Gingrich: Possible top Trump aide worked in finance, so not anti-Semitic
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Gingrich: Possible top Trump aide worked in finance, so not anti-Semitic

Former House speaker defends Stephen Bannon, up for chief of staff, against charges of links to alt-right, saying he spent time in Hollywood and at Goldman Sachs

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks in Oxon Hill, MD on  February 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster/File)
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks in Oxon Hill, MD on February 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster/File)

WASHINGTON — Less than 24 hours after one of President-elect Donald Trump’s closest advisers said his chief of staff pick was “imminent,” former House speaker Newt Gingrich denied that a favored candidate for that position, Stephen Bannon, had any association with the anti-Semitic alt-right movement.

On the Sunday morning CBS show Face the Nation, Gingrich was asked by host John Dickerson to respond to an essay in the conservative magazine National Review about the fringe of anti-Semites who supported Trump’s improbable rise to the White House.

Gingrich retorted by calling the piece “garbage” and added that Bannon has worked for Goldman Sachs and in the Hollywood film production industry — references to two arenas highly associated with Jews.

Anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists often name Goldman Sachs, an investment banking firm founded by Jews, and Hollywood to argue that Jews control the global finance system and the media.

Bannon, who formerly ran the Breitbart News website which is known as an online home for the alt-right, has been dogged by accusations of anti-Semitism since joining Trump’s team as CEO in August.

Court documents from 2007 revealed his ex-wife Mary Louise Piccard said that Bannon did not want their daughters attending a private school in Los Angeles — the Archer School for Girls — because he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews. According the court filings, Piccard stated: “He said he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats.’”

Gingrich, who is currently on a shortlist to serve in Trump’s cabinet as secretary of state, was prompted by Dickerson to react to Ian Tuttle’s November 9 article “The Alt-Right President,” in which he excoriated not only the bombastic businessman’s campaign, but the base of support that ultimately elected him.

“His victory in the primaries gave unprecedented visibility to the alt-Right, a small but vocal fringe of white supremacists and anti-Semites and self-proclaimed fascists,” Tuttle argued, “supporting a President Trump cannot mean giving a pass to the ugly fringe that has risen with him.”

Republican president-elect Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
Republican President-elect Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

The alt-right is an amorphous designation that encompasses an array of white supremacist groups, “white nationalists” and neo-Nazis.

“I just have to say, that’s garbage,” Gingrich said in reaction to Tuttle’s article, before citing a Washington Post column that noted Election Night came on the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “Night of the Broken Glass” that occurred at the outset of the Holocaust, when Nazis vandalized synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses.

“I’m thinking, this is crazy,” he said. “Donald Trump is a mainstream conservative who wants to profoundly take on the left. The left is infuriated that anybody would challenge the legitimacy of their moral superiority, and so the left goes hysterical.”

Graffiti in South Philadelphia, including the word “Trump” and a swastika discovered on a Philadelphia storefront on November 9, 2016. (Facebook via JTA)
Graffiti in South Philadelphia, including the word “Trump” and a swastika discovered on a Philadelphia storefront on November 9, 2016. (Facebook via JTA)

Since the election was called for Trump on the early hours of Wednesday morning, there have been more than 200 incidents of hateful harassment or intimidation, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, many of which are anti-Semitic in nature.

In Wellesville, New York, a softball dugout was graffitied with a swastika and the text “Make America White Again,” at The New School in New York City, a swastika was defaced on the door of a dorm room where three Jewish students live; in Philadelphia, a storefront was vandalized with a swastika and the word “Trump” on it.

Without Dickerson mentioning Bannon, Gingrich brought him up and alluded to the vast media attention that has been paid to his Breitbart audience and the culture they exemplify.

“But the fact is, and you get this with all these smears of Steve Bannon. Steve Bannon is a naval officer, he was a managing partner at Goldman Sachs, he was a Hollywood movie producer,” he said. “The idea that somehow he represents, and I had never heard of the alt-right until the nut cakes started writing about it.”

Stephen Bannon, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign chairman, attends Trump's Hispanic advisory roundtable meeting in New York, August 20, 2016. (AP/Gerald Herbert)
Stephen Bannon, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, attends Trump’s Hispanic advisory roundtable meeting in New York, August 20, 2016. (AP/Gerald Herbert)

At that point, Dickerson injected to ask: “So you’re point is it’s garbage and therefore Donald Trump doesn’t have to deal with it and let it go?”

Gingrich responded: “Donald Trump has to be Donald Trump, and the country will organize itself around who he is.”

On Saturday, Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who is now playing a pivotal role in the transition process, said the selection of chief of staff — which is typically the first announcement for a new administration — would come soon.

According to CNN, aides have said the choice for chief of staff has narrowed down to Bannon and Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus speaking at the Republican National Committee meetings in San Diego, January 15, 2015 . (AP/Lenny Ignelzi)
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus speaking at the Republican National Committee meetings in San Diego, January 15, 2015 . (AP/Lenny Ignelzi)

Trump’s team of Insiders have said that while Trump favors Bannon, his daughter Ivanka and Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner are pushing heavily for Priebus, who is also close to House speaker Paul Ryan and the GOP establishment.

The Trump transition team is currently on a tight deadline to make a host of crucial decisions about the incoming president’s top staff, including a cabinet consisting of 15 executive departments.

They must hire more than 4,000 people, roughly 1,000 of whom will require Senate confirmation, prepare for the presidential inauguration and devise a plan for Trump’s first 100 days in office.

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