Last week, the New York Times confounded the expectations of many rabid followers of the various investigations into the Trump campaign when it revealed that the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news website funded in large part by hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, was the Republican-affiliated group that hired Fusion GPS - the opposition research firm that supervised the creation of the ‘Trump dossier’ - to conduct opposition research into then-candidate Donald Trump during the Republican primary.
The Free Beacon reportedly ended its relationship with Fusion in May 2016 after Trump clinched the nomination, and has maintained that it didn’t contribute in any way to the Trump dossier. The DNC and Clinton campaigns reportedly hired Fusion in April, via Democratic superlawyer Marc Elias, and quickly realized that Trump’s business ties to Russia could be an important vulnerability.
Still, Singer’s push to discredit Trump apparently caught the eye of one of the president’s most loyal former employees, former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who reportedly told the president in a phone call last week that he was going "off the chain" to destroy Singer, according a report by Axios published today.
Bannon reportedly added that he had been looking for a long time "to set things right with Singer and his entire crew," according to a source familiar with the conversation.
As Institutional Investor reported in profile of Singer published Monday, the hedge fund manager - who is CEO of $34 billion hedge fund firm Elliott Management - was a major funder of the #neverTrump campaign, Singer – the CEO of – left no stone unturned in an effort to stop Trump from gaining the Republican nomination last year. Singer initially supported Florida Senator Marco Rubio in the primary.
While Trump readily agreed with Bannon on the call, he later told at least one person that Singer was “on the team”, Axios said. A source familiar with the arrangements told Axios that Singer had already made a "major commitment" by financing groups supporting the administration’s tax reform push.
However, since the phone call, Breitbart, Bannon's preferred blunt instrument for attacking his political opponents, has run several stories critical of Singer:
II pointed out that after Trump’s election, Singer said at a Bloomberg event in June, “I became optimistic about some of the opportunities in economic growth and regulatory reform, tax reform.” Singer said he and Trump “chatted a bit about taxes and economic policy” when he visited the White House. In addition to funding the Free Beacon, Singer is also chairman of the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and a major financier of Commentary magazine.
A source close to Singer said the billionaire had no idea who Fusion GPS was until they became a subject of news reports related to Trump and Russia. Though the source added that of course Singer generally knew — and it was public knowledge — that the website he funds, the Washington Free Beacon, paid for opposition research. Since the story broke, the president has told several people he views the NYT revelations as a "win" for Republicans because they show that only Democrats and the Clinton campaign paid for the controversial dossier, produced by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.
However, Bannon’s animosity toward Singer probably springs from the latter’s support for establishment Republican groups.
Thus far this cycle, Singer has given approximately $1.5 million to Republican candidates and political action committees, more than $1 million of which is going to the Senate Leadership Fund, which works to get Republicans elected – Republicans who are often at odds with candidates backed by Bannon, who is backing insurgent Republicans who want to oust more traditional candidates.
However, Singer also donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration and has supported various administration efforts including funding the successful outside campaign to back the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. And while Trump reportedly loathed Singer during the campaign, their relationship has improved considerably since he won the nomination.
Bannon, of course, has been astoundingly successful in his efforts to thwart the Republican establishment and its favored candidates. He most recently won at least one victory, with establishment-backed Senator Luther Strange of Alabama losing the Republican primary to Bannon-backed candidate Roy Moore. He also famously blasted former President George W Bush during a speech at the American Values Summit earlier this month after the former president criticized Trump.
And while Singer has access to a vast sum of money to fund establishment candidates, Bannon has a wealthy patron of his own in the Mercer family, which helps to finance Breitbart and has pledged to support Bannon’s agenda. Reports of the feud come as Bannon is on a roll. Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker have said they will not run again, clearing the path for Bannon-backed candidates in both Arizona and Tennessee.
But of course Singer is uniquely qualified to match Bannon in terms of funding and organizational know-how.
In a battle that encapsulates the rift between the pro-Trump and pro-establishment wings of the Republican party, who will come out on top? What do you think?