The recent appointment of Stephen K. Bannon, the right-wing media mogul, as chief executive of Donald Trump’s campaign was part of an effort to reset a candidacy that has stumbled with minority and female voters and suffered from controversies surrounding high-level campaign officials.
But Bannon brings to the post his own bumpy background that includes misdemeanor charges of domestic violence and allegations that he threatened his then-wife, the accuser, with retribution if she testified in the criminal case, according to a police report of the incident and court records obtained by The New York Times.
The charges date back two decades to the end of a troubled marriage in Santa Monica, California, when Bannon’s wife, Mary Louise Piccard, claimed that he had attacked her at their home.
He was charged in February 1996 with domestic violence, battery and attempting to dissuade a victim from reporting a crime, but the case was dropped when Piccard did not show up in court. In court records, Piccard later claimed that Bannon instructed her to leave town to avoid testifying.
Bannon, she said, told her that “if I went to court he and his attorney would make sure that I would be the one who was guilty.”
Bannon’s lawyer, she said, “threatened me,” telling her that if Bannon went to jail, she “would have no money and no way to support the children.”
Piccard said that she complied, fleeing with the two children she shares with Bannon until his “attorney phoned me and told me I could come back.”
Bannon, who pleaded not guilty, declined to be interviewed. Asked whether Piccard’s description of the attack and the threat were true, his spokeswoman, Alexandra Preate, declined to respond, adding that Bannon has “a great relationship” with his ex-wife and their daughters. The case was first reported by The New York Post.
Bannon’s lawyer, Steven Mandell, said in an interview that he called Piccard while she was out of town to inform her the case had been dismissed, but denied pressuring her not to testify. “It’s possible that Steve Bannon said that to her, but I did not,” Mandell said.
Piccard did not respond to messages left with her lawyer and a relative.
As chairman of the Breitbart News website, Bannon has been viewed as a conservative provocateur, making incendiary comments on a range of topics. He called Gretchen Carlson’s sexual harassment case against former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes a “total dud,” and alleged the existence of a “militant-feminist legal wrecking crew.”
According to the police report, it was New Year’s Day in 1996 when Piccard called 911 from the Santa Monica home she shared with Bannon and their infant twin daughters.
Police arrived to find Piccard visibly upset, with red marks on her neck and wrist, the report said. She told police that Bannon had spent the previous night sleeping on the sofa. The next morning, she said, the noise she made feeding their daughters and his refusal to provide a credit card for grocery shopping started a fight that spilled onto the driveway.
When Bannon attempted to leave in his car, Piccard spat at him. That’s when Bannon became aggressive, she told police. He grabbed her wrist and then her neck, she said.
“He pulled her down as if he was trying to pull her into the car, over the door,” the report said. She said she struck back until she was able to break free and run into the house with Bannon in pursuit.
When Piccard picked up the phone and dialed police, Bannon grabbed it from her hands and threw it across the room, shattering it into pieces, she said.
When the police arrived, Bannon was gone. Piccard told police she and Bannon had a turbulent 6 1/2-year relationship. Early on, there were three or four “arguments that became physical” and they had been going to counseling. She said the arguing had continued, but that the violence had stopped — until that day.
Police photographed the marks on her neck and wrist, and noted that the phone was in pieces, the report said.
The Santa Monica city attorney brought charges against Bannon, and he was served with a domestic violence protective order, court records show. But that August, when the case came to trial, prosecutors were forced to dismiss the charges because the victim, their main witness, was “unable to be located,” according to the records.
By that point, Piccard and Bannon were separated. She would soon file for divorce.