According to a new report by Buzzfeed, the Trump Organization attempted to secure ownership in the social media site Parler while Donald Trump was still president.
In its report, Buzzfeed cites documents and four sources familiar with the situation. The deal did ultimately fall through, but those negotiations took place last summer and picked up again after Trump lost the November 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden.
One source informed Buzzfeed that the idea of owning the far-right social media platform originally came from Trump’s former campaign manager Brad Parscale. Parscale suggested it was a way to counter both Facebook and Twitter.
Reportedly, John Matze, the CEO of Parler and shareholders Dan Bongino and Jeffrey Wernick met with Parscale and Trump’s campaign lawyer Alex Cannon in July of 2020, at Trump’s privately owned resort in Florida, Mar-a-Lago. He offered to sell Trump a 40 percent stake on the condition that Trump makes it his primary platform. However, the White House counsel’s office put a stop to the talks ruling that such a deal, while Trump was president, would violate ethics rules.
Parscale told Buzzfeed that Trump “was not part of the discussion.” Parscale was fired as Trump’s campaign manager in July.
Parler has since been giving boot online for failing to weed out violent content before and after the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, which resulted in five deaths.
Wernick, who says he was an adviser to the company, told Buzzfeed that there had been discussions with the Trump Organization about bringing Trump onto the platform, but that Trump had not been involved in the negotiations.
“We have spoken to several people about potential stakes in the company for producing certain things,” Wernick said. He declined to get into the specifics of negotiations citing nondisclosure agreements he said were in place between Parler and the Trump Organization.
Parler was founded in 2018 by Founded in 2018 John Matze and Jared Thomson, who are former college roommates. They worked with Rebekah Mercer, a right-wing political donor, and daughter of hedge fund magnate Robert Mercer. The social media platform had a much laxer moderation for content than Facebook and Twitter. They called themselves a site that provided “free expression.”
It struggled in its first few months, but soon became the home to far-right conservatives who had found themselves banned from mainstream social media. While it struggled to gain traction in its early months, it soon became a home for conservative and far-right personalities who had been suspended or banned from mainstream social media.
By the fall of 2020, it was home to conspiracy theorists, hate groups, and QAnon supporters. The Proud Boys used it to communicate with members and followers and it was even used by Republican lawmakers Devin Nunes and Ted Cruz.
Matze says the site had 15 million users, including Donald Trump’s sons Don Jr. and Eric Trump. Several members of Trump’s staff were also on the site.
Donald Trump did not have a verified account on the site and continued to use Facebook and Twitter because he had already built a large following. He had 35 million followers on Facebook and 88 million on Twitter. He has since been banned from both social media platforms for his violent rhetoric.
Reportedly, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner intervened to keep Trump off of Parler during his last days in office.
The Trump Organization oversees Trump’s brand and real estate interests. It is a collection of hundreds of businesses owned by Donald Trump.
Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog group, stated that the situation warranted “an immediate criminal investigation. A company’s mere act of offering a stake for the president’s participation looks unethical and deserves further scrutiny.” he stated.
“While then-president Trump bragged that ethics rules didn’t apply to him, bribery laws do apply, and courts have held that Trump’s social media posts constituted official business while he was in office,” Amey said. “His posts were a preferred method for the White House to communicate with the public. If the offer included anything of value, and Trump planned to post on a social media platform while he was still in office, that would almost certainly be illegal, and he should be held accountable.”