Armey appeared out of touch and unsure of how FreedomWorks operated when he took over that Tuesday morning, according to interviews with more than a dozen employees on both sides who witnessed the takeover. Sitting in a glass-walled conference room visible to much of the staff, he placed three young female employees on administrative leave, then reversed himself when they burst into tears; his wife lamented aloud that maybe they had “jumped the gun.”
In subsequent meetings, Susan Armey passed her husband notes that several employees assumed contained suggestions on what to say. According to a recording of a staff conference call provided to The Washington Post, Armey bewildered his audience by demanding more FreedomWorks support for Todd Akin, the Missouri Republican whose Senate campaign had already cratered after his comments about “legitimate rape.”
“It was clear that under Armey’s leadership, the organization as we knew it was going to be driven into the ground,” said one junior employee.
Enter Stephenson, who agreed to the multimillion-dollar financial incentive to push Armey out and install Kibbe back at the helm.
The payments were necessary, several FreedomWorks leaders said, because Armey was threatening to sue over Kibbe’s book deal.
“It was very clear to him that I would not work with Matt,” Armey said, referring to Stephenson. “He felt that Matt knew the levers and understood it better than I did and was very urgent to reinstate that.”
Brandon, back in the No. 2 spot as executive vice president, scoffed at the notion that the group is in trouble or that the dispute with Armey was indicative of a larger problem for the tea party. He said FreedomWorks has 2.1 million members, nearly 4 million fans on Facebook and a budget that has grown sixfold in five years. He also pointed to the elections of Senate conservatives Ted Cruz in Texas and Jeff Flake in Arizona as evidence of the group’s electoral success.
“We doubled our budget, and we doubled our membership,” Brandon said, referring to the group’s growth since 2011. “That’s how we ended up the year.”
Alice R. Crites contributed to this report.