As a federal investigation continues into how Fox News handled financial payments to alleged sexual-harassment victims of Roger Ailes, the actions of the network’s former chairman appear to have implicated two senior associates of President Donald Trump.
One of those people is Roger Stone, a long-time political consultant and confidant of Trump’s. The other is Steve Bannon, the former chairman of the right-wing site Breitbart News, who is now a senior strategic adviser to the president. Both men allegedly helped Ailes go after certain people he perceived as enemies, according to a report by Politico.
Stone was reportedly paid by Ailes to keep an eye on certain people, including former New York Observer writer Gabriel Sherman, who is now at New York magazine and wrote an uncomplimentary book about the Fox chairman in 2014 called “The Loudest Voice in the Room.”
Politico says in addition to keeping track of Sherman, Stone was also asked to publicly criticize Chris Ruddy, the CEO of right-wing news network Newsmax, because Ailes was afraid that the company might grow to become a competitor to Fox News. Stone wrote articles criticizing Ruddy and his operation for right-wing sites like The Daily Caller.
A lawyer for Ailes told Politico the former Fox chairman “doesn’t know anything about payments to Mr. Stone.” The Trump associated himself told the site that he tried to referee the relationship between the two men out of friendship, not because he was paid to do so.
Bannon, meanwhile, was reportedly part of a team of Ailes advisers who got together to plan a co-ordinated response to Sherman’s book before it came out, with the intention of discrediting him, according to three people who spoke with Politico. That plan allegedly involved the publication of negative stories about Sherman at Breitbart News.
The Breitbart chairman — who stepped down when he became a Trump adviser — was said to be in favor of a “go to war” strategy against Sherman. But former Fox reporter and Ailes adviser ** recommended a low-key approach that Bannon later described as “love taps.”
Many of the attacks at Breitbart were published under a pseudonym, by someone calling themselves “Capitol Confidential.” But the editor-in-chief of Breitbart, told Politico that the site’s coverage of Sherman was not driven by anything other than the news value of reporting on his book, and was not a result of any co-ordination by Bannon.
Another Ailes associate who is caught up in the widening allegations against the former Fox chairman is New York mayoral hopeful Richard “Bo” Dietl. A private investigator, Dietl recently admitted to the Wall Street Journal that he helped investigate Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox host whose allegations of harassment by Ailes led to his departure.
Dietl, who previously said he “never, ever did any work for Roger Ailes,” is also believed to have helped investigate other people the Fox chairman saw as his enemies, including Gabriel Sherman.
The investigation into Ailes’ behavior and Fox News’ handling of it is focusing in part on a group of people who were close to the Fox chairman and were paid from company funds — a group often referred to as “Friends of Roger,” but whose actual job duties were unknown.
One of the things that federal investigators are looking into, according to multiple news reports, is whether payments to such individuals — and to former staffers who made allegations against Ailes — were properly reported by the company in its financial documents. If they were not, the company could be accused of fraudulent reporting.