by Eli Clifton
President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as the country’s top diplomat, CIA director Mike Pompeo, is expected to win a Senate confirmation vote later this week even if he can’t muster the votes to win approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today. Pompeo’s anti-Muslim and anti-gay statements—coupled with his association with fringe anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists such as the Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney and ACT! For America’s Brigitte Gabriel—raise serious concerns about his qualifications to represent the U.S. abroad.
But Pompeo appears to have the support, at least indirectly, of some of the president’s biggest financial allies, Robert and Rebekah Mercer and Sheldon Adelson.
Earlier this month, OpenSecrets revealed that billionaire hedge funder Robert Mercer was the biggest donor to Secure America Now (SAN), a shadowy group that produced a bizarre and conspiratorial video about a Muslim takeover of the U.S. in the days before the 2016 election. Mercer also bankrolled the rise of Breitbart as a white nationalist media outlet helmed by Steve Bannon and Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that helped Trump win the 2016 election. The Center for Responsive Politics’ Robert Maguire wrote:
And just to bring it all home, days before the election, the group made an “Islamic States of America“ travel promo, where Syrian refugees have overtaken America. In the ad, the iconic Hollywood sign reads “Allahu Akbar,” and the Statue of Liberty wears a burka and holds a star and crescent. In the video, Ground Zero in New York City is shown as place where citizens can “celebrate our Islamic victories.”
Mercer sent $2 million to SAN in the 2016 tax year and the group received another $2 million from the 45 Committee, a group to which casino mogul, and the GOP’s biggest donor in the 2016 election cycle, Sheldon Adelson, contributed at least $25 million before the 2016 election.
SAN previously produced and promoted a series of videos supporting Trump’s decision to replace National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster with John Bolton, an uber-hawk who enjoys a close relationship with the Mercers and Sheldon Adelson.
SAN appears to be all-in to support Pompeo’s nomination, including publishing Facebook videos with noticeably high view-counts, suggesting that SAN might be paying to promote the videos in users’ news feeds.
One misleading video, viewed 139,000 times, urges viewers to “Comment ‘yes’ if you support Mike Pompeo as America’s new Secretary of State,” while a ticker appears to show a growing number of comments. Playing and rewinding the video reveals that the supposed outpouring of support for Pompeo has no correlation to the number of comments appearing alongside the clip.
Other videos include a short clip touting then-Rep. Mike Pompeo’s (R-KS) controversial Benghazi hearings (52,000 views) and another with 44,000 views providing “7 reasons why Mike Pompeo is the right choice for Secretary of State.” Reason number five is: “Pompeo will help President Trump blow up the dangerous Iran Nuclear Deal.”
SAN may seem simplistic and quick to embrace both Bolton and Pompeo’s hawkish positions, but, as Maguire pointed out, their videos also cross the line by promoting misleading and untruthful messages.
SAN operated a website, FootageofHillaryinPrison.com, showing a 360-degree video of what appears to be illicit footage of a prisoner wearing a Hillary Clinton mask in a holding cell. The website offers no context or explanation of whether the video, published on July 25, 2016, was intended to be satirical or to mislead viewers into believing that then-Candidate Clinton was actually imprisoned.
Another SAN video, published in March 2017, offered new lyrics for Rick Springfield’s 1981 classic, “Jessie’s Girl,” in order to attack the Iran nuclear deal. Memorable lyrics to “I wish there was no Iran deal,” include:
Iran’s got themselves a deal and now all they do is lie
And they’re watching us with their spies
And they’re cheating on that new deal I just know it
And they’re taking advantage of literally everything
You know I wish there was no Iran deal
SAN’s eagerness to promote conspiracy theories and misinformation through social media wouldn’t seem so unusual if it hadn’t secured the backing of the president’s biggest patrons and consistently promoted the most hawkish foreign policy positions and their supporters, Bolton and Pompeo, as they rise to prominence within the administration.
Bolton, for one, appears to have been onboard with SAN before it backed his ascendance to national security advisor. Press releases sent out by SAN listed Bolton as a part of SAN’s advisory board until at least 2014.
SAN did not respond to multiple requests for comment about Bolton’s membership on its advisory board and when or if he resigned from the board.