he pulled at her neck and wrist during an altercation over their finances, and an officer reported witnessing red marks on her neck and wrist to bolster her account. Bannon also reportedly smashed the phone when she tried to call the police. While the case ended when Bannon's ex-wife did not appear in court, the incident presents a new problem for the Trump campaign following the hiring of the controversial Bannon. ...

"According to the police report, on New Year's morning 1996, Bannon's then-wife asked for a credit card to go shopping, and they argued over whether she should just write a check. This quickly turned into a bigger argument about the couple's finances and future. 'She told him that maybe he should find another place to live, that she wanted a divorce. [REDACTED] said he laughed at her, and said he would never move out,' the report states."

NPR found Bannon was in some financial trouble at the time, with multiple federal and state tax liens against him, owing as much as $136,000 to the IRS. (More on those below.)

Alexandra Preate, a spokeswoman for Bannon, told Politico: "The bottom line is he has a great relationship with the twins, he has a great relationship with the ex-wife, he still supports them."

NPR reached out to the Trump campaign for a response. An email and phone call were not returned, as of Friday morning. (We will update if we hear back.)

Trouble at the top

Bannon, a controversial figure before entering the Trump campaign, is now the third Trump campaign chief to find himself in hot water. Trump's first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was charged with battery after videotape showed him grabbing a reporter. The charges were later dropped.

Lewandowski was replaced with Paul Manafort, a veteran political operative and prominent D.C. lobbyist. He came under scrutiny for his ties to the former Ukrainian political party of ousted leader Viktor Yanukovych. It was well-known in Washington that Manafort had represented unsavory characters around the world. He resigned after he was reduced to a diminished role when Bannon became CEO and veteran GOP pollster KellyAnne Conway was named campaign manager.

The New York Timespoints out that bringing Bannon in "was part of an effort to reset a candidacy that has stumbled with minority and female voters and suffered from controversies surrounding high-level campaign officials. But Mr. Bannon brings to the post his own bumpy background" with the charges of "domestic violence, battery and attempting to dissuade a victim from reporting a crime."

Bannon's ex-wife claimed that Bannon "instructed her to leave town to avoid testifying," per the Times. "Mr. Bannon, she said, told her that 'if I went to court he and his attorney would make sure that I would be the one who was guilty.' ...

"Mr. Bannon's lawyer, Steven Mandell, said in an interview that he called [Bannon's ex-wife] while she was out of town to inform her the case had been dismissed, but denied pressuring her not to testify. 'It's possible that Steve Bannon said that to her, but I did not.' "

The Times also notes that Bannon, as head of Breitbart News, "called Gretchen Carlson's sexual harassment case against former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes a 'total dud' and claimed the existence of a 'militant-feminist legal wrecking crew.' "

Financial issues Bannon eventually climbed out of

Bannon has been given the unusual title of CEO, chief executive officer. That's a title usually reserved for major corporations — not political campaigns — and denotes a level of not only management but financial responsibility.

NPR conducted a LexisNexis public-records database search and found Bannon was in some financial trouble at the time of the domestic violence charge. He was living in Beverly Hills, Calif., but also had multiple federal and state tax liens against him at various times between 1992 and 2000, including, but not limited to:

1997: $31,864 owed to the state. A state tax lien was released in 1998.

1997: A $4,000 small claims judgment against him in L.A. County Municipal court.

1996: $136,610 owed to the IRS. A federal tax lien was released in 2000.

1996: $39,323 owed to the state in 1996. A state tax lien was released in 1999.

1994: $13,756 owed to the IRS. A federal lien was released in 1997.

1994: $48,549 owed to the state in 1994. A state tax lien was released in 1995.

1992: $10,933 owed to the state of California in 1992. A state tax lien was released in 1993.

1992: $10,933 to Cathleen H. Bannon. A state tax lien was released in 1993.

Bannon eventually was able to turn things around, in part with the help of the hit show Seinfeld.

The Hollywood Reporter noted last week that Bannon has "deep ties to the entertainment-media industry that date back decades and include plowing millions he banked on an early investment in the Seinfeld sitcom into a string of movies aimed at the political right."


"Bannon, a 62-year-old former naval officer, got his start in entertainment as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, specializing in mergers and acquisitions. He also executive produced movies, including The Indian Runner starring Sean Penn in 1991 and Titus with Anthony Hopkins in 1999.

"Bannon and some Goldman Sachs colleagues launched Bannon & Co., and when he negotiated the sale of Castle Rock Entertainment to Ted Turner, he accepted a stake in Seinfeld and four other TV shows as partial payment. After he sold his company, he became a partner at the film, TV and music management company The Firm, along with industry veteran Jeff Kwatinetz."

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Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.