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Domestic violence allegations surface against head of Trump’s campaign

Stephen Bannon, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s chief strategist, attends Trump’s Hispanic advisory roundtable meeting in New York, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016. (Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
Stephen Bannon, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s chief strategist, attends Trump’s Hispanic advisory roundtable meeting in New York, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016. (Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
By Michael Finnegan and Matt Pearce And Joseph Serna Los Angeles Times

Donald Trump’s effort to overcome his deep unpopularity among female voters was dealt a setback Friday as decades-old domestic violence allegations surfaced against Stephen Bannon, the controversial new chief executive of his campaign.

In January 1996, according to a police report, Bannon grabbed his wife’s wrist and neck, then smashed a phone when she tried to call 911 from their Santa Monica home. Police photographed “red marks on her left wrist and the right side of her neck,” the report said.

Years earlier, three or four other arguments also “became physical,” Bannon’s wife, Mary Louise Piccard, told police. The couple divorced soon after the 1996 altercation.

Police charged Bannon with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness. Bannon pleaded not guilty, records show. The charges were ultimately dropped when Piccard did not show up in court, according to Politico and the New York Post, which first reported the case.

Details of the case emerged just hours after Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, faulted him for hiring Bannon last week in the latest shakeup of his campaign’s high command.

Clinton portrayed Bannon as a right-wing extremist who promoted racist, “anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-women” ideas as chairman of the Breitbart News Network website.

Bannon, 62, took a leave from Breitbart last week to serve as CEO of the Republican presidential nominee’s campaign. The Trump campaign did not respond to inquiries about the police report.

Alexandra Preate, Bannon’s spokeswoman at Breitbart, declined to comment on the specific allegations, apart from pointing out that the charges were dismissed.

“He has a great relationship with his ex-wife,” she said.

Also on Friday, the Associated Press, citing court papers, reported that Piccard once accused Bannon of making anti-Semitic remarks when the two battled over sending their daughters to private school nearly a decade ago.

In a sworn court declaration following their divorce, Piccard said her ex-husband had objected to sending their twin daughters to an elite Los Angeles academy because he “didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews.”

“He said he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiney brats,’ ” Piccard said in a 2007 court filing.

Preate, Bannon’s spokeswoman, denied Friday night that Bannon made anti-Semitic remarks about the private school. “He never said that,” Preate said.

The abuse allegations against Bannon surfaced as Clinton and her allies have been highlighting Trump’s history of making derogatory remarks about women. Clinton led Trump among female voters 58-35 percent in a Washington Post/ABC News poll at the beginning of August, and 60 percent of those polled overall said they saw Trump as biased against both women and minorities,

In March, police filed a battery charge against a previous Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, after he yanked and bruised the arm of Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields at a Trump event in Florida. Prosecutors declined to prosecute the case.

If Trump had vetted Bannon before hiring him, his ex-wife’s accusations should have been disqualifying, said Katie Packer, who was deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign for president and led an effort to block Trump from getting the GOP nomination.

“Given the questions that women already have about how Trump views women and how he has treated women historically, elevating someone like this to such a high position only reinforces the idea that Trump doesn’t respect and value women,” Packer said.

Charlie Black, a Republican strategist who has informally advised the Trump campaign, said the allegations against Bannon fell into a “gray area” because the charges were dropped. But “of course it’s an issue,” he added, “because he’s in a position of CEO of the campaign.”

Piccard, who was Bannon’s second wife, did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.

She and Bannon, a former investment banker, were married in April 1995, three days before their twin daughters were born. Shortly before 9 a.m. on New Year’s Day 1996, police received a 911 call from their home in Santa Monica, but the line went dead. The police report gave this account:

An officer went to the front door and was greeted by Piccard, who appeared “very upset.” She burst into tears and took several minutes to calm down.

Bannon had slept on the living-room couch the night before, and he “got upset” in the morning when Piccard made noise while feeding the twin babies. When Bannon started to leave, she asked for a credit card for groceries, but he refused and went to his car, Piccard told police.

She followed him outside, told him she wanted a divorce and said he should move out. He laughed at her and told him he would never leave, according to Piccard. She said she spat at him when he was sitting in the driver’s seat of his car.

“He pulled her down, as if he was trying to pull (her) into the car, over the door,” the report said. Bannon grabbed her neck, pulling her toward the car again, and she struck him in the face and ran back into the house. She told Bannon she was dialing 911, and he “jumped over her and the twins to grab the phone.”

“Once he got the phone, he threw it across the room,” the report said. “After this, Mr. Bannon left the house.”

Piccard, whose name was blacked out in the police report, “found the phone in several pieces and could not use it.”

“She complained of soreness to her neck,” the officer wrote in the police report. “I saw red marks on her left wrist and the right side of her neck.”

Court papers in the divorce and child custody proceedings show Bannon was living primarily in Tucson at the time, to work on Biosphere 2, a desert refuge enclosed in a glass dome for research.

Piccard won custody of the twins in the divorce. During Bannon’s visit with the babies about nine months after the incident, in September 1996, he spanked one of them, Piccard wrote in child custody court papers. The twins were 17 months old at the time.

“I restrained him and told him that it was not acceptable to hit our daughter (he believes in corporal punishment),” Piccard wrote. Bannon “screamed at me” and “stormed out of the house.”

In March 1997, Piccard wrote that she only wanted to restrict Bannon’s visits with the children to neutral sites because he “has been verbally abusive to me in front of the girls and I do not feel safe meeting him” elsewhere.

Associated Press contributed to this report

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