Jason Miller, communications director for the Trump transition team, arrives at Trump Tower, December 8, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Trump campaign aide was paid $20,000 a month by Bannon nonprofit linked to alleged fraud

Trump campaign's shell game: No reported payments to campaign manager Bill Stepien or drama-prone aide Jason Miller



Roger Sollenberger
September 1, 2020 10:00AM (UTC)

Senior Trump campaign official Jason Miller appears to have been paid about $20,000 a month for work done for a nonprofit co-founded by indicted former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, according to public court filings obtained by Salon.

The nonprofit — now reportedly under investigation in connection with the federal charges against Bannon — started paying Miller the same month that Bannon's associates learned they were under federal investigation, court documents and public reports show.

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The Trump campaign has not disclosed any payments to Miller since news of his hiring broke in June — nor has the campaign disclosed any salary payments to campaign manager Bill Stepien, according to mandatory federal filings. Publicly available court documents obtained by Salon together with Federal Election Commission (FEC) records suggest that the campaign is paying Miller $35,000 a month, apparently through non-public indirect transactions.

Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have charged Bannon, along with co-defendants Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, with running a multimillion-dollar fraud and money laundering scheme, in which they secretly siphoned millions of dollars in payments from their We Build the Wall crowdfunding campaign through a shell company as well as an unnamed nonprofit. The group disguised the allegedly unlawful transactions with fake invoices to hide their own personal takes, according to the indictment.

Bannon denies the charges.

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C.O.A.R.

Though prosecutors do not explicitly name Bannon's nonprofit in the indictment, the document describes "Non-Profit-1" as predating the crowdfunding campaign and being dedicated to promoting "economic nationalism and American sovereignty." This would appear to describe the Bannon-founded nonprofit called Citizens of the American Republic (COAR), which first filed a tax return in 2017. Its website says the group "seeks to advance the ideals of Economic Nationalism and American Sovereignty."

Miller co-hosted a podcast with Bannon for COAR, reportedly beginning in October 2019.

In an Aug. 23 interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Miller told host Chuck Todd that although he had worked for COAR, he had not been interviewed by government investigators.

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"I have not, and from public reports it looks like this investigation was going long before the podcast even started, the podcast and the radio show that I co-hosted with Steve," Miller said.

While the exact timeline of the federal investigation is not a matter of public record, the Florida Agriculture Commissioner reportedly opened a probe into We Build the Wall in May 2019, but had not been contacted by SDNY investigators despite referring elements of the case to the FBI.

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However, the charging document against Bannon and the other three men accused says they were first alerted that they were under federal investigation by a financial institution around October 2019, after which group members began communicating via encrypted messaging apps.

Miller had joined Bannon's podcast that same month, and ordinal invoices that Miller references in public filings in Florida court suggest COAR began to pay him around that time.

Those filings, obtained by Salon, show that Miller appears to have been paid around $20,000 a month for his work at COAR, from October 2019 until as recently as April 2020 — six months after Bannon's group allegedly took steps to conceal communications after learning they were under investigation.

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It's not clear what, if anything, Miller's COAR income, effectually a $240,000 annual salary, covered in addition to podcasts and radio shows, nor is it clear exactly why the business relationship ended when it did, around April 2020. By comparison, COAR's 2018 tax returns, which predate the investigation timeline but are the most recent available, show that the highest-paid official at that time was making $55,000 a year, and the highest-paid contractor — a Wyoming entity called Fortress FM — received $191,000 for "security, logistics and training."

Federal prosecutors say in the Bannon indictment that they are seeking to seize assets belonging to "Non-Profit-1" — presumably COAR.

"These allegations are very serious and I hope that Steve has some good answers for the things he's been accused of," Miller told Todd. "It's not something I worked on. I don't know anything about the financial dealings of this organization or how it worked, and I hope Steve has an opportunity to tell his side of the story."

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COVID LOBBYING & A CHILD SUPPORT BATTLE

Following the 2016 campaign, where he worked alongside Bannon in the role of communications adviser, Miller was prepared to join the White House as communications director. However, he backed out in the shadow of a scandal after Miller, who is married, reportedly had an affair with then-Trump campaign aide A.J. Delgado, during which Delgado became pregnant. That saga is dragging out in a child support case in a Florida family court.

According to court documents obtained by Salon, Miller was ordered to make $3,167 court-stipulated monthly payments to Delgado beginning June 2018, but with no explanation dropped the payments to $2,604 in November 2019 — the month after Bannon on-boarded him at COAR — and then dropped them again this January, to $500, amid a Twitter spat with Delgado. At the time Miller was reporting around $60,000 in monthly income, according to court documents.

The scandal included explosive allegations that Delgado leveled against Miller in a court filing, and which Miller denies. On Aug. 14, one week before authorities arrested Bannon, Miller asked a Florida judge to revive his $100 million defamation suit against media conglomerate Gizmodo for a September 2018 report published by its now-defunct subsidiary, Splinter, that made those allegations public.

