The right-wing news site Breitbart News has been denied permanent press credentials by the U.S. Senate press gallery until the publisher can clarify questions about its ownership and funding, as well as its ties to the White House.
A committee made up of five senior correspondents for the Senate gallery declined on Monday a request to give the conservative news organization what are called “hard passes” to cover Congress, according to a report by BuzzFeed.
The passes are seen as the first step towards becoming a full-fledged member of the White House Correspondents Association. Breitbart has temporary passes, and is applying for permanent ones. Among other things, this would allow the site to be part of the official White House “pool” that files reports on the president’s activities.
The Senate press gallery has reportedly asked Breitbart to clarify a number of links that connect the site and its writers to the wealthy Mercer family, who were prominent supporters of the Trump campaign.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal in January, the Mercers acquired 50% ownership of Breitbart News in 2011, in return for $10 million in funding.
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Robert Mercer is a computer scientist who made his fortune running a hedge fund, and has funded a number of right-wing causes. He is said to have paid former Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon’s salary before Bannon became a senior strategic adviser to Trump, through a non-profit organization called the Government Accountability Institute, which was founded by Bannon in 2012.
Two senior staffers at Breitbart—editor-at-large Peter Schweizer and London editor Raheem Kassam—are also affiliated with the Government Accountability Institute, BuzzFeed says. And Mercer’s daughter Rebekah was named to a senior position with the Trump transition team.
Last month, the Senate press gallery committee asked Breitbart CEO Larry Solov to outline what involvement Steve Bannon has with Breitbart now. Late last week, a letter was filed stating that he had resigned from the company on November 13, and has “no editorial, executive, financial or other role or interest” in the site.
The committee has now asked that Breitbart submit a new letter providing more information about links between the site and the Government Accountability Institute, as well as outlining whether Rebekah Mercer has any editorial influence on the site.
The Senate press gallery referred to recent reports—including a New Yorker article—which appeared to indicate that Mercer does have editorial input into the Breitbart News operation. The New Yorker said that while she does not “dictate a political line” to editors, she often “points out areas of coverage that she thinks require more attention.”
According to BuzzFeed, committee members have also expressed concerned that Breitbart News was not truthful about its current office location, which is apparently not zoned for office use. The company has said that it is in the process of moving.
What some Washington insiders like to call the “Breitbart Embassy” has been operating since 2011 out of a townhouse in D.C. that at one time was said to be Steve Bannon’s house, although it’s not clear whether he ever lived there permanently. The house is reportedly owned by an Egyptian businessman and politician named Moustafa El-Gindy.