President Donald Trump’s chief White House strategist allegedly threatened administrators at two California elementary schools because he opposed his ex-wife’s efforts to enroll the couple’s twin daughters, according to court records obtained by The Progressive magazine.
Steve Bannon, the former executive of the ultra-right Breitbart News, objected to one school for being what he considered “progressive,” according to a letter from its former director in the court file from the couple’s divorce and subsequent custody case. The letter, dated July 11, 2001, says Bannon threatened to sue the school, which had accepted the twins for kindergarten enrollment on the initiative of Bannon’s ex-wife, Mary Louise Piccard.
“[O]n June 6, 2001, Steve Bannon called me and said that he did not agree with Mary Lou’s decision to place the twins at Odyssey,” wrote Dr. Steven R. Mecham, then director of Odyssey Program school in Malibu, California. “He said that he would refuse to pay tuition to Odyssey and that he would not allow them to be enrolled here with us.”
Mecham wrote that Bannon “expressed to me that he did not want Emily and Madeleine to attend a progressive school. I replied to him that Odyssey is not a progressive school, but would more accurately be described as an academic, developmental school. He also said that if we decided to accept the twins, he would sue me personally, as well as the school.”
Bannon also threatened an administrator at Westland School in Los Angeles, according to a letter in the case file from the school’s director. In the letter, dated June 21, 2001, the director recounted “what I perceived to be a threatening telephone call from Mr. Bannon, on or about February 27, 2001. He strongly admonished me that under no circumstances would his daughters be attending Westland School, and therefore the school should not offer acceptances to the girls.”
The Westland director said the call came before the school had begun its final considerations in the approval process, adding that she informed Bannon that “the choice to attend a school is the family’s choice, and that the decision to accept or reject the applications of the twins should be based entirely on Westland School’s own criterion. Mr. Bannon hung up on me.”
The letters were obtained in response to an open-records request made to California court officials by Ashley Maag, an intern at The Progressive. It augments other previously reported information in the file, some also pertaining to contention over schools for the twins.
Previously, it has been reported that, according to a 2007 sworn court statement from Piccard, Bannon had asked the director of Westland School “why there were so many Chanukah books in the library.” New York magazine reported last November that the now-former director confirmed that this had happened but did not perceive this question as anti-Semitic. The director asked that magazine, and The Progressive, to not use her name.
That same 2007 court filing elaborated on an incident on January 1, 1996. Piccard said Bannon “became physical with me and grabbed me by the throat and arm,” smashing the phone she was using to call 9-1-1. The responding officer noted in a report that Piccard had visible injuries to her wrist and neck. Bannon was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery, and witness intimidation; he pled not guilty. The charges were dropped when Piccard failed to appear in court.
Piccard also alleged in this filing that Bannon objected to her decision to eventually enroll the girls in another academy, the Archer School for Girls.
“The biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend,” Piccard wrote. “He said that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats’ and that he didn't want the girls going to school with Jews,” Piccard wrote.
A spokesperson for Bannon has denied that he made these remarks. The White House press office did not respond to an effort to obtain comment for this story.
Bannon, a proponent of the “alt-right” movement that includes avowed white supremacists, served as executive chair of Breitbart News from 2012 until last August, when he was tapped as CEO of Trump’s presidential campaign. During his tenure, the website ran articles calling conservative commentator Bill Kristol a “renegade Jew” and Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum “a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned.”
The letter from Mecham of the Odyssey school stated that Bannon accepted his invitation to visit the school but was unpersuaded, reiterating that he would not pay for tuition and would sue Mecham and the school if the twins were enrolled. “He left in a very angry mood, threatening me once again with a suit, as he strongly placed the brochure and school materials back in my hands.”
The next day, Mecham wrote, “I received a letter from Mr. Bannon’s lawyer, Lance Spiegel, saying Bannon’s consent is necessary and that he does not agree to the proposed enrollment of the children. If Ms. Piccard attempts to unilaterally enroll the children, he would seek an appropriate restraining order.” The twins were never enrolled at Odyssey.
A third letter obtained by The Progressive is dated June 11, 2001, and addressed to Mecham and another Odyssey official. It was written by Mary Hartzell, then-director of the First Presbyterian Nursery School in Santa Monica, which the twins attended, regarding the couple’s “relationship to the school.”
Hartzell stated that Piccard was “very involved in the life of the school,” participating in class activities and the parent association, devoting “countless hours of help and talent.” Mr. Bannon, the letter continued, “has not had a relationship with his daughters’ school during their three years here. He lives out of town, and has only visited our school once. To my knowledge, he did not see his daughters for several years and only recently has seen them briefly and sporadically.”