Despite the scandals stemming from the previous campaign, in June the Trump campaign rehired Miller as a senior-level adviser under then-campaign manager Brad Parscale.

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The month before the campaign hired Miller, however, he registered as a lobbyist for the first time — lobbying Congress and the Executive Office of the President (EOP) for four weeks on COVID relief for a real estate company helmed by Jack Ryan, a former Illinois U.S. Senate candidate who bowed out of his 2004 bid against then-candidate Barack Obama amid a sex scandal.

Miller also reported that he lobbied the Treasury Department, the Small Business Association and the EOP from April 1 to May 15 on behalf of Fountainhead, a commercial non-bank lender which is now the defendant in a class action lawsuit that alleges it unlawfully prioritized large Paycheck Protection Program loans instead of fielding applications on a first-come, first-served basis.

Those disclosures indicate Miller was paid between $15,000 and $24,000 by each entity for his lobbying work over those weeks. He was paying $500 a month in child support at the time, according to court documents. Miller terminated all lobbying work shortly before the Trump campaign hired him in June, according to his lobbying disclosure forms.

Miller had registered as a lobbyist through an entity called SHW Partners, a firm he set up last year after he left the consulting agency Teneo. Miller's public departure from Teneo was reportedly the result of crass insults he tweeted to Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., over what Miller saw as Nadler's rude treatment of Hope Hicks, another 2016 Trump campaign aide now at the White House.

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However, Delgado alleged in court that Teneo and Miller did not in fact discontinue their relationship, but that Teneo privately began paying SHW Partners immediately after Miller's public departure.

Miller was ordered by a Florida judge to resume paying Delgado $3,167 a month in child support beginning this July, per court filings, but when he failed to comply at the end of the month Delgado motioned that the court hold him in contempt. The current status of the case is unclear.

However, Miller's most recent filings in the Delgado case, obtained by Salon, suggest that the Trump campaign is currently paying him $35,000 a month. Miller claims current monthly income of an even $35,000, and had no other known clients when he took the position and has disclosed no new clients since — it would be unusual, but not unthinkable, for a senior campaign official to have other, secret clients while on the campaign.

A Trump campaign spokesperson did not respond to Salon's questions.

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(Miller also claims in those filings liabilities of $250,000 to the IRS and $65,000 to the Commonwealth of Virginia, but because he does not itemize debt amortization, both might be projections for taxes owed for the current fiscal year — Miller is self-employed. He also says he's in possession of a baseball card collection worth $10,000.)

THE MISSING CAMPAIGN RECEIPTS

But while Miller has reportedly been a top adviser to the Trump campaign since June, filings with the Federal Elections Commission do not show any payments made to him (or SHW Partners) by the campaign, the Republican National Committee or either of their joint fundraising vehicles — the Trump Victory and Trump Make America Great Again committees.

Federal filings also do not show any salary payments from those entities to Bill Stepien, who replaced Parscale as campaign manager in July.

(By comparison, the Joe Biden campaign reports regular bi-monthly payroll disbursements to campaign manager Greg Schultz, totaling about $7,700 a month.)

The Trump campaign, however, does pay Jamestown Associates, a media company founded in New Jersey that specializes in campaign publicity, and where Miller was an executive and partner. Stepien also has ties to Jamestown Associates, through former New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who ousted Stepien as his campaign chief in the wake of the "Bridgegate" scandal, but praised Stepien's elevation to the top slot in Trump's operation this year.

FEC filings show that the Trump campaign has made a number of payments to Jamestown this year of between approximately $7,500 and $45,500, through June. In July, the campaign's expenditures to Jamestown increased significantly, including a $78,394 payment on July 13 and a $133,800 payment on July 28. Miller joined the campaign in June, and Stepien was promoted July 15. The campaign reports that the disbursements were for "video production services."

When asked if the missing receipts for Stepien and Miller seemed unusual, Brendan Fischer, director of the Federal Reform Program at the Campaign Legal Center (CLC), told Salon, "It doesn't surprise me at all. The Trump campaign has disguised millions of dollars in payments to personnel and vendors by routing the money through LLCs created or managed by senior Trump campaign officials."

The CLC recently filed an FEC complaint alleging that the Trump campaign has unlawfully hidden at least $170 million in payments through shell companies, thereby keeping its spending a secret form the public, law enforcement and its own donors. Some of those hidden payments have allegedly gone towards salaries — such as to Kimberly Guilfoyle and Lara Trump — and were made through an entity controlled by Parscale.

Reporting sourced this spring from White House advisers suggests that Parscale paid Guilfoyle and Lara Trump $180,000 a year, the rough equivalent of a top White House salary, but those sums have not been verified. Miller's recent court filings suggest that his campaign salary might more than double that, and Stepien's salary is unknown.

A great many of Trump's donors contribute in small dollar amounts.

A Trump campaign spokesperson, Jamestown Associates and Teneo did not respond to Salon's questions. COAR and A.J. Delgado did not immediately respond to request for comment.


Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger is a staff writer at Salon.

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