Sometimes, the people you read about in news stories aren’t the cartoonish villains you imagine them to be. But sometimes they are. A Washington Post investigation published Friday suggests the latter is true of Steve Bannon and others in the Breitbart orbit.
The piece painstakingly follows the story of Eddie Sexton, an Alabama lawyer who briefly represented Leigh Corfman, the first woman to accuse then-GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore of making sexual advances on her in 1979, when she was just 14 years old. According to the Post, Sexton was approached by two Moore supporters—partners at a construction firm—days after Corfman went public with her allegations.
From the Post’s Shawn Boburg and Dalton Bennett:
They asked lawyer Eddie Sexton to drop the woman as a client and say publicly that he did not believe her. The damaging statement would be given to Breitbart News, then run by former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon.
In exchange, Sexton said in recent interviews, the men offered to pay him $10,000 and promised to introduce him to Bannon and others in the nation’s capital.
The story includes receipts. Citing recorded phone calls, text messages, emails, video footage, and interviews with Sexton and his associates, the Post recreates each step of Gary Lantrip and Bert Devi’s attempt to court Sexton to “cloud” Corfman’s allegations. It may as well have been a poorly scripted political thriller. “We got some chance to do something, make some quick little-bitty for you … and then, on down the line, we can go to D.C.,” Lantrip told Sexton during a recorded call.
The pair of Moore supporters supposedly got so far as to meet with Sexton at their construction firm’s office in Pelham, outside of Birmingham. But Sexton said there were additional guests in the conference room where he was expected to sign a statement disavowing Corfman: Breitbart Jerusalem Bureau Chief Aaron Klein and Washington Bureau Chief Matt Boyle. (Breitbart transparently covered for Moore during the election, and Axios reported in November that Bannon had sent Klein and Boyle down to Alabama to discredit Moore’s accusers.)
Sexton recounted the meeting to the Post:
On the table was a notebook, he said, opened to a page that contained the handwritten statement he was expected to sign. There was little small talk, Sexton said. He said they began discussing the possibility of issuing a statement about Corfman’s credibility.
Sexton said he told them he didn’t see any way he could make a statement disparaging his client — that he would lose his law license if he did — and besides that, he hadn’t even asked Corfman about the details of her allegations against Moore.
“I don’t know how y’all, or how anybody, would ever believe me,” Sexton said he told them. “And Matt and Aaron kind of tell me, ‘Well, that’s not really the point of whether or not anybody believes you. It’s just, you know, getting other information out there.’ ”
Sexton walked out of the meeting. And the Post even published a recording of a phone call between Sexton and Lantrip discussing it later that night.
A spokeswoman for Breitbart told the Post that “the two reporters were not aware of any offer to pay Sexton or provide him with legal work and did not know who penned a handwritten statement he says he was asked to sign.”
In a statement to the paper, Moore downplayed Lantrip and Devi’s involvement in the campaign, though the Post found footage of them together at multiple events.
Moore’s subsequent loss to Doug Jones was a shock to the Republican Party and an embarrassment for Bannon, who had stumped for the candidate and staked Breitbart’s reputation on the outcome of the race. Soon afterward, he was pushed out of the right-wing news outlet and publicly disavowed by its Republican backer. Now, Breitbart’s traffic is reportedly dropping off a cliff.
Don’t worry too much about Bannon, though. Just yesterday, he was given red-carpet treatment as a keynote speaker at a Financial Times event on the future of media.